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HILLSVILLE — Travis Jackson in his 32-year term with Rural Development helped make capital investments in many communities.
But, during his first post-retirement job as Hillsville town manager, he made a sizable emotional investment in the Carroll County seat, as well.
While his one-year-and-one-month tenure as town manager winds down after accepting a position as the executive director for a non-profit that he helped create, Jackson feels confident that Hillsville will realize its great potential.
Jackson’s last official day as town manager will fall on Feb. 28, before he takes the helm of the Wythe-Bland Foundation, but he has no plans to cut all ties with Hillsville.
The idea is that Jackson will continue as acting town manager until the town council finds his replacement.
“I would continue with the ongoing projects that we have, I would just not be here on a day-to-day basis,” he told The Gazette.
Jackson’s philosophy as town manager springs from frugality and efficiency, while trying to find as many outside funding sources possible to make necessary investments.
An example of efficiency is the smoke tests in the sewer system, which located and fixed two major leaks, saving the town $50,000 in lost treatment costs.
Frugality meant doing certain things in-house that used to be done by outside firms, like Jackson writing the proposed comprehensive development plan and handing the reins for debt collection from an agency to the town attorney.
Jackson’s experience in providing grants through the federal funding agency Rural Development proved valuable to Hillsville when he served as town manager.
Just one grant application to the Virginia Department of Health for planning work on the water system upgrade resulted in $35,000 coming in to help pay for that project.
Beyond that, Jackson wrote other grant applications to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Virginia Tobacco Commission, the health department and the Virginia Commission of the Arts. From grant sources, he secured funds for a variety of water treatment improvements, buying a police car and a backhoe and helping the Carter Home Foundation.
Projects that Jackson will continue to provide assistance on include the town’s comprehensive development plan, which has preliminary approval from the planning commission and goes before the town council Monday for a public hearing.
The last comprehensive plan cost Hillsville $25,000, but Jackson decided he had enough experience to handle it in-house. “That was kind of my background, anyway.”
This and other cost savings kept pressure off the budget and fees, so the town could avoid borrowing more money. “Do everything in your power first to reduce waste and then do rate adjustments, if necessary,” Jackson said of this philosophy.
Certain beautification and branding activities need to proceed, he added. This includes everything from general maintenance ideas, like the straightening of crooked sign posts, to a new brochure and other enticements to Hillsville.
For the beautification efforts, Jackson has repeatedly said that the town has one chance to make a good impression on potential business prospects. Even paying attention to the smallest details can add up.
Jackson also had begun the process of launching a comprehensive and in-depth downtown revitalization program that could “result in up to $1 million federal and state investment in Hillsville.”
The decision to leave was a difficult one for Jackson.
He had other job offers, but intended to remain town manager. And then the Wythe-Bland Foundation — for which Jackson helped developed a significant funding base by negotiating a lease of the Wytheville hospital to Lifepoint — came calling and made several offers.
The foundation is something Jackson feels passionate about. He plans to do everything he can as executive director for it to achieve success.
“Had it been anything else other than this foundation, I would still be in Hillsville,” Jackson said, about the non-profit that makes grants for health, education and welfare efforts in Wythe and Bland counties.
The position will involve disbursing the foundation’s grants, as well as ensuring that the grantees have successful and sustainable programs and making sure the board of directors meets changing demands in the community, all the while complying with IRS regulations that apply to non-profits.
Jackson said he will treasure the relationships with Hillsville’s staff, council and citizens from his time here.
“I think obviously you can ask any of the employees in this town, the relationship we have developed, they will be my extended family for the rest of my life,” he said. “This town council — they provided me with an opportunity to come and has given me nothing but support.”
Each council member has the best interests of the town at heart and bring a different skill set to the job.
He doesn’t want to just say goodbye to Hillsville — he remains committed to helping the town become what it wants to be.
Hillsville residents and officials should focus on the town’s strengths and build on them, and not try to duplicate another locality’s successes, Jackson said.
Everybody should also keep in mind that Hillsville and Carroll County need to work cooperatively, because what benefits one will benefit both.
Progress that had been made so far should continue to produce dividends for the town, Jackson said.
Having the town government’s house in order will likely lead to a good pool of manager candidates coming forward.
“This is a good town, and it will be a good opportunity for an individual looking for a career as a town manager,” he said.
The community will embrace a new town manager who treats the citizens fairly and equality, he expects.
Travis Jackson will leave Hillsville in a better position than he found it. Here are excerpts from his 4-page summary of 2013 town accomplishments:
• requested and received a deed from Carroll County to the parking lot behind the Carter Home to develop a farmers’ market and stage.
• worked with Carroll on bulk fuel purchases in order to fill up town vehicles at the county pumps, saving Hillsville an estimated $12,000 a year.
• saved $6,000 by canceling a private firm’s contract to maintain a town WebGIS (geographic information
system) portal by using the county’s system.
• received a $38,118 grant for GIS mapping.
• negotiated a solid waste leachate rate with the Galax-Carroll-Grayson Solid Waste Authority
that’s expected to generate up to $40,000 a year in additional revenue.
• renegotiated a bond with Carter Bank & Trust that could provide savings of up to $1 million over
the term of the loan, depending on the interest rate.
• reconstructed Beaver Dam Trail after flood damage.
• sold the former Hillsville Rescue Squad building and an ambulance, bringing in approximately $47,000
to the town coffers.
• developed the articles of incorporation and bylaws for the Friends of the Town of Hillsville in order to
create a non-profit foundation to assist in a variety of events and efforts.