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HILLSVILLE — A former Sulphur Springs representative and mayor has challenged the incumbent for the northwestern ward of Hillsville Town Council in the municipal elections May 6.
In an echo of previous contests, Bill Tate will try to unseat incumbent Billy Walls Sr. — though in the past their positions were reversed.
Tate indicated that he wanted to run for town council because Hillsville has an image problem.
Tate didn’t say that Walls was a part of what he sees as bad for the town.
The challenger noted that he felt his businesses would keep him from having enough time to devote to the mayor’s position, so he decided to seek the office of Sulphur Springs ward instead, because that seat requires less time.
“The publicity the town’s got right now, it’s bad publicity, and I want that to stop,” Tate told The Gazette about his candidacy.
People asked him to run for the mayor’s position, because they didn’t want Hillsville have a negative spotlight, he said. But, Tate declined to pursue that idea because of his time constraints operating Tate’s Lawn Care Service during warn weather.
Hillsville has benefitted from the knowledge and experience brought to the administration by Travis Jackson, a former long-time regional director for Rural Development who served as the full-time town manager for a year.
Most of the advancements that the town has made go back to actions that Jackson took, and he deserves the credit, Tate said.
While current incumbents have said Hillsville was operating in the red during previous incarnations of town council, Tate disagrees with that.
Town officials at that time took money from the fund balance, or cash reserves, to have enough revenue to meet expenses, as he describes it.
“We was working in the black, and it’s still in the black,” Tate said. “I don’t want to see the taxes and water and sewer rates going up.”
With his 10 years on town council and four years as mayor, Tate says he has the experience needed to do the job.
He participated in many projects while in elected office, including the downtown revitalization, Beaver Dam Trail and events such as the downtown concerts and cruise-ins, Safe Halloween and Fourth of July observances.
Along with his time in elected office, Tate also served on the rescue squad for eight years, served on the fire department, spent six years in the U.S. Army National Guard, served on the town planning commission, attended Hillsville High School, joined Victory Way Baptist Church and his family has owned Hillcrest Florist for 21 years.
Tate supports the idea to attract more activity to Hillsville by creating the farmers’ market and events area behind the Carter Home.
There are a few more empty buildings downtown these days than when he served on town council, Tate said. “We need to get them filled back up.”
He also hopes to spark voluntary town-wide spring and fall clean ups.
Tate acknowledges that it will be a difficult job, but he hopes to improve some streets in town, if elected.
Billy Walls Sr.
Walls will seek re-election to the Sulphur Springs ward seat because he wants to protect the progress that Hillsville Town Council has made over the last two years.
“Just keep things going in the right direction,” he told The Gazette. “Hillsville has seen more progress in the past two years than we have in the last 10.”
He indicated a four-page list of major accomplishments from 2013, when Travis Jackson served most of his term as full-time town manager.
Jackson impressed Walls with his cost-saving ideas for the town — particularly, the work to re-negotiate a loan with a local bank to pay for infrastructure work.
Reducing the interest rate and eliminating an “interest rate reset” for the last five years of the loan allowed Hillsville to save an estimated $414,000 and possibly up to $1 million, depending on what the interest rate would have been adjusted to, over the loan term.
Such cost control measures have kept the town council from having to increase real estate taxes or water and sewer rates, Walls noted. “Choosing the right town manager made an easier job for every one of us.”
He added that elected officials see the importance of choosing a quality town manager as the search continues for a new one.
It’s important to keep expenses down for the good of the citizens, Walls said. Hillsville has become a kind of retirement community, where most of the residents are senior citizens and live on a fixed income. If town taxes or fees go up, Walls expects many of those senior citizens would have to start making decisions on which bills they would have to pay — food, medicines or taxes.
On the economic development front, Walls noted that Classic Creations recently moved to the Carroll County Industrial Park. This matched up well with one of his big goals — getting more business and industry in.
“One of my main projects is to get the citizens jobs where they can work without having to travel to West Virginia and North Carolina,” Walls said.
He hoped to have more good news soon on that front. “If we just make 10 more jobs, that’s another step forward, but 50 more would look really good.”
Walls sees being on town council as maintaining a balance between the needs of Hillsville and the needs of the citizens.
“The biggest thing is, we’ve got to take care of the citizens, keep the town maintained at the lowest cost at all times,” he said.
“Caring about the Town of Hillsville and the citizens in the town, one thing about it — if they have a problem they can come see me and I’ll take care of it right away… I won’t wait two weeks,” Wall said. “If they vote for me, I’ll continue working 110 percent for them.”