By Allen Worrell firstname.lastname@example.org
March 14, 2014
Hillsville Mayor Greg Crowder has announced his intentions to seek re-election in the Town of Hillsville’s May 6 General Election.
Crowder, who took office two years ago, is seeking a second term. He was recently asked by The Carroll News about his accomplishments over the past two years and what he hoped to accomplish if re-elected.
Crowder also wanted to address his ongoing court case in Bristol, Va. Crowder was found guilty earlier this year in Bristol General District Court of impersonating a law enforcement officer.
After reading the verdict, Judge Blake McKinney sentenced Crowder to 90 days in jail with 60 days suspended and a $500 fine. The conviction stems from a March 14, 2013 incident that led to Crowder’s arrest in August of last year. During the trail, four employees of the Outback Steakhouse in Bristol testified Crowder said he was with the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control as an off-duty agent.
Crowder has continued to maintain his innocence and had an appeal hearing set for March 10 in Bristol Circuit Court. The case has been moved to June 12 in the same court as Crowder and his defense have requested a jury trial. Although Crowder said he has been advised by his attorney not to discuss the case, he said he can’t ignore the white elephant in the room.
“I know a lot of people want to know about the situation that occurred in Bristol a year ago. The court case has been postponed to June. I was really hoping it would be heard before the election, but I maintain my innocence,” Crowder said. “We asked for a jury trial and that is why it got delayed. But I can assure the citizens of Hillsville that I will never, ever put myself in a situation to where there can be a misunderstanding or any confusion again. If I ever am in another situation like that again, I will just call 911.”
Reflecting on the past two years
Crowder said he faced many challenges when he entered office 20 months ago, but feels like much has been accomplished in a short amount of time. He said he took office in July 2012 to find a budget in crisis with water and sewer fund shortfalls that needed to be addressed immediately.
“The previous administration and Town Council were going to increase or double the town citizens’ water and sewer bills in order to fix the shortfall. I felt these were the most pressing issues looming over the citizens of Hillsville,” Crowder said. “During the first weeks and months of my term as Mayor, I was really focused on how to fix or correct these shortfalls.”
Crowder said he looked into whether the town needed to join the New River Valley Water Authority or to work with Carroll County. The town needed to work out a deal, knowing the county needed sewer for Exit 19 in Fancy Gap or the possibility of selling the county half the sewer plant.
“Also during this time we were working real hard to hire a new Town Manager and were very fortunate to hire Travis Jackson. I then laid out the issues above and my ideas to Mr. Jackson,” Crowder said. “He felt like we needed to work with the county as well, but before we could do anything, we needed to have a GIS Mapping of our system. This would allow us to know where all the pipelines and manholes were located. This would provide us with a map and GPS finding capabilities and a true picture of where our system was and what it looked like. We completed grant applications for GIS Mapping and received a $38,118.18 grant for this project and started immediately. We canceled the previous GIS web maintenance web maintenance contract for a savings of $6,000 a year and were using the county’s GIS system at NO COST.”
Several days into the project, Crowder said Jackson called him to Race Track Road, where town workers found that an entire creek was basically running into the town’s sewer system. After several weeks, more leaks in the system were found.
“We initiated an inflow and infiltration program for the town’s wastewater system to identify these problems and locate and repair them,” Crowder said. “After negotiations with VDOT, this repair work was completed at NO COST to the Town. So because of us taking the initiative and working hard to find a solution to solve the problem, it will save the Town approximately $40,000 a year.”
During the same time period, the town also found it was not being paid for its Solid Waste Leachate, which the Solid Waste Authority needs to break down trash/waste. But Jackson was able to negotiate a Solid Waste Leachate with the Solid Waste Authority that is expected to generate $25,000-$40,000 per year in additional revenue, Crowder said.
“Also we argued for and convinced the Authority not to charge for wastewater sludge and mulch hauled from the town, which would have offset the revenue for the Leachate up to $40,000,” Crowder said. “This, along with the approximately $40,000 a year savings from the fixed infiltration problems, has helped tremendously to compensate our water and sewer system shortfalls from previous years, which has created a better financial situation.”
Crowder said the next challenge was the town’s general fund account. The mayor said he was surprised to hear Jackson’s preliminary assessment of the performance of the account over the last five years.
“During the campaign of my election in 2012, local papers had reported from the previous administration that we, the Town of Hillsville, were one of the few towns in Virginia operating in the black. After I took office I asked for an independent audit and was informed that Hillsville had been losing approximately $140,000 a year due to shortfalls in the Water & Sewer and General Budget Revenues,” Crowder said. “In fact, the Town could be bankrupt by 2015 if major changes were not made. Knowing this was a real problem, we had to make adjustments in order to remedy this outcome. After much contemplation and discussions with the council on how to proceed, we agreed on an increase in the lodging and meals tax as the better means of tax revenue and the least burdensome on the Hillsville Town residents and taxpayers. With all this being said and done, the Town of Hillsville is in the black for the first time in five years.”
Other accomplishments Crowder lists over the past two years include bringing new business and job opportunities, including spearheading 50-plus new jobs by bringing Classic Creations to Carroll County.
“I have now played a major role in bringing in an approximate total of 150 jobs and over $22 million dollars in infrastructure to Carroll County and also Hillsville,” Crowder said.
Other accomplishments listed by Crowder include renegotiating the 2011 Series Bond held by Carter Bank & Trust, providing savings of $414,000 and up to $1,000,000, depending what the interest rate would have adjusted to the last five years, over the term of the loan; working with Town Council to create a sustainable balanced budget without relying on retained earnings to cover shortfalls; cancelling the debt collection agency contract that was in place and turning it over to the town’s legal counsel, resulting in savings of up to $7,500, and a campaign that recovered $30,000 in delinquent taxes.
Other accomplishments listed by Crowder include:
- reconstruction of the Beaver Dam Trail with trustees from the New River Valley Regional Jail and donated equipment and material that he said also saved the town tens of thousands of dollars
- renegotiating the DEQ offer for funding the Ultra Violet equipment replacement project for the Wastewater Treatment Plant, with a loan interest change, which will result in a savings of $51,320 over the life of the loan.
- Purchasing the parking lot for the Beaver Dam Trail
- Accepting the deed the parking lot behind the Carter building from the county at no cost
- Amending and updating the Town Code to provide planned growth and enforcement tools
- Developed new Town of Hillsville employee handbook and performance evaluation program
- Initiating a successful program to eliminate unlicensed vehicles
- Began general clean-up initiative throughout the Town to remove many blight areas.
- Rehabilitating the Town’s apartments and developing a new lease and application process (which generate $34,800 in annual revenue)
- Changed the method the Town purchases fuel, resulting in a savings of an estimated $12,000 annually
- Making improvements to the Town Hall office building in an effort to make it more energy efficient
- Held five Downtown Celebrations, a Christian Family Fun event, the 4th of July Parade and Celebration, and Safe Halloween event.
- Sold surplus rescue squad building, ambulance and police vehicles for a total of nearly $58,000
- Developed the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of the Friends of the Town of Hillsville and created the nonprofit organization.
- Developed a Tourism Marketing Plan for the Town and an incentive ordinance to motivate new business development
- Started process for a Downtown Revitalization Program, which may result in up to $1 million federal and state investment in Hillsville.
- Awarded a $35,000 grant for work on the Town’s Water System
- Submitted funding applications for a large number of future projects.
- In the process of assembling info to complete the required Comprehensive Development Plan for the Town of Hillsville, which will save over $25,000 in consulting fees.
Crowder also was instrumental in the hiring of Greg Bolen as chief of the Hillsville Police Department.
“It was my vision to provide the same or better police protection and services to our citizens, but on a smaller budget, which at this time is doing great. Our new Police Chief Greg Bolen has been working tirelessly to provide the very best police department protection and services, but also cutting costs on everything from tissue paper to bullet proof vests, which were awarded through grants,” Crowder said. “The previous budget was approximately $1 million dollars, which was approved before I was elected. I felt that this was entirely too high of a budget for our small town. We’ve had 2 independent evaluations that said Hillsville Police Department’s budget should be significantly less. Now looking at Chief Bolen’s current preliminary numbers, I’m really looking forward to the final figure on savings as it is looking very good. And let me assure you he’s done this without sacrificing ANY police protection or services.”
The next two years
Crowder said his fulfilled almost all of his previous campaign promises, but looks forward to implementing the following if re-elected: defibrillators in police cars, bring chain restaurants to Hillsville, continue to bring more jobs, revitalize downtown, repair aging water and sewer systems, fix low pressure water in the Laurel Fork District, continue to find money to move power lines from Main Street, tourism and ways to bring more visitors to Hillsville, continue to build the “Friends of Hillsville” by getting as many citizens involved in local government as possible, and continue to make the Police Department and other town services as cost effective as possible.
“What we have accomplished over the last 20 months has not happened by chance or luck. It’s by having good leadership and management from the top to the bottom,” Crowder said. “The hiring of Travis Jackson was not by chance either. We waited under heavy pressure until we found the right man. In conclusion, what I’m saying is under my leadership as Mayor of Hillsville for this term and the last 20 months, the Town of Hillsville has flourished. Just see what we can accomplish this next term, it will be even better for the Town of Hillsville and its citizens.”