It’s a different story in West Jefferson, however, as a former mayor seeks to regain his seat from the one who won it four years ago, and there is a challenger to the two incumbent aldermen.
Mayor Dale Baldwin will defend his seat from the former mayor, Dale Baldwin. And Aldermen Brett Summey and Tom Hartman face a challenge from Rusty Barr.
In the mayor’s race, the two candidates squared off on their experience and competence. They were asked about their accomplishments and issues of focus as well as why the town began paying the mayor and aldermen.
West Jefferson Mayor Dale Hudler says he is seeking a second term to “continue progress of sound financial budgeting, responsible town planning with enforcement, and to see the continued proper council functioning that has been achieved in the last several years.”
Hudler came into office four years ago with no government experience, but with a strong desire and committed effort to help make a difference in West Jefferson. He takes great pride in the strides the town has made under his leadership and the cooperative relationship between himself and the board of aldermen and town staff.
“The town board is educated, opinionated, fair, honest and have worked tirelessly to make West Jefferson a great town,” said Hudler. “The aldermen direct the staff to carry out the policies they set. I know that when the aldermen vote, the right decision is made, the people have spoken.”
Hudler said financial responsibility for the town includes a fund balance (savings account) that has gone from $342,000 in June 2007 to $930,000 as of June 2011 (with a $1.5 million budget).
“This financial responsibility has in great part been achieved by holding countless budget workshops over the last three and a half years to get the town on sound financial footing,” he said. “Pay down debt has been our theme. As the fund balance has become healthy, we have qualified for numerous grants that have (or are making) huge differences in our town’s infrastructure.”
Because of the increased workload of the mayor and aldermen, and the tripling of the fund balance, the board voted in 2009 to begin paying a minimal salary to themselves and the mayor. The current budgeted amount is $200 a month for the mayor ($2,400 annually) and $125 a month for an alderman ($1,500 annually). West Jefferson is the only one of the county’s three towns where the mayor and aldermen receive a salary. Hudler said the money is approved in the budget and comes from the general fund.
“When I was elected as mayor, before being sworn in, I attended a workshop in Raleigh for training new mayors,” Hudler said. “I learned that a mayor should sit in the middle of a triangle with the three sides being the citizens, the aldermen and the town staff. The mayor’s duties are to work and communicate with these groups to help create positive and productive policy to ensure the success of his/her town. I have trusted the employees of our town, let the decision-making in our town be where it belongs…with the vote of the aldermen who are elected by the citizens. I think it was very blurred. I think it’s very healthy and transparent now. I think I’ve done a very good job of helping get the flow of town government back in order. And let the aldermen make the decisions.”
A commercial Christmas tree grower and seller, Hudler’s business marks its 20th year this year.
With more than 30 years of experience in West Jefferson town government, including 10 as mayor, Dale Baldwin is seeking to regain the mayor’s seat he lost to Dale Hudler in 2007.
Born and raised in West Jefferson, Baldwin has lived in the town all his life. In 1941, at age 10, Baldwin began working at the Parkway Theater. He bought the theater in 1968 and ran it until 1978 when he and his wife opened Ella’s Hallmark, in business for about 22 years, and then they operated a craft and quilt shop for about four years before retiring.
As a former businessman and building owner in the town, Baldwin knows that the current economic situation has been tough on downtown businesses and he hopes to work with the property owners and tenants to look at ways to fill empty buildings and attract new businesses.
“We’ve got too many empty buildings in the town,” said Baldwin. “But I know times have changed and people can’t pay the rent. We need to get in some small shops that offer people what they need. It’s gonna be hard, but the town has got to diversify. I can’t see how the town can go on without it. You can’t even buy an aspirin or a loaf of bread downtown.”
Baldwin began his government service as a town alderman in 1967. He served as alderman off and on over the years from 1967 to 1997 when he was first elected mayor.
During his tenure as mayor, which he calls “the best 10 years the town ever had,” Baldwin is most proud of the board annexing over 400 acres for the town, all of it voluntary, he said. “When we put the new high school in the city limits, it really opened up that area around Walmart,” he said. “We annexed the high school and put water and sewer over there. And the next thing you know, Walmart is interested. We put in all that over at Walmart. We put in the industrial park and water and sewer all the way down 163 to the Dr Pepper plant.”
He’s also proud of the farmers market on the Backstreet in West Jefferson. When he was in his first term as mayor, Baldwin said he talked to Robert Barr about funding for the farmers market. He said Barr called then Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham who called Baldwin the next day and said the check was in the mail. Jim Carey and Bud Eller had been working toward getting a farmers market, there was Tobacco Trust Fund money available, and in-kind support was provided by the town and from sponsors to build the first open air shelter.
About the pay for mayor and aldermen that came into being after his tenure, Baldwin said he was never paid as an alderman or as mayor, that he spent a lot of money out of his own pocket. “It’s a community service I believe,” he said of the job.
In the aldermen’s race, each offers answers to the following questions:
1. What are the biggest issues facing the town and how would you address them?
2. Why did the town decide to begin paying the mayor and alderman and where does the money come from?
3. How long have you served as alderman or why do you want to be an alderman?
1. Having served as an alderman for 20 years, I have seen a lot of growth and revitalization for West Jefferson. One of my main concerns now is to work on filling all the now empty buildings with thriving businesses. This will keep the town’s economy moving forward. We can all take great pride in West Jefferson and the recent revitalizations like the new street lighting, the lowering and repaving of main street to prevent the flooding of businesses, and the new landscaped areas that attracts people to our town to visit. Another issue is to continue keeping a balanced budget by spending wisely, which is always a challenge, but one that we have been able to achieve. My goal is to continue doing this without raising taxes on our citizens, who we realize are struggling with this economy. I am especially proud that we have been able to keep water and sewer rates at the lowest possible rate and still provide excellent services to our citizens. We can be especially proud of the personnel that work tirelessly to provide these services.
2. After many years with no compensation paid to the mayor and alderman, it was decided for this board and future boards to receive a small compensation for their service to the town to strengthen their commitment and accountability for their actions. These funds come from the general fund.
3. It has been my honor to serve the citizens of West Jefferson as their alderman for 20 years. My goal when voting on any issue is to consider the affect it would have on each and every citizen with their best interest in mind.
Summey has been practicing dentistry in West Jefferson for 50 years. He was born on the lot in West Jefferson where he now resides.
1. I think one of the biggest issues facing the town is the aging infrastructure. We have mapped and have videos of the entire sewer system, which were paid by grants. These videos have already helped prioritize some needed improvements to the system and repairs and improvements have begun. We have consolidated our two water systems, making the water department more cost efficient and allowing revenues to be used for maintenance and improvements rather than duplicating water quality test on two separate systems.
2. The Town of West Jefferson commissioned a study of their departmental pay scales, including Aldermen and Mayor. Various recommendations were made in the study and this resulted in pay adjustments for several department heads and individuals. I think on average the Town has a competitive pay scale, but there are opportunities to bring our Town to a position where we do not have to worry about losing our, good, competent, trained employees to other towns because of higher salaries. The mayor and aldermen were also given salaries to help compensate them for their time spent working for the Town. These expenses were carefully considered in the budget workshops and given the improving financial condition of the town, I think were justified.
3. I am completing my first four year term as alderman. I would like to continue in office and help with the continuing improvements to the infrastructure of the town. I am proud of the “Look of Our Town” and hope to have a small part of the continuing improvement.
Hartman is presently employed at The Gates Corporation in Ashe County. Prior to that he was part owner of a small business in West Jefferson.
1. I think that the town’s aging infrastructure issues are the biggest. I would continue to apply for grants from the NC Clean Water Trust Fund and set aside resources to complete sections of sewer lines and storm drains that need repairs the most. The video mapping that was done this summer will be a great help in prioritizing the needs. Also, sustain an environment that is friendly to our downtown businesses so as to attract customers and prosper. I would strive to keep the tax rates and fees low while contributing to a reserve fund balance for emergencies. Maintain relations with the police and fire departments to help them be successful and a continued professional resource for our town.
2. I did not know until this year that the alderman and mayor were paid for their services. I would guess that the money comes from the general fund.
3. I would like to contribute something back to the community that I have grown up in and serve its residents and businesses. My aspirations for the town of West Jefferson is to see it prepared for the future, be proactive in challenges we face, and continue to grow and prosper while maintaining our “small town” roots. I feel that my personal business experience and my time served on the planning board for Ashe County gives me knowledge that will be very beneficial to the town board.
Barr owns Barr Evergreens of North Carolina, LLC, a wholesaler of Christmas trees and nursery stock, as well as Parkway Storage, LLC, in West Jefferson.
Sample ballots are available at the board of elections office in Ashe County Courthouse. Voting will take place 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Jefferson at the Jefferson Fire Department; in West Jefferson at the Ashe Arts Center; and in Lansing at the Lansing Fire Department.
On the ballots for Jefferson and Lansing are:
Jefferson (mayor and two alderman seats open): Mayor Dana Tugman and Aldermen L.F. “Junior” Anderson, Jr. and Charles Caudill, all seeking re-election, unopposed.
Lansing (mayor and two alderman seats open along with one unexpired term for alderman ending 2013): Aldermen Brenda Reeves and Steve Greer seeking election to current seats, unopposed; Alderman Jack Brown seeking the unexpired term, unopposed; and former Alderman George Rembert unopposed for mayor.