Six of the seven candidates for Lovettsville Town Council met to make their case during a forum Saturday, April 16.
Mike Dunlap, Renee Edmonston, Nick Hayward, Chris Hornbaker, Will Hyde and Matt Schilling met at the former Baptist church near the heart of town to share their experience and visions for the town.
“Leveraging the background, the knowledge and the relationships that I’ve built over the past 15 years, I wanted to say that I’ll be able to use those relationships to work with our state, federal and local leadership to solve the problems that are facing our town,” said Dunlap, who was appointed to a seat on council after Rob Gentile resigned, and in running unopposed in a special election to complete that term.
The other six candidates are competing for three seats.
“[I’m] all about small town fiscal responsibility and accountability,” Edmonston said. “Those are my three main areas that I want to hopefully bring to serving you as residents.”
“I’m a member of the Planning Commission, and I’ve been very vocal about protecting and understanding the impacts of decisions that are made in the town hall to the citizens here,” Hornbaker said.
“It’s really important to make sure that we are not trying to always give ourselves raises when we want something,” Hayward said. “We need to make sure that we’re spending our things properly.”
“We want to make it a great place to come, but we also want to make it a great place to live and keep it a great place to live for everybody in town, and that is my goal,” Hyde said. “And the more attractive we make it, the better people we can attract here into the town.”
“Our events are getting bigger every year,” Schilling said. “We have MayFest and we have Oktoberfest that are really driving our tourism here, and I love that. I love how our community comes together, and we can show everybody how a community comes together, and we can show love, friendship, and community to one another.”
Many of the candidates agreed that the town’s infrastructure—and its ability to pay for replacing it—is one of the biggest challenges the next council will face.
“If we have a severe water situation going on with our pipes and the possibility of them failing that will affect a homeowner’s ability to access water, that needs to be at the top of the list,” Edmonston said. “Not making the center of the town have ping-pong tables and a splash pad for children.”
Hayward referred to the town’s aging water pipe as “a ticking time bomb.”
“A lot of our town residents don’t know that we’re living on borrowed time right now with our infrastructure,” Hayward said. “We’ve got to be taking care of that.”
Hornbaker suggested raising water and sewer connection fees on new houses instead of raising utility rates.
“The proposal this year to increase water and sewer rates by three percent is going to increase $33,000 in revenue to the town, yet by increasing the connection fees from $2,000 to $4,000, and having the 36 homes that are coming in next year, we will have $72,000 in revenue,” Hornbaker said. “It doesn’t impact the folks that are here.”
And Schilling agreed that infrastructure was a chief concern.
“In the old parts of town, we really need to start paying attention to how we can create safety measures, whether it be sidewalks, or pavement, or whatever we can do to kind of offset some of the issues we’re seeing with creating our mobility and being able to get around town,” Schilling said.
“Right now we are paying for some legacy mistakes on an aging system,” Dunlap said. “Most of the folks here weren’t around town 20, 30 years ago when some of the infrastructure was put in place, and because of the mistakes made then, we have to pay for it out of our pockets. That’s not fair, but that’s where we are today. So what we need to do is make some hard choices.”
Hyde broke from the pack, agreeing infrastructure is important but also mentioning bringing more businesses to town to share the town’s tax burden.
“I’d like to make sure that we emphasize, as much as possible, business development, to bring in more business to raise revenues for the town, and to work on projects within the rest of the town that actually increase the livability of the town itself,” Hyde said.
Hayward faced tough questions from one attendee about statements made on a Facebook group of which he had been an administrator, “The Original Lovettsville 20180.” He defended his involvement, including allowing some inciting language posted in the group, by arguing the way to protect the community from hate speech “is by building our community, by making sure that we call those people out, and that we identify them for who they are.”
“That’s why I ty to maintain the freedom of speech, so that we could as a community identify those people and know who they are. If we delete those posts, and if we hide them, you know what happens, they start screaming louder and louder.”
Another confrontation involved an exchange between former Planning Commission Chairman Frank McDonough and Hornbaker. McDonough, who was dismissed from his duties by the Town Council in February after allegations of malfeasance and misconduct involving “a person affiliated with town government,” charged that Hornbaker had bullied him. McDonough filed a complaint last October with the Town Council about Hornbaker’s alleged conduct, but no action was taken. Following McDonough’s dismissal, Hornbaker was elected vice chairman of the commission.
Hornbaker cited two points of friction with McDonough: alleging that McDonough had made disparaging remarks about his wife, and that the commission chairman had sought to prevent Hornbaker from meeting with other town leaders and staff without his approval.
“I will make sure as we appoint new members to the Planning Commission, as a town councilperson, that we are actually appointing people based on not who they are or whether they’re my friend or not, but what they bring to the table,” Hornbaker said.
In closing statements, each candidate tried to set out what distinguishes them from the pack.
“We need to build bridges across different opinions, we need to come together as a community,” Dunlap said. “I was delighted to be here today. I really look forward to using the background that I have in policy to help solve the problems that we have in front of us. They’re big challenges, and that requires listening to a lot of voices.”
“I like to problem solve, I like to figure things out, I’m a frugal fanny, I like to not spend money,” Edmonston said. “I know there’s things that we need and want, but we just have to make choices.”
“You can’t walk up to your boss and say I need a raise because my car broke down,” Hayward said. “It’s your job to maintain it and your job to keep it going. We all want to do that, but as a town council person, I don’t think I’m going to walk to you guys as a resident and say I need more of your money because we didn’t manage this way or that way.”
Hornbaker pointed to his involvement in town government.
“I am looking from the perspective of the actual citizen in town and how it impacts them every day,” Hornbaker said. “So I will continue to do that. I will continue also to do the due diligence to understand what the issue at hand is.”
“My career has been about solving problems,” Hyde said. “And since I work for a federal contractor, it’s dealing with—you don’t get assets in terms of money, you may have some people to work with, but you have to figure out how to solve the problems that you’re faced with. I want to be able to apply that to the town.”
“I’ll work to help Lovettsville grow responsibly and become the place where everybody understands that the fun never stops here, the small town life still does exist and will always exist, and it’ll be the place that everybody wishes they could call home,” Schilling said.
Four council seats will be on the ballot in May. Councilwoman Kimberly Allar will not seek re-election; Councilman Nate Fontaine is running for mayor; Tony Quintana, who was appointed Vice Mayor after Tiffaney Carder resigned, did not file for election; and Dunlap will face a special election for the seat he filled by appointment after Rob Gentile resigned.
The town will also elect a new mayor. Mayor Bob Zoldos has decided not to run for re-election; Fontaine faces Realtor and political activist Kris Consaul for the gavel.
The forum was organized and moderated by Loudoun Now. Meredith Kopp was unable to attend.
A forum with the two mayoral candidates will be held Wednesday, April 18 at 7 p.m. in the same venue as the town council forum, at the former Baptist Church at 3 Berlin Pike.