Passing the Fairview Town Council Leadership Gavel
Five days following the May 4th election, The Messenger sat down with out-going Mayor Darion Culbertson, who is completing his final term in office, and Henry Lessner, the Mayor-elect, who won 56.9% of the vote, to discuss the results of the election, including the overwhelming approval of Proposition A that provides financing for the replacement of Fire Station No. 1 with no property tax rate increase.
The Messenger: “Mayor Culbertson, how does it feel now that you are in the final days of your term as Mayor of Fairview?”
Culbertson: “It feels great! Principally because one of the Council’s goals, not just my goal, was to clearly secure the approval of the bond that enables the construction of fire station number one. That has now been achieved and it feels great to know that we got that done.”
The Messenger: “It seems ironic that the bond proposition passed this time by essentially the same overwhelming margin, 70.3%, as marked the defeat of the 2017 Bond Proposal.”
Culbertson: “Yes, it does seem ironic, but it also speaks to the first bond and what residents were saying about it. They said it was simply too much. If you focus on just the fire station and don’t focus on the other amenities, no additional public works. That’s what I was hearing from the community and this time we refocused our efforts, the Council’s efforts, just on building the fire station. That is what residents said, “Just a fire station and stop right there.”
The Messenger: “When you look back on the experience from 2017’s election to this year’s outcome, was it a difficult time?
Culbertson: “Yeah, it was a difficult journey. No doubt about that. But I had vowed, at a minimum, to secure a new fire station, and also better serving our first responders and their families. I promised to do everything in my might to do better while not impacting the property tax rate. Clearly the results affirm, and confirm, the many messages that I consistently heard after the first bond package failed.”
Lessner: “If I might add, Mayor Culbertson and the Council not only listened to what people were saying would be acceptable, just the fire station and keep the price down, but also how it might be financed, because many residents say they want some of the businesses, and the Community Development Corporation (CDC) and the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to provide their fair share of the costs associated with the construction of a new Fire Station No. 1.”
The Messenger: “Can we then assume that there will be discussion with the CDC and TIF about the future of their contributions?”
Culbertson: “I think that’s a discussion the next Council might have. That discussion might take place after the final cost of the project has been determined.”
Lessner: We have to make sure people understand what those funds are for. There’s an Economic Development Corporation (EDC) [Editor’s note: “The mission of the Fairview Economic Development Corporation is to develop and nurture a diverse, vibrant economy consistent with the values and goals of the community. The goals of the EDC are to establish and execute useful strategies to recruit new businesses and support the growth of existing businesses.”] and there is a TIF bucket [Editor’s note: “A tax increment financing (TIF) district allows cities to invest tax revenue from new development within the District into infrastructure and other public improvements needed in order to encourage future development. TIFs are established in a defined area of town for a set period of time and money.”] How and why were these entities created, how can we use them, what restrictions have been placed on them? How does it fit into the 380 agreement? I think these conversations need to be had with the new Council and with residents in an open session to find out what’s going on to make sure everybody understands what these things are and what options we have.”
The Messenger: There has been a lot of public discussion and concern about the state of the Fairview Town Center, given all the turnover in businesses and vacancies, is there reason for optimism about its future?
Culbertson: Absolutely yes! Unlike the prior property management partner, Lincoln Property Company is creating improvements literally month-in-month out, day-in-day-out. Fairview Town Center is our downtown. In our initial discussions with Lincoln Property Company we made sure they understood just how important it is for them to make investments, not just an initial investment, but continued investments. It had to be stabilized first. Now that it has been stabilized, we are witnessing a rebirth of the project. There are new buildings being constructed, new businesses and restaurants are coming, and there is now great reason for optimism. Look out this window onto the Fairview Town Center and what you see are businesses in operation, lots of cars in the parking lots and many residents enjoying these amenities.
But keep in mind that Fairview Town Center is but one part of the overall commercial development district plan. We need to turn attention also to the north part of town where we do not now have a development plan.
Lessner: We wanted Fairview Town Center to succeed. We receive a million dollars a year from its operation and we want to increase that revenue to the town. As Mayor Culbertson has mentioned, the Town Center and other businesses subsidize the town and the basic town services that we enjoy. We need to do a better job of communicating the details to all town residents.
The Messenger: Is it time to reconsider Fairview’s slogan, “Keeping it Country”? It seems like many people believe we no longer are “country” given all the development.
Culbertson: “I’ve often said the slogan means different things to different people.”
Lessner: “I’ve lived here 30 years, so I was here when it really was just country. My church used my house then for retreats because it was country. Those who preceded us as town planners were really brilliant when they created zones dedicated to large residential lots, and resisted the temptation to install city sewers as a way to ensure that no high-density residential properties could be built in the eastern portion of the town.
Culbertson: “Yes, the town was intentionally designed to offer two different zones, a commercial zone and a much more rural eastern residential zone where the lots are large, it is quieter, and it’s dark at night. So, over the years the town has maintained that atmosphere and it hasn’t ever changed and won’t ever change.”
The Messenger: “Mayor Culbertson, as you prepare to turn the gavel over to Mayor-Elect Lessner, what advice might you wish to share with him?”
Culbertson: “I would say this, there’s always going to be noise. Pick that path that is best for the town. Coalesce the Council on that path and execute along that path. Always try to do that and generally, good things will come from that. What I have learned through the years of my service is that this is a people business. What I love about our Mayor-Elect is that he is a people person and I know he will continue to put the needs of the people first despite periods of chaos, something that is part of elective office.
The Messenger: “Mayor-Elect Lessner, how would you define success for your term?”
Lessner: “The main job of the Town of Fairview is to provide basic services at a reasonable cost. I have no grandiose plans to do anything more than that. How is the best way we do that? Our challenge is to provide reasonably priced water even though we know the price of water to us is going up. How can we develop Fairview Town Center in ways that benefit all residents of the town? That to me are the kinds of things that we need to do. There will be no radical departure from where we’ve been for a long time. But that, to me, defines success.”
The swearing in ceremonies for the new Mayor and Council members will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Tues., Jun. 4 in Town Council Chambers of Town Hall prior to the regularly scheduled meeting of the Council.