WILLIAMSON — When voters go to the polls in Williamson’s municipal election Tuesday, June 8, Democrat Mayor Charlie Hatfield hopes residents give him another term to continue what he says is a positive track record for the city.
Hatfield, a businessman who has worked in oil and gas, real estate and also previously served as CEO of Williamson Memorial Hospital, has served as mayor since July 1, 2017. He is challenged by Republican candidate David Jewell, who currently serves as chief financial officer of Williamson Health and Wellness Center.
The mayoral race is the only contested race in the general election. Final outcomes for the council positions were decided in the April 13 primary election.
Hatfield said he thinks Williamson has taken a more positive direction since he first took office four years ago.
“One thing I’ve learned — and every politician that’s in office, I’m sure says this and I’m always cynical about it, but it’s true — it’s hard to do everything in one term, it really is,” Hatfield said. “Thinking back, I had a year of COVID, too. The world came to a standstill for a year, and we’re still trying to dig out of it. I know it’s no excuse, but I tell everybody that I served four years, but I feel like I only got three, you know?”
Hatfield said he thinks the city’s professional representation has improved.
“I think image and how we present ourselves to the world is important,” he said. “I think it can change things and lead to more positive things, so I feel I’ve helped in the area of morale.”
He also said the city’s overall appearance has improved, citing beautification projects. Other accomplishments he mentioned included working with council on the hiring of a new police chief, eliminating the city utility board and better fiscal responsibility.
In finances, Hatfield cited an old $2.6 million debt to water and sewage vendor Veolia, which he said is about 20 months from being paid off. Once paid, it will add approximately $55,000 to the city’s coffers each month. Hatfield said the city now pays every monthly bill on time.
If re-elected, Hatfield said he wants to completely revamp the city’s water and sewage system, as he has been working with the office of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on how to spend funding from the American Rescue Plan. Williamson is poised to received $1.11 million from the federal aid package.
Hatfield said a revamp of the water and sewage system needs to happen before more major beautification projects.
“There’s larger (beautification projects) we’d like to do like entire street and sidewalk improvements,” Hatfield said. “But I’m one of these people — and I see it — I don’t want to lay new streets and sidewalks on Monday, and then Friday, we come in with backhoes and equipment and tear them up to put in a water line. We need to be careful with taxpayers’ money and be respectful and be responsible.”
Hatfield said he has been careful to ensure utility rates didn’t increase for residents, despite eliminating the utility board. He said Williamson is among the lowest municipalities in West Virginia in water and sewage rates.
Hatfield also championed a remodel of the city hall building during his term, some of which he said was paid for out of his own pocket. He noted that staff and services have been consolidated and revamped to be more efficient.
Hatfield said he has plans for historical preservations and other projects to invite more tourists and trail riders into the city.
“The people we’re trying to attract here are tourists, and we know all the roads and bends and dangerous turns. They don’t know which one’s a one-way street sometimes, even though it’s marked,” Hatfield said. “So, I’m trying to make that more accessible to trail riders, and more comfort, and raise the level of safety and ease for them.”
Hatfield said tourism, specifically trail riding, has gained ground over the past four years, in part thanks to projects like tire removals from the Tug Fork River. Ultimately, Hatfield said he hopes the city can eventually be a hub for light industry.
“Tourism helps clean us up — our rivers, our streets — trying to eliminate the litter we have, which helps make us more attractive to tourists,” Hatfield said, “but, I want to take us to where we’re involved in light industry and light manufacturing. Coal miners and railroaders, by trade, are some of the best trained people with equipment on the planet, and we could bring industry here that will have those resources if we do it right, and that’s what I want to do. ...
“I still support the coal-based industry we have here and the natural gas and the timber,” Hatfield added. “You’ve got to keep that going, but there’s no doubt that the footprint and the size, they’re getting smaller. It’s been a one-industry-based economy for hundreds of years, and it’s really a shame. We should have diversified a long, long time ago, look where we’d be, but anyway, you can’t look back with regret, you just try to take it forward, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”