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Local elections see a dearth of candidates

As spring harkens, some of Loudoun's smallest towns, located in the western corridor of the county, prepare for town elections to select respective mayors and town council members. Each town council wields power to determine town policies, including planning and zoning, construction, budgets and events, for areas within the town corporate limits.

But in three towns, there's a noticeable shortage in candidates.

Purcellville and Lovettsville are competitive elections. Two people are vying for mayor and four for three council spots in Purcellville. Four people are battling for three council spots in Lovettsville.

But Middleburg, Hamilton and Round Hill don't have enough candidates to fill vacant seats.

The remaining two towns, Hillsboro and Leesburg have different election policies, both holding elections in the fall.

The Times-Mirror sat down and took a look to try to find the answer: Why is nobody running?

Population and voter turnout

In looking over census dockets, there's a striking difference between Hamilton, Middleburg, Round Hill, Lovettsville and Purcellville: growth.
Lovettsville has experienced a steady increase in population over the past decade, growing from 880 residents in 2000 to more than 1,700 now; Purcellville has ballooned from 3,600 in 2000 to more than 8,000 in 2012.

Meanwhile, Middleburg, Hamilton and Round Hill have seen population declines.

Hamilton's population peaked in 1999 with 1,200 people, but had just over 500 in 2012. Round Hill reached its apex in 2009 with 759 people, which in three years fell to 577, similar levels to 2000. Middleburg had 650 residents in 2000, which grew to 970 in 2009 before plummeting back down to 700 in 2012.

Many of the council sessions in the growing towns concern zoning and construction, a source of contention throughout Loudoun.

David Simpson, a current Hamilton Town Council member and candidate for mayor, hypothesized that growth prompts people to be involved.

“It causes a lot of growing pains,” Simpson said. “Utilities get stretched. Services get stressed and stretched.”

In addition to fewer candidates running, voter rates also have gotten dismal, perhaps giving people less incentive to invest time and energy into running a campaign.

In 2012, Lovettsville was the only town that boasted voting rates over 20 percent, with 38.24 percent of the registered and eligible population voting. Hamilton, Purcellville and Round Hill all were between 14 and 18 percent. Of the 518 registered voters in Middleburg, just 37 people voted – a mere 7 percent. In 2008 and 2010, voting rates were at 20 percent or higher for all five towns.

“In some places, things are already going smoothly,” Simpson offered. “People get more excited and want to get involved when things are going badly.”

Elaine Walker, who served as a Lovettsville Town Council member for 10 years and as town mayor for 22 years, says the mindset has been around for a while.
“I don't know why that is, it's just always been that way,” she said. “'Let someone else do it.'”

A thankless job

The pay for sitting on town government is not enough to be the sole source of income. Middleburg only recently upped salaries to more than $1,000 a year; Hamilton's mayor makes the most robust salary at $15,000 a year (though Hamilton doesn't have a town manager, thus requiring the mayor work at least 20 hours a week)

The average salary for an elected town official is only a few thousand dollars a year.

Similarly, government officials in general work a minimum of two nights a month with budget sessions, which can be several hours long, as well as committee meetings and budget hearings in the spring. Work time can range from just 10 hours a month to 20 hours a week.

And while some current and former elected officials say it can be a thankless job as it relates to pay, they still find it fulfilling.

“It's thankless as far as being its own profession,” Walker said. “But it's not as thankless as it used to be otherwise. People now recognize they want a good town government.”

Simpson, a retired police chief who served with both Purcellville and Middleburg, said he feels this is a way to give back.

“It's in some ways thankless, but in other ways very fulfilling,” Simpson said. “I'm a third-generation Loudoun boy. I see this as an opportunity to serve.”

Town elections are scheduled for May 6 for Purcellville, Lovettsville, Round Hill, Middleburg and Hamilton.

Correction: The article initially stated that Hillsboro has elections this spring. Hillsboro elections are held in the fall. The Times-Mirror regrets this error.


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