Planning and building on individual strengths have brought new sidewalks and lighting to Hagerstown over the past decade. Leading the Town Council for most of that time has been Becky Diercks as president and Brian Longbons, pro tem.
Both voluntarily stepped away from those positions. On Jan. 2, the council elected Allan Bullock as its president and Fred Dill pro tem, or vice president.
Diercks and Longbons give credit for a lot of the progress during their time leading the council to a team that has included two town managers, clerk-treasurer, other council members and many citizens. Both point to the town’s Comprehensive Plan for keeping them focused.
Neither Diercks nor Longbons remembers how many years it’s been since fellow council members first elected them as leaders. Previous council president Rick Cole said he stepped down in 2015 or 2016.
Longbons preceded Diercks on council by a couple of years, coming on in 2014. Diercks says, “If I hadn’t had Brian Longbons to get me acquainted with how things work, I would have had a lot harder time.” In a separate interview, Longbons said this about Diercks: “She is very attentive to getting started (on projects) and on getting finished with what we start.”
Downtown renovation is among projects both say took much planning and ongoing focus. It involved replacing five blocks of sidewalks and lighting, installing new water lines, waste water lines and storm drains, and replacing benches and other fixtures, all accomplished before the Indiana Department of Transportation dug up and rebuilt Indiana Highway 38, which is Main Street.
Chris LaMar said the Main Street project occupied a lot of his first eight years as town manager. He started that job in 2014, when Cole was still president. The council had decided that long-dreamt-of projects for updating utilities and rehabbing Main Street should be done before the state dug up the street.
LaMar said, “In addition to 2018’s water line replacement, new lighting fixtures were installed on Main Street in 2019, storm drainage repairs were made in 2020, new sidewalks were installed in 2021. … Repaving of Main Street was finally completed by INDOT in the summer of 2022.”
Diercks said the town has been fortunate to have had “two incredible town managers” in that time. Bob Warner, a professional engineer by training, held the position until 2014. LaMar, a trained architect who had served previously on Town Council, replaced him. Both brought skills as project managers.
Diercks also credits clerk-treasurer’s Julie Neal’s skills with numbers and budgeting for helping keep the town running smoothly through the process.
LaMar said the Diercks-Longbons team brought complementary skills to their tasks. “Becky is good with words while Brian is good with numbers. Those two strengths combined have been a huge benefit for obtaining a number of grants for Hagerstown.”
Diercks, he said, has spent time reading and analyzing all the details of often-involved grant procedures. She had served on and led the town park board several years before her election to the council. While serving as park board president, the board managed and eventually closed the Ruth Dutro Pool (former Splash Club) and built the Dr. William Miller Park on College Street. On that board, she learned the work needed to obtain grants.
“On projects where we have not been able to obtain grant funding, Brian has assisted us in finding creative funding solutions where we’ve been able to quickly pay for large-scale projects. The Main Street water line replacement project, which cost nearly one million dollars, began in 2018 and was fully paid for in December of 2023.”
Both Longbons and Diercks agree that the Comprehensive Plan serves as their guidebook. Revised in 2010 by the town’s Advisory Plan Commission — which Longbons chairs — the plan is a vision of how Hagerstown should be developed. The Town Council and other planning bodies use it to guide their decisions. Unlike many such plans, this one is online and is updated at least annually, Longbons said. The update includes a review of the previous year’s accomplishments and a review of projects anticipated in the coming years. It’s updated to reflect current priorities.
Diercks joined the Plan Commission when she was elected to the Town Council.
Along with the Main Street improvements, projects anticipated in the plan which have been completed include the installation of an advanced utility metering system, wayfinding signage on Main Street, improvements to the wastewater facilities, street milling and repaving, purchase (with Jefferson Township) of a $560,000 fire truck, sewer line extension, purchase and demolition of five dilapidated houses and a business building, and new sidewalks to the EAA Park and Hagerstown Park.
The council also aided in the 2016 creation of Heart of Hagerstown, a nonprofit which includes many local business owners and managers. It functions similar to a local chamber of commerce. Chaired by Gary Schuette, that group has spearheaded some activities for the town, including planning for the April 8 solar eclipse, a fall festival and the annual Hometown Christmas. The town has received valuable input from them on several projects, Longbons said.
Town Council is currently discussing how to replace the water system. Some lines are about 100 years old and leak badly. A consulting firm has estimated replacement costs of $6 million or more.
Diercks said a major project she would like to address is creating more housing. That idea has been floated for at least 30 years and the trouble is finding a developer willing to risk the investment for a possible profit. Creating condo-style housing — with low to no maintenance — would allow older residents to move out of larger homes, freeing them for younger people and families to move to town.
Diercks is planning to end her time on Town Council this year, having decided against running for reelection. She wants to spend more time with her husband and visit their grown children. She wants to stay on the Plan Commission.
Longbons has two years left on his council term and hopes to continue serving “as long as the people of Hagerstown feel I have something to offer.”
New council president lists some of his goals
The newest Hagerstown Town Council member now leads it.
Town Council elected 32-year-old Allan Bullock, a Hagerstown Jr.-Sr. High School teacher, as its president.
Fred Dill, a sales consultant for a food service supplier, will serve as his pro tem, or vice president. He’s in his second council term.
Now in his fourth year as a council member, Bullock said he hopes council members will continue working together cooperatively. An assistant fire chief of the Hagerstown Fire Department, he is a grandson of retired building commissioner Bob Bullock.
In Indiana, a town council serves as the town legislature and executive. As the legislative body, it approves the annual budget, sets policies and makes laws, and appoints members to serve on advisory and policymaking boards. The five council members also serve as the town executive, with duties like those of a city’s mayor: negotiating and signing contracts, supervising managers, approving personnel and so on.
Monthly, the Hagerstown council has one regular meeting and often schedules a work session or special meeting for administrative duties. Between meetings, the council president or pro tem represents the town council along with town employees in administrative tasks such as negotiating contracts. Day-to-day operations are left to town manager Chris LaMar, clerk-treasurer Julie Neal and police chief Keith Folkner.
In Hagerstown, the town also owns and operates its electric, water and wastewater utilities, with the council serving as utilities board.
Each council member is paid $2,600 annually, with the council president receiving $500 more.
Bullock admitted that he’s on a fast learning curve as the new president. Little about the council president’s duties is specified by state law.
Among Bullock’s goals:
- Continue moving forward on town infrastructure replacement, such as the current project of updating the water system;
- Continue updating of the town website to make it more current and useful;
- Personally meeting with department heads to help each develop a five-year plan for their department;
- Encouraging more public involvement in town government by finding interested people to serve on town boards and commissions;
- Updating town ordinances, such as removing provisions governing the operations of the town swimming pool, which closed several years ago.
The council’s next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, in Town Hall, 49 E. College St. The public may attend.
A version of this article appeared in the January 31 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.