Jessie Bellflowers, a 67-year-old former town commissioner, was sworn in Monday evening as the town's first newly elected mayor in over 12 years.
“On behalf of the board, we might not get it all right, but we are sure not going to get it intentionally wrong. And that’s a pledge,” Bellflowers said at the end of his first town meeting as mayor.
His top priorities include creating a comprehensive strategic plan for the town and dealing with a sales tax deficit.
Bellflowers lived in Hope Mills while still serving in the U.S. Army in 1997. After he retired from the military in 2003, he relocated back to Hope Mills and began working at Fayetteville Technical Community College. He served on several boards, both in the local and veteran communities. He was the president of the local chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars and was the North Carolina State Commander for the VFW in 2015 and 2016. He also served on the town’s Lake Restoration Advisory Committee. He became a town commissioner in 2017 and served until 2021. He left the board to run for mayor but lost to Jackie Warner in 2021 by just 44 votes.
In November, Bellflowers defeated Warner for the seat, earning 52.6% of the vote.
He told CityView he was unsure whether he wanted to seek office again after losing that election, but two issues ensured he would: a sales tax deficit and the Golfview Road proposed hotel.
“Sometimes a defining moment comes when you look at what’s happening in the community and the future direction that will impact a community,” Bellflowers said. “And you have a choice. You either be part of the solution or stay silent.”
One of the issues Bellflowers said he wants to address early in an upcoming January priorities meeting is the sales tax deficit the town will face in the upcoming year.
Cumberland County will be changing its systems of calculating sales taxes, with the altered distribution method expected to begin after June 30, 2025. The new system will calculate taxes based on the size of local populations instead of giving municipalities a share of county sales taxes. This will lead to an approximate $1.8 million deficit for the town of Hope Mills, said Finance Director Drew Holland during a board of commissioners’ June meeting. Deficits mean that programs and budgets will be cut.
Bellflowers didn't specify what he will be looking at to cut; rather, he said he wants the board to start looking at what can be carved out and then get public input as the budget process moves on.
“The two most costly departments in any municipality are fire and police. But those are the two that are most essential,” Bellflowers said. “Then you look at public works and parks and rec — those other big departments that we have.”
He said he hopes the Salary Pay Study the town approved in October will help shed light on what can be improved in the town and what can be cut.
“We can only make decisions based on information we have in front of us at that time," he said. "But if that information changes and we need to revisit that decision, I’m very open to that."
Bellflowers’ other priorities include creating two new committees: an economic development committee and a cultural arts committee. The economic development committee will be made up of major stakeholders, while the cultural arts committee will be made up of citizens.
The economic development committee will play a major role in helping to manage the economic growth of the town and develop connections with citizens, the Chamber of Commerce and the board.
“Managing the growth is what’s going to go forward,” Bellflowers said. “Whether it’s now, a year or in two years from now.”
Bellflowers said there are a number of businesses that are planning to establish themselves in Hope Mills, but the town needs to be able to manage that growth.
“It has to be smartly planned and protecting the integrity of our neighborhoods,” Bellflowers said. “And we have to honor and stay in compliance of the Cumberland County Southwest Land Use Plan. That is huge.”
Bellflowers said he also hopes to be a champion of transparency and public input. He said he believes there has been a lack of public input in Hope Mills. He cites the recently approved Ballred LLC contract to bring in a baseball team. He said the board voted and signed the contract without any clear public input. The town’s community survey came out after the agreement was approved.
Bellflowers said he plans to create a public forum once a month where citizens and board members can come together and talk directly, rather than the three-minute limited public comments at town meetings.
He said he hopes the first public forum will be scheduled in February and to continue at different locations and times so people will be able to stop in at least once.
“It’s giving citizens the opportunity to speak their voices. That’s why I believe strongly in community forums,” Bellflowers said. “That first forum in February, we may have 10 people, we may have one, we may have none. But at least that opportunity is there. I think that’s where we start.”
Looking past Hope Mills, the mayor said he hopes to work with the other municipalities to start a county-wide public transportation system. He said he hopes to present this idea at the Cumberland County Mayors Coalition meeting in February.
He said he would also like the town board to have more communication with the county board of commissioners and state representatives.
When looking at the past 12 years of Warner’s tenure as mayor, Bellflowers said he wants to continue the Mayor's Youth Leadership Committee, but that is the only policy he has in mind that he wants to continue. He also said he has not received communication from Warner’s team during the transition process.
Bellflowers commended Warner for her years of serving the town but said he has heard from voters that it’s time for a change.
“My pledge to the citizens is to be transparent and accountable and to encourage public input on every decision that the governing body makes,” Bellflowers said.
Contact Hannah Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.