For nearly two decades, Lincolnton native Larry Mac Hovis has served as the Ward IV councilman for the city’s legislative body, the City Council.
“This city’s been my heart,” he said. “My family grew up here — my grandfather had a grocery store on Main Street, and my father ran a produce store. I used to bag groceries there.”
Only a few months away from his 75th birthday, Hovis recalled fond childhood memories of his hometown.
“As kids, the city was our playground,” he said. “I lived a few blocks off the city’s main street, and a lot of us kids would camp out in the yards and roller skate up and down the street…Main Street. was a roller rink.”
After graduating from Lincolnton High School, Hovis attended Appalachian State University for two years before accepting a position with Duke Power as a workforce supervisor and marrying his wife, Linda Porter Hovis. After working for the power company for 35 years, Hovis learned the company was downsizing and opted to retire.
It was then that his friends encouraged him to become involved in the city’s political sphere.
“I wasn’t really planning to get into politics,” Hovis said.
“When I first ran for office, I had just retired from Duke Power Company, and Ward IV at that time was going to be vacant. At that time, Jerry Campbell and Marcia Cloninger talked to me about running…they said, ‘We want you to run for Ward IV. We haven’t got anybody over here that we think would be as good as you.’ And I said, ‘Well, I just retired and I don’t want to get involved in more work, much less politics. I’ve never really gotten involved in politics and I don’t know much about politics.’ And they told me, ‘Well, that’s who we want. We want somebody who will do what’s right for the city and not play politics.”
While Hovis ran unopposed during his first election, he said he has had to work very hard to be re-elected over the years. In addition to balancing family life and political duties, he returned to the workforce after a brief seven-year stint in retirement. For eight years, Hovis worked with Duke Energy as a transmission line field manager.
“I got bored, and so when they called me to come back, I did,” he said, laughing.
In addition to his political service to the city, Hovis has also served as a volunteer firefighter for several years.
“I was a volunteer fireman for 20 years, and I’ve served on City Council for almost 20 years — that’s 40 years of service to the city,” he said.
During his time on the council, Hovis has witnessed and participated in several changes to Lincolnton’s landscape including updating the city’s water and sewer treatment plants, annexing Boger City and establishing a satellite fire department, the Holly Brooks cemetery expansion, introducing the Sidewalk Project and renovating City Hall.
“Since I’ve been in office, I’ve tried my best to support spending city money wisely and offering better service to the citizens,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have had good people work for the city that give 110 percent. And while we’ve doubled our population in the past 20 years, we only increased employment by 10 people.”
However, one of the biggest challenges Hovis feels he has faced as a city councilman has involved collaborating with the county commissioners on issues that impact both city and county residents. Some of the more recent issues have included the haggling over water sales.
“I am disappointed with them for even thinking about building a new plant,” he said. “We had a contract with them to sell water for $1.50 per 1,000 gallons, and they let it run out. And then, they came back and offered to buy it at $1 per 1,000 gallons. Their consultant told them if they got the city to sell them water at 92 cents, they would not have to upgrade their water treatment plant, and it would also reduce their costs to the west. We’ve gone down 35 cents from the $1.50, and they have gone up 13 cents from 92 cents.”
Hovis also believes the claim that the county can buy water somewhere else is inaccurate.
“They claim they can buy water somewhere else and have mentioned Maiden, but we talked to their officials, and Maiden buys their water from Hickory,” he said.
Tied into the water sales agreement is the controversy over proper payment for the 911 and animal control services.
“They claim the city uses 21 percent of 911 calls, but what they don’t realize is that we pay the same amount of taxes that the county citizens pay,” he said.
Hovis said that approximately 80 percent of the calls to the fire department were medical, which is a responsibility of Lincoln County.
“There’s no way that we can make up 21 percent of the calls when there are 80,000 people in the county,” he said.
Ultimately, Hovis explained, county problems are city problems as well, and that when the county makes a decision, they only have to look at the issue from one perspective.
“I don’t think the county realizes all the things we do for them,” he said. “We pick up county garbage. We have city police officers in county schools. We assist in supporting both the county and city recreation departments as well as two law enforcement organizations…there’s just so much that we do that the county doesn’t consider.”
Hovis admitted that as a councilman, he has always had problems with the county, and he hopes the city council and county commissioners will be able to work more effectively together than in past years.
“I have always had problems with the county, but I do have the highest respect for Alex Patton and the other county commissioners,” he said. “Their interests are geared toward what’s best for the county than the city, and you can’t fault them for that.”
Learning to deal with public criticism regarding the council has also been a challenge.
“The biggest thing the general public doesn’t realize is that our budget this year is only $28 million, and they don’t realize our role of trying to run it is a business,” Hovis said. “But, no matter what decision is made, we only will please 50 percent of our taxpayers.”
Another big issue Hovis feels the city will face is the implementation of a new garbage pickup system, which will require city residents to dispose of their garbage in city-issued trash receptacles.
“Our people have been spoiled when it comes to garbage (pickup), and it’s a service only half of our citizens pay for in town,” he said. “Over the years, people have thought that they can still keep the service they had 20 years ago (at the same price), but with the economy the way it is, the city can’t run on the same budget as it did 20 years ago.”
According to Hovis, property tax only covers police and fire department expenditures, leaving the city’s general fund to support the solid waste operating budget.
With a little more than a year left in his term, Hovis still has several projects he hopes he and his fellow council members can accomplish, such as the completion of the North Generals Boulevard intersection project, the continuation of the Sidewalk Project and attracting big water-using industries to the city. He has not yet decided whether he will run for re-election, depending on his health. Nevertheless, Hovis will continue to help his hometown prosper, regardless of his political status.
“I’m proud that we have kept our town family oriented,” Hovis said. “We’re still a community where you can raise your kids and that maintains that small-town atmosphere. We’re the perfect location for a small town. We’re bordered by Hickory and Gastonia, and we have good roads to take you anywhere out of the city. As far as gaining downtown business, we’re going to grow, but we just have to handle it in the right way.”