When the Fasco DC Motors plant closed its operation in the Hillsdale Industrial Complex in 2003 to relocate to Mexico, Scott Sessions lost his job and saw that the city needed a better plan for economic growth.
Though he landed back on his feet after getting an associates degree from Jackson College and becoming the purchasing manager for the Hillsdale Hospital, a position he has held for 11 years, he knows that without economic development, many Hillsdale residents will face the same struggles he did.
So in 2011, when the city council was mulling over a city income tax to increase revenue, Sessions knew he had to fight it and not allow the city to hinder its own economic development.
It was not as if he was a newcomer to politics. Sessions’ son Michael, who is now the City Manager and Clerk for Morenci, Michigan, won the Hillsdale mayoral election in 2005 through a write-in-campaign when he, then a senior at Hillsdale High School, was only 18 years old.
When he first ran for mayor in 2013, Scott Sessions’ campaign focused on fixing the crumbling infrastructure of Hillsdale. In his first term, Sessions has worked to rebuild and repair some of those issues.
Though opposed to the city income tax, Sessions supported the three millage property tax increase, proposed by the Funding Alternative Identification and Recommendation (FAIR) committee, which is a sinking fund that should generate over $300,000 in revenue for the general fund with intent for road construction. Under Sessions’ leadership, the city has set aside $965,000 for road construction and has reserved an additional $200,000 for road repair.
Sessions, as mayor, wants to work with the council to improve the lives of Hillsdale residents. “We are not going to agree on everything, but if we can get to a point of compromise where we can get things passed that can help the city, we can move the city forward in a positive direction,” he said.
Sessions said he was “disappointed” in his opponent in the mayoral race, Councilman Adam Stockford, also a member of the FAIR committee, for initially voting to fund these vital aging infrastructure issues, then changing his stance when the vote came to the city council for ratification.
Moreover, Sessions alleges that Stockford had two unexcused absences when he missed the two budget workshops where issues concerning the millage could have been raised.
“All that did was devalue the important work of that committee,” Sessions said.
Despite outrage by some members of the Hillsdale community, Sessions believes that the tax increase was necessary for the maintenance of the city.
“The 2.9 millage is a lot less than the city income tax. We have cut almost every place that we could have cut,” he said.
These measures have been taken in order to rebuild Mead, Vine, Garden, and Rippon Streets and repair others in the city through crack filling and resurfacing. These plans are not just cosmetic. For Sessions, these improvements will make Hillsdale an attractive place to live.
“We have to make Hillsdale a destination for people to want to live. In this day and age, it comes down to quality of life: downtown walkability, community, parks and recreation, nice streets,” Sessions said. “Moving the City of Hillsdale in a positive direction depends on stable government.”
During his term, Sessions helped hire new directors for the fire department, the police department, the board of public service, and the board of public utilities. The new hirings give Sessions hope for Hillsdale’s future.
“We all want economic development and that can only occur when the tools are in place,” Sessions said.
Perhaps most importantly, Sessions helped hire City Manager David Mackie after two other managers served for only a short time. Mackie has worked for the city since 2015 and since that time, with the help of Mary Wolfram, the City of Hillsdale’s Director of Economic Development, Hillsdale has seen new businesses open like Handmade Sandwiches and Beverages, Core Coil Compositions, and Lucky Buck, which operates out of Old Stocks Mill. Sessions’ term has also seen the construction of the new Center City Apartments and the Kroger gas station.
There have also been renovations at the 42 Union Apartment building, the Dawn Theater, and the Hillsdale Airport. There has also been an expansion to the Paragon Metals World Headquarters which created 50 jobs.
“The biggest threat to Hillsdale is political instability, in-fighting, and not serving honorably,” Sessions said. He believes that the stability of the new core of city staff will help development in Hillsdale. “We have competent staff who are capable of doing amazing things to make our community a better place to live,” he said.
Hillsdale took a big hit in the 2008 recession, lowering the city’s taxable evaluation from 123 million to 160 million. Sessions vows to do all he can to bring some of the wealth back to the city. “I will strive to move the city of Hillsdale forward in a way that will provide our community to market itself to potential investors and stakeholders,” he said.
Sessions says that the city also needs to continue to work closely with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and with the state-sponsored Rising Tide program which, according to michigan.gov, “will provide communities with the tools they need to design and build a solid planning, zoning and economic development foundation to attract new businesses and help existing employers to grow.”
Having lived in Hillsdale since 1994, Sessions said he has developed a great fondness for his community.
“There is so much beauty in it,” Sessions said. “The people here are great and I love living here. Everyone wants to see great things happen here.”
When voters go into the voting booths to fill out their ballots on Nov. 7, Sessions wants them to know a few things about him: “I am an honest person. I feel what the people are going through. I am here to try to make it all better for them.”