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Tradition of leadership

South Point mayor follows in father’s footsteps, hopes to improve infrastructure

South Point’s new mayor has a lifelong love for the village he grew up in.

“I’ve lived here since 1965,” he said, recounting his history. “Dad was mayor here for 30 years. I was a kid here.”

And, as the son of the late Bill Gaskin, who led the village for more than 30 years, first as a council member, then as mayor, his family name is known for public service.

“My nephew, the day of the election, said he can’t think of anyone more South Point than my uncle Jeff,’ and that meant a lot to me,” he said.

Gaskin, 61, served as a village council member for four years. He now splits his duties between the part-time mayor position and his part-time job at Lawrence County Emergency Medical Services. Before that, he worked for 14 years for Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility.

He was elected Nov. 1, after defeating Bill Patrick, Rube Allman and Michael Curtis in the general election, and began his term on Jan. 1.

“Public service has always interested me,” Gaskin said. “I like to talk to people. I like to be around people, make things better for people and make things easier.”

He said that he learned a lot from his father about leadership.

“Dad and I were close,” he said. We had breakfast every Saturday morning at the Snak Shak. “We lived in the same town. He had a lot of common sense and talked to a lot of people.”

His father’s legacy came up often during his run for office.

“When I was campaigning, I knocked on the door and a man said, ‘Can you do as good of a job as your dad did?’ I said ‘No, sir. But if I do almost as good a job as Dad did, will that be good enough?’ And he said yes. Those are some big shoes to fill.”

While he understands his father’s legacy, he said he is interested in building his own name and address the needs of the village as he begins his term.

Gaskin said the biggest issue facing the village is infrastructure. He spent the morning before the interview looking down drainage holes, evaluating the need for improvements.

He said the village also needs to focus on its aging water system, installed in 1957. The pipes are made of transite, a compound that deteriorates and breaks as it expands and contracts.

Another improvement he said is needed is the installation of more valves to the water system.

“That way if we have leaks, we can it shut down at a few points, instead of the whole thing,” he said. “As we have breaks, we are installing more valves.”

He’s also seeking to simplify the water distribution by connecting lines and eliminating the meandering path water takes through the village, which causes low pressure in some areas and puts wear and tear on the system.

He notes that The Point industrial park didn’t have proper water pressure and that, before a new connecting line was installed, pressure was so low in the AEP building that it was impossible to flush the toilets.

“We want to be able to loop the water system more, so there’s not only one way in and one way out,” Gaskin said.

Another issue he discussed is the decision by the village council to raise the water and sewer tap fees. To connect to the water system, the one-time water tap fee will increase from $400 to $1,000, and the sewer tap fee will go up from $1,000 to $1,750.

“It’s not that we’re trying to profit from it,” he said. “Parts for water tap were costing us $480, so, if we put in a water tap for $400, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. But we’re still cheaper than other area water systems.”

Gaskin cited the village’s low water, sewage and garbage costs, and said he hopes to ease the pain of any future fee increases, stating that it’s the “politician’s nightmare” when prices have to go up.

“I’d like to, instead of the mayor and council raising prices when they think it needs to be done, I’d like to have it done by ordinance, so that every year, I’d like to go 2 percent a year. That way, it’s every year, rather than wait and it hits you hard every four years.”

He said he’s exploring other options for funding village needs, such as grants, noting that he has two contacts with experience willing to take up the task of grantwriting.

Gaskin shared some of his other plans for the village, noting how a community service program is about to get under way, in which people can work to pay off fines.

He also is eager to get started on one of his ideas he pitched during the campaign — organizing a community rummage sale twice a year.

“It’s a little thing, but sometimes little things bring people together,” he said.

The sales would be timed for spring and fall, in order to coincide with the village clean-up.

“It would be the first weekend, in April and October,” he said. “What you can’t sell, you put out and we’ll take it away.”

He said the idea would be inexpensive to implement, requiring only the printing of about 50 signs that could be reused for each sale.

When asked what he thinks must happen in order to consider himself a successful mayor, Gaskin said he hopes for improvements in infrastructure and for the village to remain fiscally sound.

“To be sure that we’re still in the black,” he said.

And he cited the need for a partnership between government officials and the public.

“That the government or the administration and the people trust each other and work together,” he said. “That important.”

Gaskin said he doesn’t expect everyone to always agree with him, but he hopes they can come together to move the village forward.

“We have controversy here, but I think we can talk through controversy,” he said. “It may not please everyone, but we can figure things out.”