Mayor Blake Gallagher of The Plains knows the community he serves.
Story and photos by Aimee O’Grady
Managing an incorporated town of fewer than 250 residents with a meager budget seems like a formidable challenge. From maintaining town safety and aesthetics to entertaining developer proposals to ensuring that tax revenue is allocated within the best interest of residents, running a small town is a big job.
In the state of Virginia, there are 190 incorporated towns. Twenty-eight of these have fewer than 250 residents. One of the largest tiny towns in the state is The Plains, with a population of 226 according to the US Census Bureau’s 2015 estimates.
All incorporated towns are required to have elected governing bodies and designated councils. With only 226 residents to step forward to fill these roles, this in and of itself can be problematic. Not, however, for The Plains.
Today, The Plains is continuing its decades-long transformation from a mostly-residential Main Street to one that showcases the arts, creative gastronomy, and unique businesses. In May 2016, a familiar face took on the role of mayor for a second non-consecutive term to help usher the community forward.
Blake Gallagher came to Middleburg in 1963 when his family relocated from Greenwich, Connecticut. “My mother went to school at Foxcroft and always wanted to come back,” says Gallagher. He has been here ever since.
A welder by trade, Gallagher originally opened his business off Main Street (Route 55), in 1977, when the community was primarily trade-oriented. “We had service people and gas stations in The Plains, and Main Street was mostly residential. The demographics were very different then, with a larger portion of the population living below the poverty line. Today, we still have the services, with the addition of more high-end boutiques,” he says.
Gallagher’s first term as mayor was two decades ago, from 1995-2000. At the time, he was also the fire chief and a small business owner. Gallagher knows the community he serves.
“The town code spells out how many members need to volunteer on which committees and sometimes it is challenging to fill those spots,” explains Stephen M. Gyurisin, the town administrator. Luckily for The Plains, there has been a consistent number of volunteers over the past several decades who have helped the community transition. Gyurisin himself has been involved with The Plains Planning Commission and Town Council since 1998.
In the first decade of the new century, the town experienced an economic boom and filled the reserves used to maintain the community infrastructure. Today, those reserves have dwindled and Gallagher is working with the town council members on ways to build them back up without negatively impacting the residents. “Neighboring cities have meal tax around four percent, Manassas is as high as 10 percent, we don’t have anything right now. We are working on adding a meal tax, closer to the four percent, that will help fill the reserve,” says Gallagher.
Residents, as well as citizens in neighboring communities, are encouraged to attend town council meetings to have their voices heard on these, and any other topics. The meetings are held on the second floor of The Plains Fire Station in a small space. “It’s an intimate arrangement,” says Gyurisin. “There is no podium and no railing, meeting attendees are not separated from the town council, the Architectural Review Board, or any other group that meets here,” he continues. “I don’t care who attends the meetings, if they have something to say, I want to hear it,” says Gallagher.
Gallagher is pleased to be back in the role of mayor: “Everyone on the town council is easy to work with,” he says. Gyurisin adds, “They are all focused on what is best for the town and do not push individual agendas.” There are other town supporters that live beyond The Plains’ boundaries, and Gallagher says, “This is their town too, and we receive donations from residents who live on some of the neighboring properties.”
Both Gallagher and Gyurisin are fortunate to serve a community that is so deeply invested in its town: an investment that has paid off over the years.
The Town Council meetings are held the third Monday of every month at 7:30pm on the second floor of the Fire Station. Anyone is welcome to attend.