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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Agency reviews city
Departments, programs are examined

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville City Councilman Gene Teague said Tuesday he thinks there was value to having an independent consultant examine the city's operations.

"You're looking at things through a different lens" and seeing them from a viewpoint that city officials otherwise might not see, Teague said after the council heard a summary of business plans for city departments.

Other council members indicated they agreed.

The Southside Business Technology Center (SBTC) prepared business plans for the city electric, refuse, water/sewer and leisure services departments at the council's request. The center made some suggestions as to how the city can improve its services, but Teague said the suggestions are minor.

Councilman-elect Danny Turner, who was at the meeting but does not take office until July 1, said he would have liked to see "more meat and potatoes" in the SBTC's findings.

SBTC Executive Director Eva Doss said what she presented was a summary of "thousands of pages of documents" and extensive data her organization collected on the city and other municipalities during the past five months.

"I'd be concerned if you had a lot of meat" in the findings because that might show there are major problems with city operations, Teague said.

The SBTC studied how Martinsville offers utility and leisure services versus the ways other localities provide them in hopes of finding out if services can be offered more effectively, according to City Manager Clarence Monday.

Among the SBTC's suggestions is that the city upgrade its Web site to have an online bill payment system. The city already is doing that.

Doss acknowledged that many local residents probably do not have Internet access. Still, "online bill-paying is a standard now," not a luxury, she said.

Another service that basically has become standard among localities - and recommended by the SBTC for Martinsville - is curbside recycling. Doss said, though, that communities providing curbside recycling generally do not make a profit on the service, but merely break even.

In having the business plans prepared, city officials have indicated they also were hoping to find new ways to generate revenue.

But "it's difficult to suggest huge revenue increases when your population is declining," Doss said.

Martinsville's population dropped from 15,416 in 2000 to 14,945 in 2006, and the Virginia Employment Commission anticipates the population dropping another 0.3 percent by 2010, statistics presented by the SBTC showed.

The number of businesses and housing units in the city also has declined in recent years, the statistics showed.

Teague asked if the city could expand its bulk trash collection service into parts of the county to generate more revenue. Public Works Director Leon Towarnicki said that is possible although a detailed cost analysis would be needed first. He added that more staff definitely would be needed because current refuse department employees stay busy.

As for the city expanding other types of services into the county, such as regular garbage collection, both SBTC staff and city officials said there may be problems if the city tries to compete with private enterprises.

Private solid waste haulers collect garbage from residents and businesses in the county, which does not provide a collection service.

Based on national interest trends among people aged 40 to 59, the SBTC suggested that the leisure services department add aerobics, canoeing and golf outings to the activities it offers. Doss recommended trying to develop more activities targeted at people in that age range.

Teague said city staff should consider the SBTC's suggestions and come back to the council in the future with ideas on how to implement them, as well as how to fund them.

Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr. said a good time to discuss them will be at an upcoming retreat that will be scheduled after Turner and Councilman-elect Mark Stroud begin their terms on the council in July.

The SBTC, which is based uptown and affiliated with Virginia Tech, provides strategic planning and business development services to both existing and emerging businesses. It receives funding from a variety of sources, including The Harvest Foundation and the Lucy P. Sale Foundation.

The council also met in closed session Tuesday to discuss a personnel matter but took no action afterward.


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