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Council candidates offer ideas on funds
Monday, October 15, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Finding ways to improve the city’s financial situation continues to be on the minds of Martinsville City Council candidates in the Nov. 6 election.
City officials have voiced concern about revenues declining in recent years as costs for providing services have jumped. Due to population declines and other economic factors, they think the trend may persist.
Candidates recently told the Martinsville Bulletin their opinions on reversion, an idea being examined in which Martinsville — an independent city — would become a town in Henry County. If that happened, the county would provide certain services so Martinsville would save money by no longer having to provide the services.
Basically, candidates said a major factor in deciding if the city should pursue reversion would be how much money can be saved. Public opinion also should be taken into account, candidates said.
Three council seats are up for grabs in the election. Four candidates are vying for those seats.
Below, the candidates discuss other ideas for saving money and otherwise improving city finances (the order of candidates’ responses is rotated from the last article about them):
Stroud said he could not think of any new ideas to improve city finances. However, he voiced support for continuing ongoing efforts, such as the city generating some of the electricity it distributes to homes and businesses so less wholesale power must be purchased.
He remains optimistic that the city’s economy is improving.
Growth of the New College Institute, which is developing new programs and a new facility uptown, will be “a path toward renewed prosperity” for the city as new faculty and students come and start contributing to the local economy, Stroud said.
He said plans by Dr. Noel Boaz to launch a medical school in Martinsville “will be an added boost” along that line.
Stroud said there have been “a lot of ribbon-cuttings” recently for new businesses, and he is hopeful the area will continue attracting new companies that will add to the city’s tax base.
“All of those things combined, I think, will see Martinsville forward,” whether it remains a city or becomes a town, he said.
“We need to be very wise as to how we spend our money on economic development,” Turner said. The “level of recruitment (of new businesses and industries so far) is not satisfactory to me.”
Ultimately, the city council and the Henry County Board of Supervisors are responsible for economic development, Turner said. But he thinks the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) should be funded based on performance, he said.
Also, “we (the city) need to get out of the way of people who want to do business in Martinsville” by reducing the number of requirements and restrictions on businesses, Turner said.
He said the city may have to reduce its work force and consolidate some jobs of current employees.
With its population having fallen to about 13,500, he said, the city cannot afford to have as many employees as it did when its population was larger.
Turner also said he understands the Internal Revenue Service plans to expand and he has talked with federal officials about the possibility of the agency placing some of its operations in Martinsville. That would add to the city’s tax base, he indicated.
“At the very least,” Woods said, “consolidation of services has got to be at the top of the list” to help both the city and Henry County save money.
An opportunity to generate more revenue, he said, is letting the city’s sanitation department pick up garbage at homes and businesses in the county. Those new customers would mean new revenue for the city.
Woods said he thinks that idea would work because there are people who have moved from the city to the county and they are accustomed to city garbage pickup, so they might want that service again. Currently, garbage pickup is available from private companies in some parts of the county.
If the idea works with Henry County, perhaps the service could be expanded to Patrick County, he said.
As far as consolidation of services goes, however, combining the city and county school systems is “the elephant in the room” in terms of being a difficult process, Woods said.
He added that the city must reduce regulations on small businesses to help them prosper.
“We’ve got to quit nickel-and-diming small business owners,” he said.
Sharon Brooks Hodge
Hodge thinks the city should think twice about hiring consultants.
Consultants are relevant for certain things, such as examining the concept of reversion, she said. Consultants are being used for that because it is an extremely large endeavor, according to officials.
But there have been other endeavors in which consultants have been used when they may not have been needed, she indicated.
For instance, the city hired an executive search firm, Springsted Inc., to recruit applicants for the city manager position. Hodge thinks that was a waste of money.
“It doesn’t take that much expertise” to set qualifications for a manager and place advertisements for the job in relevant publications, she said.
Also, if the city is seriously concerned about its finances, “why are we subsidizing a baseball team,” she said of the Martinsville Mustangs.
Hodge said she is “not opposed” to the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., but she thinks the city’s allocations of funds to it should be based more on performance.
She also said she would rather see the city put less money toward outside agencies it helps fund — some of which she said may be “feel good things,” which she did not identify — and more toward critical needs such as police and infrastructure.
Hodge added that she thinks the city should prepare business plans before embarking on major ventures, such as buying the former Henry Hotel.
The Phoenix Community Development Corp., which is involved in efforts to redevelop the structure, recently announced intentions of turning it into a somewhat upscale apartment complex.
Hodge said, though, “it is not very prudent” to spend a large amount of money on something without a plan for it.