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Turner suggests moving federal offices
In letter to area's representatives
Thursday, February 21, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Martinsville City Councilman Danny Turner would like Martinsville-Henry County to start looking more like Washington, D.C.
Turner on Wednesday sent a letter to members of Congress who represent the area, recommending that federal agencies move some of their offices to Southside. He said it would help federal agencies reduce spending in light of potential massive budget cuts and, at the same time, improve this area’s economy.
Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said the idea “makes good sense” although it would take a while to accomplish.
Neither Turner nor Griffith are advocating turning Martinsville into the nation’s capital.
Turner wrote in his letter that “the looming specter of sequester can be partially alleviated by dispersing locations of federal government offices,” which mostly are in Washington and other large metropolitan areas.
He was referring to sequestration — about $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts for federal agencies that will go into effect March 1 unless President Barack Obama and Congress agree on their own cuts before then.
Turner reasoned that federal agencies must pay high rents for office space in metro areas as well as pay employees high salaries to cover their costs of living there. That results in “unnecessary and increased costs to the taxpayer,” he wrote.
Relocating some federal agencies to rural localities in Southside could give taxpayers “a bigger bang for the buck,” Turner wrote.
Southside communities and “Martinsville and Henry County in particular,” he wrote, have surplus buildings where government agencies could locate, fiber-optic telecommunications systems that agencies need to operate and “most of all, a much lower cost of living” for employees.
Turner stated in the letter that a defense contractor in Martinsville “pays competitive salaries for the region” which are about 60 percent less than “what the same work would cost” in the Washington area.
“This is a significant boon to the taxpayer,” he wrote.
In the letter, Turner did not identify the company. But in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, he said he was referring to SPARTA Inc. at the Clock Tower building at Commonwealth Centre, the former Tultex plant.
He said he based his remarks on Martinsville versus Washington salaries on information he has seen regarding professional salaries.
Turner said having federal employees living in the area would be a major boon to the local economy, such as through money they would spend on housing and at local stores and restaurants.
“Obviously, we don’t have the infrastructure” locally to move the entire federal government to the Martinsville area, Turner said.
He said he does not envision enough government offices relocating to the area to make it a target for terrorism.
But “it’s just common sense,” he said, “that you can get a whole lot more out of a dollar here” than in Washington or Arlington County, a D.C. suburb where the Pentagon is located. The metropolitan county also is known for its high cost of living.
Turner guessed, for instance, that a house that sells for $100,000 locally would sell for $300,000 in the capital area.
He also mentioned that government workers who relocate to Southside would have less stress in their daily commutes to and from work.
Even if an agency moves to Danville, an employee who lives in Martinsville could get there in 35 minutes, Turner said. From past experiences, he said, traffic in Washington is so heavy that it sometimes takes commuters two hours just to cross the city.
Locating federal agency offices in Southside should not hinder their work, Turner and Griffith said, because they could easily communicate with their offices in Washington electronically, such as through email.
Griffith said it probably would be hard for federal agencies to move any of their offices outside Washington in less than a year or two.
It would be up to the agencies to decide where to move, and “the executive branch” — basically, the president — would have to OK the move, he said.
Still, Congress can encourage agencies to move to a specific area, Griffith said. It seems logical to suggest they move to the Martinsville area, he said, to help reduce high local unemployment rates.
Turner indicated that local workers could fill entry level-type jobs at federal agencies that move here, or any jobs for which their Washington employees choose not to transfer.
In addition to Griffith, Turner sent his letter to Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats and former governors, and 5th District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham.
The entire letter is printed on Page 2-A of today’s Martinsville Bulletin.