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Reversion study results held up

Monday, April 8, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Studies that will help Martinsville officials decide whether the city should become a town to reduce its expenses likely will be finished in a couple of months, according to City Attorney Eric Monday.

One study will show the impact “reversion” would have on Martinsville and Henry County finances, and the other will show how the city and county schools would be affected, Monday said.

The studies were expected to be completed in March. City officials recently learned they had been delayed due to the illness of someone helping prepare them.

A city budget proposal for fiscal 2014 will be presented to Martinsville City Council on April 11. Monday said he thinks the studies will be ready for the council to consider “before the budget is adopted in its final form.” Traditionally, that happens in June.

The council could decide to examine the studies before a final budget is adopted or wait until afterward, said City Manager Leon Towarnicki.

“I’d prefer to see them sooner rather than later,” Mayor Kim Adkins said.

Carter Glass, an attorney with the Richmond law firm of Troutman Sanders, is spearheading the studies although he is getting help from various sources, Towarnicki said. Glass has extensive experience in local government matters, his biography on the law firm’s website shows.

Officials said they do not know who became ill to delay the studies, but Monday said it was not Glass.

The city has studied reversion several times but hit stumbling blocks that caused the issue to be shelved each time. City officials are revisiting the concept due to extremely tight finances in recent years.

Virginia cities are unique in that, unlike all but three cities in other states, they are independent of surrounding counties. Towns are part of counties.

If Martinsville reverts, it would become a town in Henry County. That would save the city money because the county would take over certain operations — such as constitutional offices and, more than likely, schools, according to officials — that the city now maintains.

By having fewer expenses, the town of Martinsville would not have to collect as much revenue as it does now, so it could reduce tax rates. Yet Martinsville residents would have to pay taxes to both the city and county since they officially would live in both localities, officials have said.

The question, officials have said, is whether becoming a town would save Martinsville enough money to make the complex legal process worthwhile.

A study in 2006 showed that Martinsville could save roughly $3 million a year by becoming of town, but the idea was shelved due to controversy.

If the city council decides Martinsville should revert, it will have to petition the state’s Local Government Commission, which then would hold hearings and issue findings of fact. If the findings are favorable, the city would file a reversion petition in Martinsville Circuit Court, Monday has said.

The state Supreme Court would appoint a three-judge panel to ultimately decide whether Martinsville can revert. The judges would be from outside Martinsville and Henry County to ensure fairness, according to Monday.

In August, the council appropriated up to $120,000 to pay for the studies. Monday has estimated, however, that legal costs for a reversion effort could be $600,000 or more, especially if the county goes to court to fight it.

Although state law permits reversions, only South Boston and Clifton Forge so far have changed from cities to towns. Bedford plans to revert on July 1, having recently received permission from the state.

 

 
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