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Reversion studies examined
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Martinsville officials have started examining studies intended to help them decide whether the city should consider becoming a town to save money.
They have not yet determined exactly when, or how, information in the studies will be released to the public.
The studies include information on how reversion to a town would affect Martinsville and Henry County finances, as well as how the city and county schools would be affected.
City Manager Leon Towarnicki said he and Finance Director Linda Conover have received first drafts of the studies and have been “going through the information.” He said he has examined all of the information in the studies while Conover has examined only financial information.
Mayor Kim Adkins said she has not yet seen any of the information and, as far as she knows, no other Martinsville City Council members have seen any.
Towarnicki said copies of the studies were sent to City Attorney Eric Monday but he did not know if Monday has examined them yet. Monday could not be reached for comment.
City administrators plan to meet with consultants who prepared the studies to ask them questions and make sure data is accurate, Towarnicki said.
“Once we’re satisfied” it is accurate, the studies will be presented to the city council, he said. He anticipates it will be presented during closed session.
He said he envisions a summary being presented to the council during its Oct. 8 session, with a special closed-door work session being held not long afterward, during which council members could ask questions and receive clarification on any points they may not understand.
State law allows local governing boards to meet with legal counsel privately in some circumstances. Richmond attorney Carter Glass spearheaded the studies, receiving help from various sources such as Robinson Farmer Cox Associates, an accounting firm that prepares the city’s annual financial audits, officials have said.
Towarnicki said he will consult with Monday on whether the studies initially should be discussed publicly or privately.
He also said city officials want to verify that all information in the studies is accurate before it is presented publicly.
Adkins said Towarnicki has told her that the studies initially may need to be discussed privately.
“The community has been waiting a long time” for the results of the studies, Adkins said. “We’ve been down this path before. Let’s get the information out there” for people to see.
However, she indicated she would trust any recommendation Towarnicki makes as to how soon information in the studies should be made public.
“There could be some questions that come up (in initial council discussions) that need additional work” to be done on the studies, Towarnicki said.
But “if there is no need to generate a lot of other information,” he said, he would like for the information in the studies to be presented publicly by the end of October, or early November at the latest.
Under a reversion, Martinsville would become a town in Henry County. That would save money, officials have said, because the county would take over certain city functions, such as constitutional offices and, maybe, schools.
Virginia cities are unique in that they are independent of surrounding counties. Towns are part of counties.
With fewer expenses, Martinsville as a town would not have to collect as much revenue, so it could lower its tax rates. Yet people living in the town would have to pay both town and county taxes since they legally would be residents of both.
Ultimately, officials must find out whether becoming a town would save Martinsville enough money to make the complex legal process worthwhile.
A 2006 study showed that the city could save about $3 million a year if it reverted, but controversy led to the study being shelved. In comparison, the city’s adopted budget for the current fiscal year totals about $88.7 million.
If the council decides Martinsville should pursue reversion, it would have to petition the state’s Local Government Commission, which then would hold hearings and issue findings of fact.
If favorable findings were issued, the city would file a reversion petition in Martinsville Circuit Court, Monday has said.
The Virginia Supreme Court would appoint a three-judge panel to decide whether the city can revert. The judges would be from outside Martinsville and Henry County to ensure fairness, according to Monday.
In August 2012, the council allocated up to $120,000 to pay for the studies. Monday has estimated that legal costs for a reversion effort could add up to $600,000 or more, particularly if the county fights it.
South Boston, Clifton Forge and, recently, Bedford have reverted to towns.