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Reversion views aired
Money not the only issue, residents say
Deborah France speaks to the Martinsville City Council on Tuesday during a discussion about the possibility of the city reverting to town status. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Determining whether the city should legally become a town involves more than examining how much Martinsville could trim its expenses, according to one community leader.
“I understand the need for money. I understand being fiscally responsible,” Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville-Henry County NAACP, told Martinsville City Council on Tuesday.
However, before a decision is made to pursue reversion, the city must find out, for instance, whether the county would close any city schools it takes over and where affected students would be bused, Hodge-Muse said.
She also voiced concern over how Martinsville’s minority residents would fare under reversion, such as whether their influence would be diluted in redrawn voting districts.
“These are things that need to be worked out” and details fully discussed publicly, Hodge-Muse said.
The council heard Tuesday from residents of both the city and county.
Gary Budd of Knollwood Place suggested that the city form a committee to examine the reversion study more closely and then report its findings publicly.
Council members did not indicate whether they would consider that.
Becoming a town would give Martinsville the right — which cities in Virginia lack — to annex acreage in Henry County that is adjacent to city boundaries to boost the city’s tax base. Deborah France of Swanson Street thinks that would not sit well with county officials.
“The county does not want to lose prime real estate” that generates lots of tax money, France said. She cited Martinsville Speedway, which is just outside the city limits, as an example.
Betty Hylton, also of Swanson Street, indicated she wants Martinsville to remain a city as a matter of prestige.
“Don’t just give it up (city status) because of money,” she said.
Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge asked Hylton whether she would prefer for Martinsville to reduce services or increase taxes to sustain itself as a city amid financial constraints.
“I’ll pay whatever tax” is needed to remain a city, Hylton replied, although she informally referred to Martinsville as a town in her remarks.
County resident Dorothy Arnold asked whether the council would consider letting city residents vote to decide whether to pursue reversion.
Hodge and Councilman Danny Turner said they would support a referendum. Mayor Kim Adkins, Vice Mayor Gene Teague and Councilman Mark Stroud had no response.
Ural Harris of Stuart Street said if the city had made budget cuts in the past, “we wouldn’t be in this situation now” of having to consider reversion.
Adkins responded that the city and its schools have reduced their budgets.
Yet “our current tax base cannot sustain” all of the expenses involved in Martinsville being a city, she said.
The council will allot time during its next regular meeting on Dec. 10 to hear more comments from area residents about the reversion proposal.
Hylton said she hopes council members actually take public comments into account when eventually deciding whether to pursue reversion.
Hodge-Muse praised the council for its willingness to hear public comments. Although she admitted to not always agreeing with the council’s positions on issues, she said “it is a glorious thing to hear” council members participate in discussions with people at meetings.
Members of the Henry County Board of Supervisors “will not address you on any issue you bring before them” during a meeting, Hodge-Muse said.
When people voice opinions to that board, “you will not get a response,” she said. “I do not call that government. I call that a travesty.”
More coverage of Tuesday’s city council meeting will be published in the Martinsville Bulletin on Thursday.