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Council: Reversion likely is dead

Sunday, December 15, 2013

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

The reversion issue may be dead, at least for the current Martinsville City Council, according to several council members.

Its demise came Tuesday on a 3-2 vote when city council defeated a motion by Councilman Danny Turner and seconded by Vice Mayor Gene Teague to petition the state Local Government Commission to pursue Martinsville’s reversion to town status.

City Councilman Mark Stroud said Friday the reversion issue is “dead with this council.”

Teague agreed that is the case “until someone changes their mind. ... I wouldn’t be surprised after the budget session if someone might look at things a little differently.”

Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge said the subject is dead “unless we reconsider the process” and work with Henry County to agree on issues such as voting districts and school consolidation first.

Stroud, Hodge and Mayor Kim Adkins voted against Tuesday’s motion. It occurred 31?2 weeks after studies of reversion, school consolidation and the city’s finances were presented to the public. After that, public comments were taken at two city council meetings, including Tuesday’s.

“I would have been OK with getting more public input,” Teague said Friday. But “once you got the study back, you don’t want to leave it in limbo for a long time. You get the appropriate input and make a decision.”

Turner said he made the motion rather than waiting another 35 days until city council’s next meeting. Also, he had spoken with state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, about working with the General Assembly in January to create a master plan for reversion in Virginia that would benefit both cities and counties.

“We needed to show we were serious about it to bring all the pieces together,” and that would have happened with the petition to the Commission on Local Government, Turner said.

Also, he said, after the petition was filed, the city could have halted the process at any time.

“I can’t see how the other three voted against it,” he said. The city’s financial situation is worse than Adkins portrayed it, he said, with the “electric contract (with AMP) eating money,” the city’s infrastructure aging and a “tax burden that is too high on small businesses.”

Adkins said she felt council had enough time to review the studies, and the material was not complicated. “The way I viewed it from my standpoint, I had a responsibility to not draw this out for a long time,” she said.

With Henry County unwilling to discuss reversion with the city, Adkins said, “The only way to move forward is if a petition was filed with the Local Government Commission, and that’s when the planning would start ... we would know what it would look like.”

But Adkins said she made up her mind Monday to oppose the petition.

She said during the Tuesday council meeting that she based her decision on her belief that the city’s financial health has improved since the reversion study was unanimously authorized by council in August 2012.

Also, city, school and constitutional office employees, residents and business owners have made sacrifices because they believe in the city and generally support council’s decisions on such things as working with Henry County and the New College Institute, among others, she said.

Also, Adkins said in an interview Thursday, she had realized that she should not support reversion in hopes that it would lead to a consolidation of the city and county schools, something she has advocated.

She acknowledged there is not a consensus for school consolidation on city council or in the community.

Hodge said she felt “some people (council members) had their minds made up when we got the study. Some wanted it as a means to impact the budget” and make changes.

She said she agrees that “something needs to be done as far as revenues and expenditures” not lining up. But “those are only two pieces of the equation,” she added. “Is the only way to fix that reversion?”

“In my opinion, people on council were not willing to go through the political upheaval to move that process forward. Pretty much that’s why it got killed the way it did,” Hodge said.

Hodge made a motion to table moving forward with reversion at Tuesday’s meeting, but it did not get a second. After Teague commented, Turner made his motion, which was defeated.

“In essence, I got what I wanted,” she noted.

While she felt the entire process was moving too quickly, she said she made her motion to stave off an effort by Turner and Teague to proceed with the petition. “They didn’t want to bring in community groups or explore the reversion process in a different capacity,” she added.

There might have been merit in waiting to vote, Hodge said, but “I was not in control of the speed.”

Hodge had not yet been elected to city council when the reversion study was authorized in 2012.

Stroud was, and he voted for it. But he said his vote was not based on his support for reversion; it was “to show unity and solidarity with all the council members. If we went for it (reversion) we would have a unified front with the plan, and Henry County would observe that. ... I didn’t want to expend the money, but you can’t do a study without it.”

Council approved spending up to $120,000 on the studies.

Stroud said he made up his mind to oppose the petition motion after hearing comments from the public and his fellow council members Tuesday. But, he added, “I was not in favor of reversion from the very start.”

He thought it “was going to be very adversarial with Henry County,” and there was disagreement already over holding a referendum on the issue, something he thinks was necessary, even if it was just an advisory vote.

Teague said he continued to support the reversion petition because the city’s financial situation is not changing and he believes its budget struggles will continue. The disagreement is between those who think the city will have to continue dipping into its fund balance to cover its expenditures and those who think the city’s economy will turn around and revenues will grow.

He said he is in the former group, and he predicted the city will “continue to tread water until enough of us agree that we have to change the game. Change is hard.”

Hodge predicted the city will face a difficult budget session in 2014, considering previous disagreements on what to cut.

In the end, she said she thinks “we’ll be right back where we were,” with a “bloated budget” that will pass over Turner’s opposition, “and we haven’t solved anything.”

Still, both Teague and Adkins said some positives came from the reversion study.

The city now has an updated school analysis and financial forecast to use in planning, Adkins said.

Teague also said the study provided a model for forecasting future revenues, and he has asked City Manager Leon Towarnicki to continue using that and updating figures.


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