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Agency cuts are rejected

Friday, April 25, 2014

Two Martinsville City Council members failed in attempts during a budget work session Wednesday to get city funding for three outside agencies reduced or eliminated for the fiscal year that will start July 1.

Councilman Danny Turner made a motion to reduce the $279,500 in the proposed fiscal 2015 budget for the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) to $118,207, a per capita-based sum.

The budgeted amount is what the city is providing the EDC this year.

Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge seconded Turner’s motion. She said she thinks the EDC should be striving to bring more jobs to Martinsville.

The motion died after the majority of council members — Mayor Kim Adkins, Vice Mayor Gene Teague and Councilman Mark Stroud — voted against it.

Adkins said Martinsville residents can easily travel to jobs in the county.

Most companies go where there is the most space for them to occupy, and the county has more space for industries than the city, Teague said.

Teague noted that agreements are in place for the city and county to fund the EDC at certain levels.

The county is giving the EDC $460,500 for the current fiscal year. It has budgeted the same figure for the coming year, according to Deputy County Administrator Dale Wagoner.

Because Martinsville usually has the state’s highest unemployment rates, “we have a responsibility to invest in economic development,” Adkins said.

Teague recalled that the city once provided the EDC with $400,000 annually but reduced that amount a few years ago.

In terms of showing support for the EDC, he said it would “send a real bad message to arbitrarily cut their funding” again.

If, for some reason, the EDC was to cease operating, the city would have to establish its own economic development office, and “that would cost us way more than $279,000” annually, Teague continued.

In the past, the city has had its own economic development office. Officials have said they think the city has benefited more from partnering in the EDC, a public-private venture, in efforts to attract new businesses and industries.

Now would be “a terrible time” to reduce its funding, said Stroud.

Turner made a motion to eliminate funding for The Launch Place. He said he thinks it is a profit-making venture.

The Launch Place — formerly the Southside Business Technology Center — provides business consulting and entrepreneurship development services to help strengthen the region’s economy, according to its website.

Eva Doss, its president and CEO, could not be reached for comment.

The city’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget provides level funding of $3,850 to The Launch Place.

Hodge seconded Turner’s motion. It failed in a 2-2 vote due to the lack of a majority.

Adkins abstained from voting because The Launch Place is a client of her marketing and consulting firm.

Hodge made a motion to eliminate from the proposed budget $4,832 for the Piedmont Virginia Dental Health Foundation’s clinic uptown, which treats indigent patients. She said the thinks there are other funding sources, such as Medicaid, that the clinic can use to cover its costs.

Turner seconded her motion, which also failed in a 2-2 vote.

Adkins abstained from that vote, too, because the foundation is a client of her firm.

Before the vote was taken, Teague said he is on the foundation’s board. He said, though, he would take part in the vote because he is not paid for being on the board, so he perceived no conflict of interest.

During another budget work session Thursday, Turner and Hodge expressed concern over how The Launch Place and the dental clinic votes were cast amid Adkins’ involvement with the organizations.

City Attorney Eric Monday said he thinks they were handled in a way that complies with state code. Adkins disclosed her involvement with the organizations and, in addition to not participating in the votes, she did not take part in discussions about whether to fund either of them, he said.

“There was no intent on my part to hide anything,” Adkins said.

“I think this (questioning Adkins’ handling of the votes) was a political maneuver on Councilwoman Hodge’s part,” she said, adding that Hodge wanted the city to quit funding outside agencies.

Hodge recently said that to the Martinsville Bulletin. Several days later, she said that when she made the comment, she did not think about city commitments to fund some of them. She said Thursday she wants the council to reduce the number of outside agencies it funds.

During Thursday’s meeting, Hodge denied that she was making a political maneuver as Adkins claimed. Hodge said her concern was based on a matter of principle and “what I feel my job is” as a council member.

Hodge said she thinks Adkins should not participate in upcoming votes on the entire budget. Approval on first reading is to be considered following a public hearing on May 13.

Monday said his interpretation of state code is that she can take part in those votes.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Turner called for the council not to fund the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society and the Fayette Area Historical Initiative. Both recently asked the council for funding.

However, no votes were taken on their requests because they were not included in the fiscal 2015 budget proposal.

Adkins asked during Thursday’s meeting whether council members wanted to take action on either request. Nobody responded.

“It’s nothing derogatory” toward those organizations, Hodge said.


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