Henry County leaders briefly addressed reversion during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday afternoon, with County Administrator Tim Hall making a statement to “set the record straight” on recent comments from Martinsville officials.
Later in the meeting, the board indicated it will reach out to its counterpart in the city about discussing the schools.
In his remarks, Hall said he felt compelled to correct “mistakes and misstatements” made in the reversion discussion. He referred to recent communications from the city’s mayor and statements made by Assistant City Manager Eric Monday regarding water and sewer issues that would need to be resolved if Martinsville reverts to a town within Henry County.
The prospect of reversion has come up in the public arena periodically for decades, officials have said. Martinsville City Council recently revived the issue due to concerns about the long-time viability of city finances. Meanwhile, Henry County officials have expressed concerns over their lack of input in the process and the potential financial impact on county government and residents.
In a Nov. 5 letter to the Board of Supervisors, Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson requested that both governing bodies meet to discuss ways to “avoid the mutually litigious process” of reversion, which she called “expensive and antagonistic.” Lawson cited “increasing financial pressures which compel us to consider the prospect of reversion of the City’s Charter to town status.”
The council then held a special meeting Nov. 19 to give a presentation on reversion and invite comments from residents. At the end of that meeting, City Manager Leon Towarnicki said a public hearing on reversion will be held Tuesday, Dec. 10. The law requires the council to hold a public hearing before they can vote on the issue.
Since Lawson’s letter went out, Hall said in his remarks, “We’ve been bombarded with, ‘Are you going to meet? Why aren’t you going to meet? Why won’t the county meet with the city?’ Let me point out that today is the first time this board has met since that letter was received, other than a brief special meeting to discuss jail financing.”
Hall questioned Lawson’s reference to a 2012 document in which the city and county agreed to cooperate on areas of mutual interest. “We’ve checked our files, and we don’t have the agreement being referenced,” he said.
He also sought to correct information about the Board of Supervisors’ role in water and sewer issues. “Any consideration of water and sewer issues is the purview of the PSA (Public Service Authority) Board, not the BOS (Board of Supervisors),” Hall said. He went on to explain there may be confusion about the two bodies because they share some staff, including himself as general manager of the PSA, but that they are two separate entities.
Hall also took issue with references in Monday’s presentation to “possible violations of state environmental law ... with the reopening of the PSA’s Lower Smith River wastewater plant” and allegations of the project’s “negative impact on stocking of the Smith River.”
“Such a reference is particularly troubling because it appears the PSA is being accused of breaking the law,” he said. “If this were true, DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) and any other state regulatory agency would be setting up shop in the PSA office.”
Hall said no state agencies have indicated this is an issue. He noted that the state has approved the plant to be reopened, with DEQ approving permits in April 2017.
“The PSA and its staff believe that by reopening this plant, with the best and most modern wastewater treatment processes available, the Smith River will be even better environmentally than it is now,” he said.
The board went into closed session shortly after Hall spoke. After emerging from closed session around 5:20 p.m., Iriswood District Supervisor Dr. David Martin announced the board will authorize Chair Jim Adams to send a letter to Martinsville City Council expressing their “willingness to discuss public education.”
Board members did not elaborate on what these discussions may entail. However, during a county budget work session in April 2018, Martin had suggested approaching the city schools to discuss the possibility of collaboration or consolidation between the two school districts.
As a career educator, Martin said at the time that he wants to protect the best interests of local students and plan ahead rather than waiting for the city to act on reversion. Martin has served as superintendent of Henry County Schools and other districts in the past, and currently is acting superintendent of Patrick County Schools.
If Martinsville reverts to a town, all public services -- including the schools, law enforcement, and government -- would have to merge with Henry County.
Separate from the reversion discussion, school and city officials have broached the idea of consolidating the city and county education systems several times in recent years. Proponents point to the decreasing local population and school enrollment numbers, saying consolidation or otherwise sharing services would cut administrative costs and increase efficiency. A school consolidation study was first conducted in 2004, but no action was taken to move forward with the process.