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Will Martinsville merge voting precincts?

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MARTINSVILLE – A proposal by Piedmont Community Services (PCS) to use the former housing office building on the city’s west side could result in two voting precincts being consolidated.

City officials have put forth the possibility of combining Precinct 1, based in the building at 605 Fourth St. and which mostly serves voters west of Memorial Boulevard, with Precinct 6, which serves voters east of the highway and is based at Albert Harris Elementary School, should the building ever be sold.

In a phone interview Monday afternoon, Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director Wayne Knox indicated that idea might be considered if PCS acquires the building.

But no decision has been made on the organization’s proposal, Knox said.

PCS has not yet made a formal offer to the city, Executive Director Greg Preston emphasized.

The city will hold at meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Albert Harris, which is on Smith Road, to discuss the proposal with potentially affected voters.

Constructed around 1960, the Fourth Street building originally was the former West End Elementary School. It later was a police training academy before it became offices for the city’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. The Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority took over that program in July 2015 amid efforts by Martinsville officials to reduce the city’s operating costs.

The building has been vacant since then. However, it still is voting Precinct 1. About 900 registered voters in the city’s largely minority west side are assigned to cast ballots there on election days. When the building is not being used for elections, voting equipment is stored there.

PCS, a publicly-funded provider of mental health, intellectual disability and substance abuse services, wants to acquire the building to house about 28 employees who provide services in schools, according to Preston.

Three supervisors would be stationed in the building, and the other employees would work there after regular school hours and during the summer when schools are not in session, Preston said.

PCS is outgrowing its headquarters on Clay Street uptown, resulting in the need to move some employees to another location, he said.

“We’re just looking for office space,” he continued. “We wouldn’t serve any clients there” in the Fourth Street building.

PCS is willing to consider either buying or leasing the building, Preston said.

Knox said that if PCS uses the building, voting equipment being stored there likely would have to be kept somewhere else because the organization would need all of the space for its employees.

“The voting machines take up a huge amount of space in the building,” Preston said.

PCS would be willing to let the city continue using the building as a voting precinct, he said, if the equipment can be stored elsewhere, brought to the building for elections and then removed.

Preston emphasized that PCS does not want to cause problems for voters, nor does it want to reduce any influence that minority or other west-side voters have on city elections.

Also, he pledged that the organization would maintain the building well and “be a good neighbor.”

Any formal offer that PCS might make for the building would have to first be approved by the organization’s board of directors, Preston said.

The offer also would have to be approved by Martinsville City Council after it is received.

“No decision has been made” by the council – either formally or informally – to approve any offer for the building that PCS might submit, Knox said.

Opinions expressed during Thursday night’s meeting will be taken into account if the council ever needs to make a decision on PCS’ proposal, he said.

The city mailed a notification of the meeting to all voters in Precinct 1, he added.

Mickey Powell reports for the martinsvillebulletin.com. He can be reached at mickey.powell@martinsvillebulletin.com

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