The process toward reversion by the city of Martinsville, scheduled to take effect in June 2022, is starting to move forward even before it is completed in the form of budgeting and spending reductions by the city and Henry County.
Last week David Conmy, policy administrator for the Commission on Local Government, read a joint statement from Martinsville and Henry County officials that put an end to speculation that the two governments might end up in court over the city’s plans to revert to being a town in Henry County.
“The parties have reached an agreement in principle that they anticipate will be approved at a meeting of the two governing bodies before the end of the month,” Conmy said.
And Henry County Attorney George Lyle said that, although details of the agreement had not been completed, he expected “public consideration of some of the issues could occur by the end of the month.”
Both City Council and the Board of Supervisors have regularly scheduled meetings on Tuesday, but the agenda for Henry County makes no mention of reversion, and City Council has yet to release an agenda.
Reversion would combine many now-separate but duplicative functions — two school systems, two court systems, several constitutional offices, to name a few — and transfer of expenses now born by the city over to the county for consideration. And in an interview with WDBJ-Ch. 7, Martinsville City Attorney and Assistant City Manager Eric Monday talked about how reversion was affecting current operations.
“Reversion will eliminate the constitutional officers, the school system, our contribution to the department of social services and the department of health, so that’s an enormous expense that’s going to disappear,” Monday told WDBJ. There are “needs that we really haven’t been able to devote the attention and money to because it’s just not been there.”
Monday said the city lacked money to upgrade its utility system and purchase more vehicles and equipment for fire and police, but he made clear the city is cutting back on expenses it soon no longer would have.
“There are types of capital needs that we would normally have to do because you’ve got to have an air-conditioned school, you’ve got to have a roof that doesn’t leak on a school, but if it’s not going to be yours in a year, maybe you can put a patch on that and let the new owners deal with those big expenses.”
Although school buildings are being patched, the city school system also will have to make do without two new school buses Superintendent Zeb Talley said are needed.
Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki declined to recommend funding that $150,000 request when the need would fall under the purview of the county school system after reversion.
But significant money has been budgeted and spent for the legal costs related to reversion. Both governments have had to hire outside counsel to handle the process, and there was that mediated meeting at the end of April.
An analysis included with the city’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year shows the city spent more than $206,000 in legal fees related to reversion last year and has spent more than $152,000 of a projected $200,000 budget on reversion this year.
Although the analysis presented with Henry County’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year did not itemize legal fees specifically for reversion, almost $51,000 was spent in outside legal services last year and more than $67,000 of a projected budget of $70,000 has been spent for the same this year.
Towarnicki recommended no money be budgeted for reversion in 2021-22, but Henry County Administrator Tim Hall has budgeted $100,000 for outside legal fees.
“The reversion and annexation skirmish with Martinsville will be the overriding issue that this board and the county staff will have to handle over the next few years,” Hall said during his budget presentation to the Board of Supervisors. “It will be the primary factor in budget crafting, and it will lead to the need for significant additional tax revenue.”
It is unclear what Lyle meant by the possibility of public consideration of some of the issues involving reversion by the end of the month. He also said that the recent “mediation produced general agreement on a number of issues and the two localities would like time to memorialize those agreements in a written document that could then be considered by the commission.”
Hall indicated during his budget presentation that a lack of any publicized direction on the reversion process probably would continue.
“We all see some obvious challenges coming in the next 12 months—reversion, revenues, economic growth, increased employment opportunities, staffing and operations demands at the new Adult Detention Facility,” Hall said. “We will deal with those. It’s the unforeseen challenges that make things interesting, and there is no doubt we will see those, too.”
Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt.
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