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Greene: Reversion is inevitable-- and will be beneficial

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My name is Barry Greene. I lived in Martinsville for 50 years and in Henry County for 30 years. In 1974, I was elected to and served an 8-year term on the Martinsville City Council, 2 years as mayor. I served on the 1980 Martinsville-Henry County Merger Committee and I chaired the 2002 School Merger Study.

In the ’70’s, the unemployment in our community was the lowest in the state and our tax base grew each year. But, the good times ended. We lost our textile business, which led to dramatic losses in our population, our school enrollment and significant changes in the demographics of our community. From 1980 to 2021, the population of Henry County fell 6.3%. Martinsville fell 32%. School enrollment losses were worse — Henry County enrollment fell 46%, Martinsville fell 51%. The total number of City-County students fell from 17,990 to 9,495, a drop of 47%.

City and County governments were forced to confront the challenge of providing quality and affordable services in the face of a declining tax base. Regrettably, the City and County governments chose to meet these challenges alone even though they had sponsored three merger study committees in 30 years, all of which had arrived at the same conclusion: One unified government is the most efficient way to provide the best services to all the citizens of Martinsville and Henry County at the least possible cost.

The first city-county merger study took place in the 1950’s, the second in 1966 and the third in 1980. In the fall of 2002, a six-member committee, which I chaired, was appointed to study the feasibility of merging the school systems. The committee, which consisted of the Martinsville and Henry County school superintendents, school board chairmen and one representative from each school board, unanimously concluded that: One unified school district offers our community the best opportunity to provide our children the best possible education measured in terms of quality, cost and convenience.

Regrettably, none of the recommendations from the merger committees were implemented and, as a result, in 2013, the City evaluated a possible transition to Town status. The City consultants projected that, going forward, the City tax base would show no growth while, during the same period, costs would continue to increase. The City would be left with two choices: (1) increase revenues and cut services; or, (2) change from a City to a Town, the result being that the city and county school systems and most city and county constitutional functions would become one while the traditional urban services that Martinsville residents are accustomed to will remain with the town. Subsequently, on Dec. 10, 2019, City Council voted to revert to Town status.

The City-County merger studies confirm that the citizens of both the City and the County will benefit when Martinsville reverts to a town:

Martinsville and Henry County would no longer support two of every constitutional office, which would eliminate duplication of effort and cost.

A merged school system would enable our community to offer students a quality education in the most cost-effective manner – one administration, one bus system and one purchasing department. Here’s a quote from the 2002 school study: “While cost is important, quality is the most important issue, and the quality of education for all students will improve with a merged system.

The studies show that there would be short-term problems that need to be resolved:

In most cases, there will be problems to be solved when two entities combine into one. All of the merger studies cite such problems that need to be discussed and resolved.

Robinson, Farmer, Cox forecasts that the county might experience an increase in the property tax burden, but the study fails to project all of the savings from combining services. In the long term these synergies should offset a portion, or all, of the working loss.

Consolidation of services would benefit citizens of the City and County by enhancing efficiency and reducing costs. Regrettably, some jobs would need to be eliminated which is terribly painful. Thirty years ago I closed Globman’s, a 75-year-old business. Among the 418 people who lost their jobs were my cousin, my wife and me. It was the most painful experience of my life, and I will never forget it, but, it was the right decision dictated by the economic realities of the times and the projections for the future.

In conclusion:

For 70 years, our community has spent thousands of dollars and countless hours studying a merger of the City and the County. All of these studies conclude that the most efficient way to govern is to combine our two localities into one government. Martinsville’s reversion to a town is a historical opportunity to finally get this done.

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