MARTINSVILLE, Va. (WFXR) – The agenda for Tuesday’s Martinsville City Council meeting had only one item listed: reversion, or transitioning from a city to a town. Martinsville City Attorney Eric Monday said the city has been discussing the topic periodically since the 1980s.
The earliest the city could formally begin the process would be after the public hearing on December 10. It would become the fourth Virginia city to do so, following South Boston, Clifton Forge, and Bedford.
Monday said reversion would ease financial pressure on the area, but said “the city isn’t broke,” explaining that the city is financially stable despite any rumors to the contrary.
He says the city can effectively tread water indefinitely, explaining there will be enough money to maintain basic services, but not much by the way of capital improvements.
Monday says reversion does not require a voter referendum, so the council’s county counterparts need to come to the negotiating table.
“It’s fine to come here and tell us to sit down and talk it out, but if you are a county resident or a county voter, what I would encourage you to do is call your member of the Board of Supervisors and tell them that,” he said, speaking to a woman who voiced concerns during public comment.
Some members of the audience agreed.
“And just wanted to make a statement that I was hoping to see somebody from the Henry County Board of Supervisors here tonight, and I’d like to call on the Henry County Board of Supervisors to sit down with council and discuss this matter. Thank you,” said a man during public comment.
Monday says reversion could help address problems like a declining school population, since state money comes in on a per capita basis; a maxed-out jail, since the city also pays between $100,000-200,000 per year to house inmates elsewhere in the state; and declining revenues, as meals taxes literally cannot be raised higher than they already are.
The chief concern on many minds, though, is how the tax burden will impact taxpayers.
“I’m going to be caught in the middle of nowhere! You know, caught between the county and the city with the taxes, and that’s not going to be good at all,” said a man during public comment.
Bedford Mayor Steve Rush said – at least for his locality, only the third in the state to revert – taxes decreased.
“The only pushback we’ve gotten is – and we’re working on that – is they call themselves being double-taxed in the town because they have to pay county taxes. In the sum of all things, it’s actually cheaper, but they’re seeing more tax bills,” he said.
Monday stressed that a future town of Martinsville would retain its debts – not pushing them off on the county – would keep police, fire, and EMS services; all authorities and boards, aside from the school board; and retain ownership of all city properties except schools.
Monday explained that Virginia is the only state in the United States that has totally independent cities and counties, which makes duplicative services pretty common.
Also, once a city becomes a town, it can never go back, though it can annex land two years after the transition.
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