Martinsville City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved funding half of the Blue Ridge Regional Library’s (BRRL) request for additional funding to provide raises to its staff.
BRRL Director Rick Ward initially made the request during the city’s May 3 budget work session. It was reiterated Tuesday during the city’s public hearing on its proposed FY22-23 budget. Several members of the library board also spoke at the hearing.
During his initial presentation, Ward noted that during the decade he has served as director, the library has never received a cost-of-living funding increase.
He requested $13,142 from the city, which he said was a 4.45 percent increase over last year’s contribution. He made the same request of Patrick County, which thus far has only agreed to level funding, and asked Henry County (which has three library branches while Patrick County and the city have only one each) for an additional $39,427. The county has yet to take action on the request but discussed using money from one of its contingency funds to provide the increase. (See related story.)
Though the city only approved half of Ward’s requested amount, or $6,571, there is a possibility it could fully fund the request.
Council member Chad Martin, who made the motion to fund half, amended his motion at the suggestion of council member Danny Turner to state the city will fully fund its part if Henry and Patrick counties agree to fully fund their respective portions.
“Chad went to bat for you in closed session,” Turner told Ward and board members.
Last week, Mayor Kathy Lawson noted the budgetary constraints, and said that she didn’t see where the city would be able to fund the request.
“The library was a safe haven for me when I didn’t have a job,” Martin said Tuesday night. “It was somewhere where I did my resumes, cover letters. It was a happy place to be, and it’s somewhere where my mother takes my nephews and they have an amazing time. It is somewhere, when we would leave the homeless shelter, I wondered where all those people went at the homeless shelter, they’re there at a warm, safe place at the library on the computer or reading, not on the streets, not robbing people. They’re somewhere safe. You all do amazing work.”
Council member Tammy Pearson offered to forego the budgeted 10 percent stipend increase currently budgeted for city council members to help with funding the library request, but Lawson said, “typically what we do here is we allocate, and then we figure out where we’re going to take it from. So, that is definitely a recommendation.”
After the meeting, Martin said his request for only half the library’s requested funding was strategic. “When you start getting a feel of where everybody’s going to be, you realize you might not be able to get the full amount, so you ask for half of it. I would rather ask for half and get a ‘yes,’ than ask for all of it and get a ‘no,’” he said. But, he noted, “even the full amount they’re asking is nowhere near what they actually deserve. It’s nowhere near.”
Though council unanimously approved the budget on first reading, discussion of a number of possible additional budgetary actions will take place on Wednesday, May 18, during another budget work session in council chambers beginning at 6 p.m.
At that session, council is expected to consider providing some relief on this year’s personal property tax bills, which are expected to increase over last year. Commissioner of Revenue Ruth Easley has said the values of Martinsville’s fleet of new and used vehicles increased by an average of 26.14 percent for 2022.
Easley recommended council consider applying an assessment ratio for passenger cars, trucks, and motorcycles to help ease the burden on the city’s taxpayers.
Lawson on Tuesday said she would like council to consider applying at least a 5 percent ratio, which would decrease the total value assessment of the fleet from $74,490,990 to $70,766,441, resulting in an average personal property tax bill of $209.26.
At its May 18 work session, council also will take up the question of providing a salary supplement to the public defender’s office.
Public Defender Sandra Haley requested a total of $29,638.50, which she divided proportionally between the city, Henry, and Patrick counties based on the percentage of cases originating from each locality. She requested a total of $11,262.63 from Martinsville.
Martin made a motion to fund half of Haley’s request, but Lawson questioned whether that amount would really make an impact, particularly since none of the other localities have agreed to partial funding Haley’s request.
“We have state agencies that the state doesn’t fill their own obligations and responsibilities to,” Lawson said. “When we give additional funding to a state agency, are we enabling the state not to do their job? That’s the only issue I have with that is that the state is not stepping up to the plate to do what they need to do for these very valuable people who do remarkable jobs. That’s why we wanted to put it in our next legislative agenda.”
Council also may discuss the proposed 10 percent stipend increased for its members, which Pearson said she did not believe council should approve.
In other matters, the council:
*Recognized Martinsville Middle School 7th grader Jordin Hernandez Machuca, who won the Virginia Municipal League’s Region 2 “If I Were Mayor” essay contest. Machuca wrote about making public transportation more affordable by slightly increasing local taxes.
*Presented a proclamation recognizing May 15 as Peace Officers’ Memorial Day and May 15 through 21 as National Police Week.
*Presented a proclamation recognizing the 50th anniversary of
Piedmont Community Services.
*Adopted on second reading Ordinance 2022-3 enacting or amending certain sections of the city code regarding the use of electric scooters. The city is considering a partnership with Bird to bring electric scooters to Martinsville.