City budget unveiled, public hearing set

Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki, at podium, presented the FY21 budget to city council on May 26. Also pictured sitting are Vice-Mayor Chad Martin (left), and Mayor Kathy Lawson (center).

By Brandon Martin

Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki unveiled the city’s proposed $96,342,138 spending plan for fiscal year (FY) 2021 during a May 26 meeting of Martinsville City Council.

The proposal is “almost identical to last year’s budget, Towarnicki said.

The biggest portion of expenses in the FY21 budget are the general fund (34 percent), school operation (23 percent) and electric (22 percent). To fully fund all general fund requests, schools and capital, an additional $2.3 million is needed.

The proposal includes two suggested rate increases; a 2.5 percent increase in the power cost adjustment rate for electricity, and a $1.50 per month increase for water, with proceeds used to pay off the debt service on the reservoir spillway project.

In addition, Towarnicki also recommended level funding for most outside agencies with a few exceptions. For instance, a 9.7 percent increase is proposed for the 911 communications center; a 18.4 percent increase for the Department of Social Services and a 2.2 percent increase for the Blue Ridge Regional Library.

The general fund balance is $32,658,074, but Towarnicki said that a transfer of $1,065,642 is needed to maintain the required 10 percent reserve.

Capital requests submitted by departments for the upcoming year total approximately $4 million, with about $2 million anticipated for utilities, and an additional estimated $1.7 million set aside for the general fund.

Towarnicki said that the reserves from electricity are “a little low,” so those funds will go largely untouched until the reserve has been built back up. Additionally, he said water and sewer “maintain healthy reserves.” He also proposed a transfer of $2 million from refuse to the city’s general fund.

Towarnicki said the main challenges for the budget this year are electric costs, reservoir repairs, and costs associated with retirement, insurance and housing inmates in other facilities.

The city anticipates a new budget request for the Smith River Sports Complex now that funding through the Harvest Foundation will no longer be available. Instead, the city will be paying $8,000 for that cause to match the county’s share of $16,000.

The city also plans to fill a new landscaping position, according to Towarnicki, who added that the budget won’t cover the cost for reversion litigation either.

Towarnicki said that he expects that the city will reconvene later in the first quarter of the new fiscal year to make adjustments but with the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus making projections particularly difficult.

“For all practical purposes, the budget is flat,” he said, but added that does not negate the expenses the city will have.

Leading up to a June 9 public hearing on the budget, the city scheduled budget work sessions, with city departments, constitutional officers and other expenses set to be discussed on June 2, and a follow-up work session slated for June 4.

In other matters, the council:

*Granted a special use permit to The Lester Group, Inc., to allow for multi-family dwellings on property along Fairy Street, northeast of the intersection of Fairy and Watt Streets. Barry Fulcher, vice president of Lester Forestlands, said that the project will occur in three phases with plans to build a fiveplex and two fourplexes. Each unit will be roughly 1,500 sq. feet and 1.3 acres will be combined into 3 lots.

Fulcher said that one of the homes is currently vacant and they are getting prices to have the home demolished. He said Lester’s current policy is to offer those individuals another one of their properties for rent or one of the new units.

*Set a public hearing on June 9 for consideration of an organization’s local tax exemption request.

*Set a public hearing on June 9 to receive names of citizens interested in appointments

for two 3-year terms ending June 30, 2023 on the Martinsville City School Board. Only those citizens whose names are brought up during the public hearing can be considered for appointment, and appointments cannot be made until seven days after the hearing. Citizens may appear in person, stating their name, address, and interest in the position; or their name, address, and interest may be offered by another individual. Council typically conducts interviews with candidates after this meeting, with the appointments to be announced at or after Council’s second meeting in June.

*Approved an ordinance on second reading for the expediency of the issuance of up to $2,500,000 principal amount of bonds of the city for the purpose of assisting in the acquisition, construction, renovation, and equipping of repairs, replacements, and capital improvements at the city’s Beaver Creek Reservoir Dam, including repairs and renovations to the Dam’s spillway.

*Recognized Martinsville Middle School students who recently participated in Virginia Municipal League’s “If I Were Mayor Contest.”

*Recognized city employees who are eligible for service awards for the period April 1 – June 30, 2020.

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