By Brandon Martin
Following a public hearing, Martinsville City Council in a 4-1 vote on June 9 approved on first reading a budget ordinance outlining fund details of the city’s proposed fiscal year 2020-21 budget.
The budgeted expenditures are $95,610,078, with projected revenues of $90,931,491, documents showed.
Danny Turner was the only council member to vote against the ordinance following an attempt to amend the budget in order to remove the proposed 2.5 percent power cost adjustment (PCA) increase. The proposed amendment died for lack of a second.
During work sessions leading up to Tuesday’s vote, City Manager Leon Towarnicki said staff members were asked to present budgets with the rate increase removed.
At a June 4 work session, Towarnicki said he presented a revised electric budget which reduced the budget on both revenues and expenditures by $550,000. The reductions to achieve that included delaying partial funding on a truck, delaying funding for transformer maintenance, reducing other projects and physical planning expansion funding.
“It was noted that removing these items from the budget simply pushes the cost off until the next year,” Towarnicki said. “Coupled with projected increases in electric transmission, costs could result in the need for a larger rate adjustment next year.”
Before the June 9 vote, Turner asked if the rate adjustment would apply to manned meters as well.
“Yes, it would,” Towarnicki said.
“What would that percentage of growth be,” Turner asked.
Towarnicki said that while he didn’t have an exact number, it would likely be comparable, but nothing significantly different than 2.5 percent.
Vice Mayor Chad Martin said that the city has tried to “sell the electric, and each company said ‘we will take it but we will not pay for it.’” In addition, Martin said Appalachian Power will not allow the city to have a more diverse electric portfolio if the city gets power through them.
Along with the PCA increase, the city is also moving forward with a $1.50 increase to the monthly water bill, but there are no proposed tax increases in the budget proposal.
Recommended school funding is about $6.5 million, which is $130,359 less than the school requested.
Towarnicki recommended not making additional adjustments to the school funding due to the potential to use coronavirus relief funds for schools.
He also notified the council of plans to use about $1.1 million in coronavirus relief funds to assist small businesses in the city.
Along with the additional purpose of using the funds for direct costs of coronavirus prevention measures, Towarnicki said the money can be used to “help businesses recover from” those costs.
An internal committee decided to begin using an initial $250,000 allotment of the funds for small business grants of up to $5,000 to “help businesses restore lost business,” Towarnicki said.
He noted that while the money can’t be used to reimburse lost revenue, it can be used for “physical improvements” to help facilitate customer interaction and/or to reduce customer contact, such as touchless payment equipment.
Towarnicki said one business is interested in adding an external window to service customers without them needing to enter the building. Potential app creation could be another use since it facilitates social distancing, he added.
Grant applications will be taken initially until the end of July, at which time Towarnicki said the volume of applications and the amount of interest will dictate whether the deadline is extended, or if the amount of allocated funds will be increased.
In other matters, the council:
*Conducted a public hearing to receive names for two 3-year terms ending June 30, 2023 on
the Martinsville City School Board. Chairperson Donna Dillard will be seeking reappointment but Member Tonya Jones will be stepping down from her position. Additional names read for consideration are LC Jones, Tony Jones and Rebecca Van Cedarfield. Interviews were set for June 23.
*Reappointed Brenda Ephriam to the Piedmont Regional Community Services Board for a three-year term ending June 30, 2023. Council also reappointed Delshana LeGrant to the Patrick Henry Community College Board for an unexpired term ending June 30, 2022.
*Approved on first reading, an ordinance requesting local tax exemption for TheatreWorks Community Players, Inc. The current assessed value of the property is $143,200 with real
property taxes of $1,520.93.
TheatreWorks president Jo Grayson spoke on behalf of the organization. She shared a brief history of the nonprofit and its impact on the local community, and noted that in light of recent cancellations from the pandemic, the theater has been doing online readings by local actors. Fundraising has also been affected, according to Grayson, who added the tax exemption will help alleviate some of that financial strain.