County lobbyists brace for little face time with legislators during short session

Kim Jackson, of the firm Creedle, Jones and Alga, P.C., gives a virtual update on the fiscal year 2019 audit.

By Brandon Martin

The Henry County Board of Supervisors heard an update that will be presented during the upcoming 2021 General Assembly session in January.

Rob Catron, a lobbyist for Henry County, said he didn’t know how much time he would even get to speak with legislators.

“The Constitution provides for a 30-day session in odd numbered years, with the ability of the General Assembly, with a two-thirds vote to stretch that 30-day session to a 45-day session,” Catron said. “This has been routine since 1971. There are two Republicans in the minority in both chambers that have told the legislative majority party of Democrats they will not support extending the session.”

Catron explained that the shorter period in odd years is normally used to discuss budgetary adjustments made in the second year of the biennial budget.

In practice, he said, the session works the same regardless of the year, but with just as many items to address in a shorter period.

“There are also going to be severe restrictions on the number of bills” that can be submitted, according to Catron. “This year, the caps will be seven bills per house member and 12 bills for a state senator.”

He added that the House of Delegates will hold virtual meetings, with floor time and committee meetings held online.

Lobbyists like Catron “will not be allowed in the building for session,” he said. “We will not be allowed in the science museum when the senate meets. Our ability to have in-person, face-to-face, conversations with most members of the General Assembly will be virtually nothing. It’ll all be by phone, texting, or Zoom calls.”

Based on his previous experience, Catron said his job is severely limited without the ability to have face to face interactions.

Whatever time he does get with legislators will be spent pushing the county’s priorities.

First, the county would like the Commonwealth “to develop new economic development incentives that allow the state and localities to be more competitive with neighboring states.”

Rob Catron, lobbyist for Henry County, gives a presentation on legislative priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session.

Catron said that neighboring states like North Carolina provide larger packages, which puts the counties on the border at a disadvantage.

In the area of education, Catron said that he will be lobbying the state to hold the counties harmless for reduction in funds correlated to decreased enrollment from the pandemic.

“If you estimate that you have 10,000 students and because of COVID, some parents homeschool their kids or whatever, now you only have 9,500. Under normal circumstances, that would affect how much money you receive from the state,” Catron said. “Don’t penalize us for having lower students this year because of the pandemic.”

Catron said the issue seems to have bipartisan support, with larger localities also having issues with lower enrollment.

In the area of transportation, Catron said he looks to push efforts to fund the Martinsville Southern Connector project, which would create a direct route from the North Carolina line and Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre (CCBC) to the U.S. 58/U.S. 220 bypass.

He encouraged residents to press gubernatorial candidates for funding of the connector.

If any changes are made to the Children’s Service Act program, Catron said he will push legislators to provide the funds needed to meet the new requirements.

Before discussing new items that could appear on future budgets, Kim Jackson, of Creedle, Jones and Alga, P.C., updated the board with results of the fiscal year (FY) 2019-2020 audit.

Jackson said the firm gave an unmodified opinion with no audit findings except a recurring non-compliance from 2019 “where there is no management approval of tax abatement.”

She said the government activity net position is $65 million, with $41 million unrestricted “and can be used to meet the county’s ongoing obligations.”

The change in fund balance for the General Fund was an increase of $11 million from the previous year, according to Jackson. She added the overall fund balance was $107 million. Of that amount, $33 million is unassigned and can be used.

Revenues increased $3.7 million, with state and federal revenue representing a sizable percentage. The property tax collection during the period was 95.71 percent.

Jackson said that general fund expenditures increased $17 million from capital outlay projects.

In other matters presented, the board:

*Appropriated $228,420 received from the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation toward Phase II development at Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre (CCBC). The funds will be used for an aerial survey and preliminary engineering work. The board also awarded a $187,700 contract to the Timmons Group for Preliminary Engineering Services for Phase II development of CCBC.

*Approved a resolution to endorse an application to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The county, along with the Harvest Foundation and the EDC, are trying to acquire additional land near the Smith River Sports Complex for future recreational use.

*Scheduled the 2021 Organizational Meeting for Jan. 4, 2019 at 5 p.m.

*Approved an alternate schedule for the FY21-22. Budget requests are due in the county administrator’s office on Feb. 12, 2021. The school budget request is due April 1; the total budget will be presented to the board on May 4; public hearings will be scheduled on May 17; and the budget will be adopted on May 25.







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