By Callie Hietala
The Martinsville City Council voted 4-1 to approve policies and certifications related to the Pine Hall Road Community Development Block Grant Project.
The city was awarded $1,183,310 in funding from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for the project. These funds, along with $496,425 in matching funds from private and local sources – mostly via in-kind support – bring the project’s total to $1,679,735.
The city is working with DHCD to develop a final contract, according to Mark McCaskill, director of Community Development. As part of the contracting process, McCaskill asked the council to approve the first of several sets of policies and certifications.
Council member Danny Turner expressed concern about the language in the business and employee plan, which states, “This certifies to the greatest extent feasible we will take steps to encourage the hiring of lower income persons residing in the city for the activities that are funded with” Community Development Block Grant funds.
“This seems absolutely ridiculous that you would hire the least successful contractor to go into peoples’ home to do work,” Turner said. “If you had a successful contractor versus somebody that’s not so successful, why wouldn’t you go with the more successful one?”
McCaskill explained that contractors would have to meet the qualifications laid out in the request for proposals (RFP), but the clause essentially means the city will make sure that contractors in “the low-to-moderate income areas of the city have ample notice that the contract is out there and can bid on the contract.”
Vice Mayor Jennifer Bowles said she understands the language is about having a more inclusive process, not, “oh, we’re going to give it to the worst possible person. Absolutely not. We can’t correlate lower income with least qualified.”
“Hiring someone who has lower income does not mean lower quality work. That just does not correlate,” said Brandy Dudley, the Regional Planner in Housing for the West Piedmont Planning District Commission, who attended the meeting via Zoom.
“It does not mean they’re the best quality work, either. I’d like for us to say that we’ll hire the best qualified person to do this at the cheapest price,” said Turner.
After extensive discussion, the policies ultimately passed as worded, with Turner casting the sole dissenting vote.
In other matters, the council:
* Presented a proclamation to Lealice Hagwood, of Martinsville Adult and Career Education Services, and Robin Gravely, of Henry County’s Center for Community Learning, recognizing September 19-25 as Adult Education Literacy Week. Gravely said that 20 percent of the population of Martinsville and Henry County are part of the 43 million people in the United States who cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level. Hagwood said a parade will be held in honor of literacy on Sunday, September 19 at 5 p.m. at the Martinsville Speedway.
* Heard from City Manager Leon Towarnicki on the Five Points Neighborhood project, an effort to build workforce housing in the community. Workforce housing is defined as housing that can fit someone making $15-20 per hour. The cost of the houses has risen from an initial estimate of $120,000 to about $150,000 due to the increase in material prices, but efforts are underway to help reduce the cost of the houses. Towarnicki said the city hopes to start laying foundations for the first five houses by mid-October.
* Heard an update from Brad Kinkema, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Family YMCA about the city’s contract with the YMCA for services related to park and recreation programs.
* Approved minutes from the August 24 council meeting
* Approved the consent agenda.