By Brandon Martin
Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki briefed CIty Council on plans for the fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget during an April 14 meeting in the Municipal Building.
Due to concerns regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), the budget process is being delayed until the end of the current fiscal year which ends Sept. 30.
“We are going as deep into the fiscal year as we can with the council’s schedules,” Towarnicki said.
He said the city will now be presenting the budget on May 26. A public hearing and approval of the first reading of the budget is scheduled for June 9 and the final approval on second reading is slated for June 23.
In between those dates, Towarnicki said that there would also be five dates set aside for potential work sessions on May 27-28 and June 2-4.
“We will be looking at scheduling at least three meetings around these dates,” he said.
Looking at current data, the city manager said that Martinsville could be impacted by decreases in local tax revenue to the tune of $900,000 in the current fiscal year.
“And possibly in excess of $2 million in the next fiscal year,” he added.
Towarnicki said he thinks that the estimates are going to be “a little high” and that the city typically collects about $150,000 a month from their meals tax.
Council Member Danny Turner said the meals tax goes to pay off the school debt and asked how much of the tax is dedicated to the payment.
“About two-thirds of it goes to school debt,” Towarnicki said. “We’ve got it covered this year. We had good or better than average collecting from February and March, even if we have $0 for April, May and June.”
He estimated that the school debt ranged from $9 to $10 million.
“We will have to wait and see what the real impact of all of this is going to be,” Towarnicki said, adding that it would be approximately two months to see what effect the virus is going to have on the local economy.
Another side of the local budgetary process depends on COVID-19 impacts to the state budget, according to Towarnicki.
When the state initially released their priorities, Towarnicki said that items like K-12 funding, police department and street maintenance funding were included.
“As we were doing our budget, we picked up all of those projections and were actually including those in our budget,” he said. “I think there is a fair chance that all of those will go away.”
He also said that the city still doesn’t have concrete answers on how much federal assistance that they will receive either.
“It appears there will be some federal assistance,” he said. “We don’t know how much and we don’t know when,” adding that the assistance could potentially offset any losses from decreases in local tax revenue.
The city has already begun taking steps to ease budgetary concerns.
Towarnicki said that he directed department heads to cease spending except for essentials like contract obligations and other public safety matters. The city currently has a hiring freeze on new employees as well.
In other matters, council:
*Passed three resolutions officially authorizing Mayor Kathy Lawson’s March 17 declaration of a local emergency, authorizing the adoption of procedures that will allow for electronic public meetings in the future and an emergency ordinance to implement emergency measures for the continuing function of government.
Emergency procedures adopted to ensure the continuing function of government include nullifying the requirement for a quorum to physically be present in one location. Assistant City Manager and City Attorney Eric Monday said that the council would still require a quorum for budgetary meetings.
The provision allowing for electronic public meetings applies to the City Council, the school board, the Planning Commission and all local and regional boards, commissions, committees and authorities created by the City Council or to which the Council appoints all or a portion of its members.
Under the resolutions, the public must be provided with the notice and opportunity to participate in the electronic meetings as well. Based on the third resolution, public comments can be received in advance of a public hearing or during the meeting through telephone or other electronic means.
Residents are encouraged to email the comments to Clerk of Council Karen Roberts at email@example.com or call in comments to (276) 403-5182. Comments can also be faxed to (276) 403-5280 or mailed to City of Martinsville, attn.: Karen Roberts, P.O. Drawer 1112, Martinsville, Va. 24114.
*Adopted a resolution authorizing the filing of an application for community improvement grant funds. The funds will come from the Virginia Community Development Block Grant Program and will be used towards projects in the Pine Hall Road area.
The application is for $1,975,859 in block grant funds. The city will invest $217,708 for the project combined with $124,495 in private investments and other funds. In total, the Community Development Department would have $2,129,130 for renovation, demolition, and expansion of broadband services.
The city currently has 18 applications for housing assistance to residents in the project area. Seven of the applicants have landlord participation agreements which means that the home-owners will provide at least 10 percent of the cost of renovations.
The Community Development Department estimates that improvements through planned demolitions and street improvements will indirectly benefit 60 households. By potentially adding broadband services, another 200 households will benefit.
*Passed three proclamations recognizing April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, May as GBS CIDP Awareness Month, and recognizing the week as Public Safety/Telecommunicators Week.
*Lawson reminded residents that the city is waiving late fees for utility bills. She said that late fees were printed on the April bills but Towarnicki said that the fees would not appear on future bills. “If you get a late fee on your bill, it’s waived. Don’t pay it,” Lawson said.
*Towarnicki announced that the city is looking into additional parking and signage on Country Club Drive for Section 6B of the Dick and Willie Passage.
*Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady warned residents of potential online scams regarding COVID-19 tests.