Reversion marks end of a city, heralds beginning of a town

By Debbie Hall

Staff Writer

While signage and some services may change, an after-reversion Town of Martinsville would bear a striking resemblance to its current self, according to Assistant City Manager and City Attorney Eric Monday.

City officials are moving forward with the process of reverting to a town due to a static or declining tax base, lack of competitive business sites and they say because consolidating services would promote efficiency and create revenue savings.

“If we revert, the school system goes away, but we don’t run the school system anyway,” Monday said. 

Under a reversion, the city school system would fold into Henry County’s school division, and the county would operate the combined system.  

According to a report titled “Transition from City to Town Status,” which was unveiled at a December 10 Martinsville City Council meeting, not operating the school division would result in an estimated savings to the city of $1,420,960 — primarily due to a reduction of 33 Martinsville teachers. That decrease is needed to conform to Henry County’s pupil-teacher staffing ratio of 14:1 rather than the 11.6:1 pupil-teacher staffing ratio used by Martinsville, the report showed.

There also would be an additional savings of $587,47627 for the reduction of 5 to 9 central office administrators, the report stated.

Additionally, staff and expenses for all constitutional officers would transfer to the county, Monday said. That includes the Circuit Court Clerk, Commissioner of the Revenue, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Sheriff and Treasurer. The care of inmates also would fold into the county, Monday said.

Henry County would provide those services when the reversion process is complete. The county also may receive additional state funds to help offset those costs, he added.

The county also would receive other city revenues, including those from property taxes, local sales and use taxes, taxes on recordation/wills, grantor taxes, court fines and forfeitures, use of property, charges for services, recovered costs, state recordation tax sources, state and federal victim witness aid, state jail per diem aid as well as revenues from federal, state, and local school operational funds and school cafeteria funds, the report showed. 

Certain other city expenses would be absorbed by the county, among them certain expenses for general government administration, judicial administration, public safety and community planning.    

A town treasurer would be needed in Martinsville, and that office would require staff and have expenses, the report showed.

Aside from that, reversion would bring few other changes, Monday said.

For instance, a Town of Martinsville would be governed by an elected Town Council, a Town Manager would oversee day-to-day operations and the town would continue to provide urban services such as police, fire, landfill, water and sewer.

“All of those things will remain. We will still have to run all of that,” Monday said.

Martinsville also would retain all of its bonded debt, as well as its portion of revenue sharing outlined in economic development projects with the county, Monday said.

“I’m confident we would keep all of our bonded debt and the county will keep theirs,” Monday said

After reversion, town residents can expect to receive two tax bills—one from the town and one from the county, Monday said.

However, “the fact that you get two bills doesn’t mean taxes go up,” Monday said. “Our studies show that town taxes will go down” from the current city rates, and county taxes would increase slightly. 

The town’s operational expenses are expected to drop by an estimated $31.7 million annually compared to its expenses as a city, according to the report.

But for Henry County residents, reversion would mean increased tax revenues of $28.7 million must be generated to help pay the increased estimated expenses of $30.6 million, according to the report. The

approximate $1.9 million difference would be covered by a 5-cents increase in the county’s current .555-cents per $100 of value real estate levy, the report stated.

As the city continues on the path to reversion, Monday said input from Henry County officials is missing from the equation.

“We really need to talk” with county officials, Monday said. Representatives from the two entities could sit down together and say “’here’s what our needs are and please try to factor that in’” discussions.

Noting past successes on joint economic development projects with the county, Monday said “that’s the kind of stuff we can do when we talk to each other. We can work it out.

Henry County Administrator Tim Hall said “we made an offer to talk to them about schools. They want to talk about more than schools. Our board has not responded” to that request yet.

Hall said he is certain the Henry County Board of Supervisors will respond, but he does not know when.

However, Hall said the Feb. 25 meeting will mark the first time the board has been together since the city’s most recent request was received.

In Virginia’s code, cities with populations less than 50,000 may initiate a reversion. Martinsville officials recently reaffirmed their vote on a resolution to move forward with the reversion process. The next step in the process is filing a notice with the Commission on Local Government Review.

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