By Callie Hietala
The Henry County Board of Supervisors took no action on the Voluntary Settlement Agreement (VSA) on reversion with the City of Martinsville.
The city voted to adopt the VSA by ordinance at its Nov. 9 meeting.
Both city and county must adopt the VSA to trigger the convening of a three-judge panel, which would be the next step in the reversion process.
During the Nov. 23 meeting, each board member detailed perceived unfairness in how the state handles reversions.
Jim Adams, board chairman, called reversion “a tremendously unfair deal” because the county has little or no input. However, “if we move against this VSA, we lose everything we negotiated. We have to be prepared at that time to fight it out.”
Ryan Zehr, of the Ridgeway District, said that “most everybody on the board has been against reversion this whole time. It’s not something we can control. There’s nothing we can do to stop it except hope that new members are elected to the city council, and they change their mind.”
Zehr and David Martin, of the Iriswood District, also expressed concern about having enough time to merge the school systems.
“I never thought that five individuals could take a vote and change the course of history for an entire community,” said Martin, a retired school superintendent in Henry County and other localities.
“Part of that process hurts me more as an educator who believes in a collaborative process to reach this decision. In this process, we were forced to make decisions in isolation without public comment and without public input. But what hurts me more as an educator, the two largest employers in our community (the public-school systems) were never asked to come to the table,” Martin said.
Vice chairman Debra Buchanan, of the Horsepasture District, echoed some of those sentiments.
“Five city council people not choosing to allow the people that they represent an opportunity to vote on (reversion) is wrong. It’s also wrong and archaic that our law does not allow the residents of Henry County to be able to vote on it, but the city had that opportunity. They did not want to hear from their citizens,” Buchanan said.
Joe Bryant, of the Collinsville District, indicated that the whole process was less about reversion and more about Martinsville gaining the ability to annex.
Noting displeasure with the increased tax burden reversion would place on county residents, Bryant said, “I’ve never ever been one to have somebody try to stick something down my throat, to try to force something down my throat and say, ‘you take it,’ and not say anything about it. I’m against this reversion. I think it’s a bad deal for the county.”
While he agreed that the process is unfair, Tommy Slaughter, of the Reed Creek District, said, “you’ve got to weigh the whole thing. Do we fight it and spend a lot of money and end up with it happening anyway, or do we try to get the best we can and go with it?”
The board held a public hearing on the matter before calling for a vote. Four people — Mary Martin, Eric Phillips, Andrew Palmer, and Ray Reynolds — chose to speak. All four spoke against reversion.
Martin said her wish for the year was that the VSA be shredded and used for confetti at a New Year’s Eve party.
Phillips urged the supervisors to delay. He said when reversion came up at a recent meeting he had with local delegates, Del. Danny Marshall told him “it’s not over.” Phillips said the was told that Marshall discussed the issue with State Sen. Bill Stanley. The two legislators plan to bring up new proposals about reversion “now that Republicans have a majority in the House and a friendly governor.”
Phillips said that the city soon will have what he called a “people’s referendum” when it holds elections next year.
“Then, we can see how the city really felt about (reversion) from the residents’ side,” he added.
After the hearing and comments from the board, Adams called for a motion.
“What is the desire of this board? Is there any motion,” Adams asked.
When a motion was not forthcoming, Adams said, “I’ll ask once again. Is there any motion?”
Again, no one spoke.
“Seeing no indication of such, this matter is tabled for lack of a motion,” Adams said.
In other matters, the board:
*Heard an update from County Treasurer Scott Grindstaff. As of October 29, 2021, his office had collected 94.71 percent of 2020 personal property taxes and 96.20 percent of real estate taxes.
*Passed a resolution to extend the deadline for payment of personal property taxes to February 4, 2022. Heard from Commissioner of Revenue Linda Love who explained the delay in submission of personal property tax data.
*Heard an update from Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.; Sarah Hodges, director of tourism & talent development; and Valerie Harper, director of business development.
*Awarded a $203,398 contract to Motorola Solutions to buy portable radios for the Henry County Sheriff’s Office.
*Awarded a $169,000 contract for a second Intercept Contraband Detection Scanner to Tek84, Inc. to be installed at the new Adult Detention Center.
*Awarded a $1,089,350 contract to English Construction Company, Inc., for improvements to DuPont Road leading to the new Adult Detention Center.
*Approved the appropriation of grant funds in the amount of $16,743 received from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant to be used for overtime hours to provide high impact law enforcement activities in areas that are experiencing increases in crime.
*Appropriated two grants from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to be used for training, equipment, and overtime compensation related to enforcement of traffic laws: $26,400 for the enforcement of alcohol-related traffic laws and $17,831 for the enforcement of speed-related traffic laws.
*Approved an additional appropriation of $1,371,949 to the Henry County Public School budget to replace the HVAC system at Laurel Park Middle School. The school board is expecting to receive the full amount from the Virginia Department of Education through the American Rescue Plan Act Coronavirus and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.
*Appropriated $219,172 and awarded a contract of $1,136,761 to Blue Ridge Rescue Suppliers for a new ladder truck. The additional funds will be combined with $929,000 previously appropriated for this matter. Aid-to-Localities funds will be used for the purchase, which will be placed at the Bassett Fire Department.
*Approved the carryover of $51,136,064.58, including interfund transfers of $8,874,6990.88 to FY22.
*Adopted a resolution authorizing the county’s participation in the proposed settlement of opioid-related claims.
*Approved an amendment to the FY21-22 budget related to the sale of the Patriot Centre Shell building. The building was sold to Shock, NA for $1 million as part of an economic incentive package. The total loan value of the building was $3,461,955.
*Heard an update from the Virginia Department of Transportation on the Collinsville Pedestrian Safety Project.
*Adopted a resolution supporting the addition of Airport Road to the VDOT Secondary Road System and to abandon the old portion.
*Held a public hearing and approved a resolution supporting the Community Development Block Grant application for the restoration of the historic Fieldale Recreation Center.
*Held numerous public hearings and approved rezoning applications for Lisa Lancaster; Jason and Pamela Mabry; Carver Memorial Gardens, Inc.; and Dana Wade.
*Held a public hearing and appropriated funds related to the Patriot Centre shell building.
*Reappointed Vivian Hairston to the Public Service Authority for a four-year term to expire Jan. 5, 2026.
*Reappointed Jim Adams and Tommy Slaughter to the West Piedmont Planning District Commission for four-year terms, to expire Dec. 31, 2025.