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November 26, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

By KIM BARTO - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville City Council endorsed staff recommendations for the city's legislative agenda, including one on restructuring local governments, during its meeting Tuesday night.

The city listed its priorities for the 2009 General Assembly session and Congress, many of which deal with budget issues.

Council members first discussed the city's draft agenda at a joint meeting with the city school board Monday night. During the meeting, city attorney Eric Monday suggested the council be more conservative in its requests to the state legislature because of the tight budget.

The council's revised plan requests a state commission be appointed to look at restructuring local governments in Virginia. This does not necessarily mean lifting the 1986 moratorium on annexation by cities, Monday said, but the commission would examine local governments in other states for potential use in Virginia.

"The state has to find a way for cities to expand their revenue base without incurring the enmity of counties," Monday said.

The agenda also requests additional funds to accommodate the Henry-Martinsville Social Services department, whose current building has been plagued by space and maintenance issues.

The council also asks the commonwealth to fully fund its obligations to constitutional officers and 599 funds, which support police departments, and to leave fire and rescue squad assistance funding intact.

State priorities for transportation include urging the Commonwealth Transportation Board to reach a final conclusion on the I-73 corridor. In the short term, the legislature is urged to upgrade portions of U.S. 220 that would overlaying I-73 to interstate standards and continue to prioritize U.S. 58 improvements. The agenda for Congress also lists these priorities.

On the state agenda, the council endorses rapid development of the Trans-Dominion Express passenger train service, a corridor that would connect cities in Virginia. The agenda requests that this service include a route from Lynchburg to Danville.

Council's plan also encourages the state to enact a long-term capital funding formula for future transportation needs.

Under education, the council endorsed the agenda proposed by Martinsville City Schools on Monday and expressed support for the education priorities adopted by Henry County. Monday said county and city priorities are similar.

The council plan opposes enacting unfunded mandates by the state and expresses continued support for funding the New College Institute. If there must be funding cuts, the council requests that these be minimal because the college is in "a critical stage of growth and development," Monday said.

The list also asks the state to maintain current funding levels for economic development incentives and the Virginia Museum of Natural History; support development of a multiuse trail across southern Virginia; enhance localities' authority to address blighted properties; and include Mayo River State Park on the state's list for future capital funding.

The agenda for Congress includes inviting 5th District Congressman-elect Tom Perriello to locate a district office in Martinsville.

Under transportation, the federal agenda opposes any changes in the Amtrak Crescent service, which runs from New Orleans to New York and is the only route that comes near Martinsville. The closest station is in Danville, but there has been discussion of moving the route further east, Monday said.

The council also prioritized encouraging Amtrak to provide motorcoach transfer service between Danville and Martinsville.

Other federal priorities listed by the council were: request $3.72 million to redevelop brownfields extending from the former Sara Lee site along Aaron Street to Rives Road; request $6.25 million for elimination and redevelopment of blighted areas in the city; request special federal incentives for businesses locating in regions, such as Martinsville, that have experienced job losses greater than 5 percent; and extend high-speed broadband service throughout southern Virginia, especially to rural areas.