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April 12, 2009

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Sunday, April 12, 2009

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) expects less local funding in the new fiscal year that starts July 1.

Henry County's proposed fiscal 2010 budget reduces county funds to the EDC by 5 percent, from $500,000 in the current fiscal year to $475,000.

The county is reducing funds to most outside agencies by that percentage as it tries to cope with a projected revenue shortfall of more than $1 million.

EDC President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Heath said he also expects a 5 percent reduction in funds from the city.

City Manager Clarence Monday, who could not be reached for comment, is scheduled to present a fiscal 2010 budget proposal to Martinsville City Council on April 21.

The EDC is a public-private organization that works to recruit and retain business and industry. In addition to the county's $500,000, the EDC currently receives $400,000 from the city and $1 million from The Harvest Foundation, plus an allocation from the Chamber's Partnership for Economic Growth (C-PEG) based on how much it raises in the community.

C-PEG is an affiliate of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce.

Due to economic slowdown, a 5 percent reduction in funding by the county and/or city would be "the prudent thing" for the localities to do, Heath said.

"We think we can handle that fine," he said, but he does not yet know how the agency will do that. The EDC's board will get a budget proposal in June.

However, "we will have to tighten our belts," said Heath. "Like everyone else, we don't have any extra money" lying around.

The county proposes funding 24 outside agencies in the new fiscal year - two fewer than in the current year. The two dozen agencies are set to get a total of $2,081,238, down from $2,168,425 in the current year.

The Blue Ridge Regional Library system is the largest recipient of county funds. It is proposed to get $827,973 in fiscal 2010, down from $849,203 in the current year.

That is only a 2.5 percent decrease. County Administrator Benny Summerlin has said he feared that reducing the county's allocation to the library system further could result in the libraries losing state funds.

"The state doesn't want localities to take their funding issues out on their libraries. It doesn't want localities to cut their libraries' budgets in order to balance their (local) budgets," said library system Director Hal Hubener.

Hubener said the regional library system "expected some kind of cut" from the county, though, due to high unemployment locally.

"We will be cutting something" as a result, Hubener said. "I don't yet know what that cut will be," he said, adding that will be a library board decision.

The board first will see whether other localities served by the Blue Ridge system reduce their contributions so the board will know how much it has to reduce its budget, Hubener said.

Patrick Henry Community College's county allocation is proposed to drop by 5 percent, from $58,135 to $55,229. Ron Epperly, PHCC's vice president of financial and administrative services, said the college wanted the county to increase its funding since it now has more students from the county.

PHCC operates in Henry, Patrick and Franklin counties and Martinsville. It determines each locality's share of its annual local funds budget based on how many students from the locality attend the college, Epperly said.

Like the library system, PHCC needs to find out whether other localities plan to reduce their funds to the college before deciding how to make up any reductions, Epperly said.

Still, Henry County's cut is "going to be a pretty substantial cut to us," he added.

The county plans to reduce its funding for the Virginia Museum of Natural History from $30,000 to $28,500. If the cut is made, the museum will have to develop more educational programs in which it can raise revenue because the county's funds go toward such programs and the staff who conduct them, according to Marketing and External Affairs Director Ryan Barber.

The Henry County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the county's proposed fiscal 2010 budget at 7 p.m. April 20 at the county administration building on Kings Mountain Road.

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