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September 24, 2009

News Article: Martinsville Bulletin

Thursday, September 24, 2009

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville and its constitutional offices expect to lose $256,968 in state funds in the current fiscal year due to recent budget cuts imposed by Gov. Tim Kaine, according to City Manager Clarence Monday.

He discussed the funding cuts with the Martinsville City Council on Tuesday.

Among constitutional offices, the Martinsville Sheriff's Office's reduction of $112,589 will be the largest, a document presented to the council shows.

Other losses are in the commonwealth's attorney's office, $31,051; the circuit court clerk's office, $25,805; the commissioner of the revenue's office, $7,865; the treasurer's office, $5,099; and the registrar's office, $4,827, the document shows.

In addition, the city will lose $66,732 in so-called "599 funds." Those funds, named after the House bill that provided them, have been supplied to Virginia cities since the 1970s in exchange for giving up annexation rights.

Monday said those figures are "as firm as we can get them" from the state.

The city also expects to lose $3,000 in revenue from electric bills paid by the Virginia Museum of Natural History as part of its efforts to operate more efficiently, the document indicates.

While he is not sure, Monday said those efforts could be tied into Kaine's budget cuts. For that reason, he decided to include the $3,000 loss alongside those directly imposed by the state.

Constitutional officers were asked to submit suggestions to compensate for their losses, plus "other ideas to help us balance the budget," Monday said.

Those suggestions were due by 5 p.m. Wednesday, but he said he will not have time to fully examine them before the weekend.

Monday said he will present his recommendations on dealing with the funding losses - based on the officers' suggestions - to the council Oct. 13.

Also Tuesday, the council unanimously approved a letter of intent for the city to take part in updating the West Piedmont Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan.

The West Piedmont Planning District Commission will apply to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management for $56,250 to update the plan by October 2011 so the district will remain eligible for federal disaster mitigation funds, a document shows.

A hazard mitigation plan identifies potential hazards and shows strategies for lessening the impact of disasters, according to city Safety Director Bobby Phillips.

As an example, a mitigation plan could show that a locality plans to buy homes in a flood plain from homeowners before a flood occurs, he said.

He did not discuss the contents of the current plan.

Technically, the city is supposed to contribute $2,500 of its own money toward updating the plan, a document shows. Phillips said, though, that it "should not cost us any real money" since the city's share can be "in-kind contributions" of employees who help prepare the updated plan.

The council also:

"Heard from Mayor Kathy Lawson, who said that more than 450 people on Saturday apparently stopped and looked at the "big chair" recently installed uptown, based on local merchant Tim Martin's count.

Lawson said she understands that many of those people went into uptown stores and bought items, which boosted sales. So the attraction "is working," she said.

Stroud said he has seen many motorists along East Church Street slow down to look at the chair.

The 20-foot-high chair was built to commemorate Bassett Furniture's 100th anniversary in 2002 and then traveled around the country as an attraction at the opening of Bassett furniture stores. The company donated the chair for use as part of the Deep Roots campaign, and it was installed as an uptown attraction in the Broad Street Parking Lot and dedicated last week.

"Heard from Councilman Danny Turner, who suggested that the city study the availability of parking uptown. He indicated there may be a shortage.

Lawson said she understands that "a lot of merchants" park in spaces in front of their stores and their vehicles remain there all day. She said city officials need to look into that situation.

Turner said the city needs to make sure enough parking is available uptown five or six years from now "when everything (development) starts exploding" there. He was alluding to plans for revitalizing the central business district.

"Made three appointments to city boards and commissions following a closed session.

Martin, the uptown merchant, was appointed to fill an unexpired term on the Martinsville Planning Commission. He is a former member of the commission, but he has not served in at least a year, Monday said.

David Hodges was appointed to a three-year term on the Martinsville Board of Zoning Appeals, and Brooke Hairston was appointed to fill an unexpired term on the Martinsville Transportation Safety Commission.

Hairston, a student at Martinsville High School, will fill a student seat on the commission, according to Monday.

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