City to hike funding to area agencies

April 14, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer 

Martinsville officials are proposing an overall slight increase in funding for organizations which the city supports financially but does not control. 

However, they are recommending that most of the “outside agencies” receive level funding in the new fiscal year that will start July 1.

At least one Martinsville City Council member opposes funding organizations at all if planned water and sewer rate hikes are approved. 

The city’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget includes a total of $1,735,522 for 24 outside agencies and programs. That amount is up $9,017 — or a half-percent — from $1,726,505 budgeted for them in the current fiscal year.

One organization is new to the list. The Piedmont Virginia Dental Health Foundation asked for $41,463 but is proposed to receive $4,832. 

Henry County has budgeted $9,664 for the foundation. The city’s planned allocation is half of that amount.

The foundation operates the Community Dental Clinic on Fayette Street uptown. The clinic has a dentist but also uses dental students to treat indigent area residents. 

Local orthodontist Dr. Ed “Chopper” Snyder, the foundation’s vice president, said a contribution of “$3 per capita” was requested. Martinsville’s population was 13,821 as of 2010, federal census data shows.

But the foundation will appreciate “anything we can get,” Snyder said. 

Since it opened in 2006, he said, the dental clinic has provided more than $5 million worth of care to more than 22,000 patients. It has a two-year waiting list for services, he said.

He estimated that 80 percent of local dentists have volunteered at the clinic. 

“You all do a great job,” Councilman Danny Turner told Snyder during the council’s budget work session on Thursday. “If you all weren’t there, there would be a lot more miserable people in Martinsville and Henry County.”

Agencies and programs proposed for city funding increases are: 

• Virginia Cooperative Extension, from $6,925 to $7,756. The county asked the city to match its funding, according to City Manager Leon Towarnicki. 

Extension “does a lot for both the city and the county,” including providing services to farmers and gardeners, he said.

• The city-county 911 emergency communications center, from $351,019 to $361,219. 

Towarnicki said the increase stems from an overall increase in expenses, such as personnel costs, and is “not attributable to any one thing.”

• Comprehensive Services Act programs, from $24,649 to $24,899. The funding goes toward services for at-risk youth and their families. Piedmont Community Services administers the money, according to Towarnicki. 

He did not know the reason for the proposed increase. City Finance Director Linda Conover could not be reached for comment on Friday.

• The Henry-Martinsville Health Department, from $203,010 to $217,636. 

It requested level funding. The extra money is to continue paying for a maintenance worker to which the city has committed, Towarnicki said.

The only agencies proposed to get less funding in the new fiscal year are Henry-Martinsville Social Services, down from $354,397 to $332,720, and the Blue Ridge Regional Library, down from $289,696 to $289,651. 

Social services officials requested only $318,094 in base funding for fiscal 2015, a budget document shows.

Although “our caseloads are increasing exponentially,” the agency had to eliminate two jobs in the past year because of state funding cuts, Director Tanya Verlik told the council on Thursday. 

The remaining $14,626 of the $332,720 budgeted for social services is for half the cost of the maintenance employee, who splits his time between that agency and the health department, Towarnicki said.

The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., the lead local business and industry recruiting entity, is recommended for level funding at $279,500. It did not request additional money. 

Various agencies sought more funding than the proposed budget includes for them.

The Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI) and Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society asked for funding, but the budget proposal includes none for them. 

FAHI, which never has received city money, requested $15,000. Executive Director Chauncey Adams said the organization would spend the funding on educational and cultural enrichment activities for young people.

“Are we going to be funding you every year?” Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge, who said she is a FAHI member, asked Adams. 

“Hopefully not,” Adams replied, adding that the organization is pursuing grant funds.

The historical society requested $10,000. Towarnicki said the society aims to develop activities that teach youth about how local government works. 

City funding was provided to the society in the past but not in the current fiscal year.

In budgeting outside agency allocations for fiscal 2015, “basically we took the position of level funding,” and since the historical society received no money for the current year, “we held with that position,” Towarnicki said, explaining why no funding was included in the budget proposal. 

During the work session, the council made no commitment to funding any organization at any level.

The city’s budget proposal includes an 11.2 percent increase in water and sewer rates which Towarnicki has said would generate about $400,000 per year in extra revenue that could be put toward city expenses. 

In a letter emailed to the Martinsville Bulletin on Friday, Hodge wrote that she questions “whether it is necessary to raise rates, particularly when the city gives roughly $1.7 million to outside agencies (per year) that do not provide services critical to the operation of the municipality.”

Hodge said in a phone interview that day that the city should not fund such services and she would vote against the budget “as it stands right now” — with funding for agencies — if the rate increases are not taken out. 

The council plans to consider the spending plan for adoption on first reading after a public hearing on May 13.

Further budget work sessions are planned from 6-9 p.m. April 23 and 24. 


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