Special court hearing held to decide who will hear Martinsville’s case of reversion next
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) - A special court hearing took place Monday to decide who would hear Martinsville’s case of reversion next - a topic that has been up for debate since the 1950s.
To eliminate bias, three judges from different parts of the state were selected by the Virginia Supreme Court.
The city was hoping to streamline the process of reversion by having the case be heard by an arbitrator. The County wants to keep the case within the special court.
The attorney for Martinsville argued two contracts they had with the county should mean the case will go to an arbitrator. The county’s attorney argued against that, since the Henry County Board of Supervisors voted against one of the agreements last December.
“At one point, the city and the county, we’re proceeding to go forward with a voluntary settlement agreement about this matter,” said George Lyle, Henry County attorney. “That voluntary settlement agreement was never achieved. It was never finalized. It was never completed. It was never an enforceable agreement. There is nothing to arbitrate. There’s no arbitration necessary.”
The city is in favor of becoming a town within the county because they say they are losing money by not being able to expand.
“We’ve had a number of experts who have looked at this over the year,” said Stephen Piepgrass, counsel for the city of Martinsville. “They all have come to the same conclusion that the city’s declining population and, therefore, declining tax base isn’t enough to maintain the city’s the basic levels of services for city residents indefinitely. At some point, something has to give.”
The county is against reversion, saying taxes will increase for everyone.
“The county would have to raise taxes on all citizens in every county, including the new ones in the city of Martinsville that would become a town in our county. It would probably be by 5 to 10 cents if we put it all on real estate. It would be a significant thing. The estimate was that there would be probably at least 3 to 5 million, maybe more, annual increase in the county budget every year,” added Lyle.
The judges did not come to a decision Monday, as one judge was not there.
They will be writing an opinion of the court, but they did not specify when the votes will be in.
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