September 27, 2007
The county and city cooperate whenever possible and should strive to work together more often, according to Henry County Board of Supervisors Chairman H.G. Vaughn and Martinsville Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr.
Showing cooperation between the localities, the two officials gave a joint "State of the Community" address Wednesday during a luncheon at Forest Park Country Club in Martinsville.
The Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event, which had been billed as a "State of the City and County" luncheon, as it was in previous years when it was held. Vaughn and Reynolds informally changed the name after they recently decided to give a joint speech.
Vaughn, who represents the county's Ridgeway District, said people often have asked him why the two localities "don't work better together." That bothers him, he said, because they try to work together whenever possible - and often do.
Many people regard Henry County-Martinsville as one community. Vaughn pointed out, though, that the city has a denser population than the county, which sometimes causes the localities to have different interests and methods of serving residents.
Vaughn mentioned several ongoing cooperative efforts of the county and city, including the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., Henry-Martinsville Social Services, Gateway Streetscape Foundation and revenue-shared lots at the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park.
He also noted two new cooperative efforts. A committee of county and city officials is exploring ways to combat the area's litter problem, and another committee will look at ways the Martinsville Mustangs baseball team can reduce expenses and garner more attendance at home games.
"We have many ways we work together," Reynolds said of the localities. "We want to continue that work in the spirit of friendship and cooperation, moving ahead with our work so we can move all our residents ahead."
Partnerships between the county and city must be worthy of each locality spending money toward them, Vaughn said.
"We pledge that we will continue to explore our common interests, reach ahead together and pull our load toward a common goal, the growth of our shared communities in the best interests of all concerned," Reynolds said.
One advantage to having separate governments, Vaughn said, is they can seek grants for projects to deal with challenges jointly affecting them.
Challenges that both localities face, said Reynolds, include unemployment higher than the statewide average and heavy "underemployment" - people with jobs requiring a lesser degree of skills than other jobs they have done. They may be earning less pay and receiving fewer benefits than they did in previous jobs, officials have said.
"Economic development occurs in those communities that are constantly working to improve themselves," Reynolds said.
However, overcoming the challenges "will require some effort," he said.
Vaughn said the community must figure out ways to create more job opportunities for residents, as well as to diversify its industrial base.
Comparing the process of overcoming challenges to driving a race car, Vaughn indicated that residents and officials alike must take part in the process and have positive attitudes.
"This community doesn't need passengers. We need drivers," he said.
He added that people who can give good directions are needed, not "back seat drivers" who do nothing but complain about problems.
"Hop in, buckle up, let's put the pedal to the metal," said Vaughn.
The purpose of the "State of the Community" address was to let business leaders hear directly from government officials about successes the county and city have seen in the past year, as well as challenges they face, said chamber board of directors Chairman John Parkinson.
Vaughn and Reynolds mentioned numerous successes.
County accomplishments mentioned by Vaughn include:
• Beginning the process of acquiring about 600 acres on the North Carolina line for a new industrial park.
The property should help the county take advantage of "very big things" going on in the economic development of North Carolina's Piedmont Triad metropolitan region, Vaughn said.
• Increasing funds to the Henry County Schools by about $470,000 this fiscal year.
• Creating new recreational amenities, including the Fieldale Walking Trail, Gravely Nature Reserve and boat access points along the Smith River.
• Staffing two of the county's "convenience centers" for garbage deposits. One is in the Blackberry District; the other is in the Ridgeway District.
Vaughn said that staffing the sites has helped keep unsuitable materials out of the centers, as well as people from outside the county from using them.
Public response has been excellent, he said.
City accomplishments that Reynolds mentioned include:
• Completion of the new Virginia Museum of Natural History building on Starling Avenue. He called it the city's "jewel in the crown" in attracting people to Martinsville.
"We look forward to seeing researchers, visitors, students and tourists streaming into the facility to take advantage of its world-class exhibit, educational, research and lecture facilities," Reynolds said.
• Establishing a Wilson Park Steering Committee to plan improvements to the 35-acre park off Church Street Extension.
Reynolds said the park is suitable for many types of outdoor recreation but "the city has never taken the opportunity to bring it to its full potential."
• Creating a walking trail along the former Danville & Western Railway bed near uptown. The paved trail is six-tenths of a mile in length.
The city is trying to find ways to light the trail, as well as install exercise equipment and "furniture" such as benches and trash cans, Reynolds said.
• Completing the revitalization of the West Church Street commercial district and beginning plans for the Cherry Street neighborhood project.
The Cherry Street project will instill neighborhood residents "with a sense of pride in their surroundings by providing a hand-up in restoring and rebuilding their properties," the mayor said.
Reynolds said the Martinsville Leisure Services Department has been told to develop more recreational programs, especially for adults.
"We are woefully lacking in adult recreational programs, and youth also need more to do," he said.
During an opening prayer at the event, Deputy Henry County Administrator Tim Hall remembered former Martinsville mayor Allan McClain, city councilman Bruce Dallas, lawyer Ben Gardner and businessman Bill Adkins.
All of the men recently died.
"They were giants" well known to area residents due to their extensive community service, and they will be missed, Hall said.