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July 2012 set as target date for city to become town

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Reversion on front burner

By Tom Wilmoth

The city of Bedford has been in negotiations with Bedford County for two years on the possibility of having the city revert to town status. An agreement on that could be made public in the first quarter of this year with a target date for reversion of July 2012, according to Bedford Mayor Skip Tharp.

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    Tharp, who was unanimously re-elected by council to serve another term as mayor during a reorganizational meeting Monday, said reversion will be a “win-win” for both the city and county.
    “Reversion is our number one front burner (issue),” Tharp said. “I hope we can  get some real action on this by the end of the first quarter of this year.”
    The 24-month process to hammer out an agreement has included monthly, weekly and sometimes daily meetings between representatives of both governments, he said. “There are a myriad of details to work out, so that we are fair to our taxpayers and to our economic base – our industries, our businesses and our citizens. We’ve got to make it right for everyone,” Tharp said.
    At the same time, he said the agreement has to be fair to the county. “If it’s not a win-win situation we all lose,” he said.
    “I don’t have any doubt,” Tharp said of reversion taking place.
    That process will include public input.
    “We promised when we started this 24 months ago that we would seek the input from the residents of the city and the county and we will do that,” he said. “We’ve got to work out the details of the arrangement with the county so we think that it’s the best possible arrangement, then we’ll take it to the public for comment, and tweak it at that point. This is an extremely complex, detailed arrangement.”
    He said while the public will have input, that wouldn’t include dismantling the agreement all together. “We will have wasted two years of work,” he said of that possibility.
    Tharp said council is in agreement about the need for the city to revert to town status.
    “We know that it’s the right thing to do for our city and for our community at large. I think the county staff and supervisors...feel the same way. We’re just trying to hammer out the best deal for everybody,” he said. “We’re confident it’s going to be best for everyone.”
    Tharp, who has served on council for all but two years since 1992, will serve his third term as mayor.
    “I certainly appreciate the confidence of my peers,” he said of being selected for another term. “It was a sincere compliment to be supported by council.”
    He said a major issue facing council immediately will be preparing the next fiscal year’s budget, “working with less to provide more.”
    “The cutbacks we get from the state always hurt,” he said. “We’ve got to provide our core level of services at the best level of service we can provide with the revenue we have to work with.”
    He said the city has done well through the weak economy of meeting its budgetary requirements. He pointed to the city being able to help cover employees’ health insurance increase this year as important. “It was a real bonus for us to be able to do that,” he said. “The staff are the ones who have created those savings and we’re just delighted to be able to return a portion of those savings back to them. It just shows what you can do when you work together.”
    Also on Monday Robert Wandrei was re-elected by council for another term as vice mayor and council members C.G. Stanley and James Vest were sworn in for their new terms. Mary Flood, who was not at Monday’s meeting, also begins her new term on council this year.