It's time to go public

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Reversion agreement out today

By Tom Wilmoth

After more than three years of behind-closed-doors talks, Bedford and Bedford County officials will release, and vote on, the agreed-to plan for the city to revert to a town.
    Officials have kept quiet about the details and the discussions—that began back in 2008—of the plan. They set today (Wednesday, Sept. 14) as the unveiling. Questions remain about what that plan will contain, but there are some issues that appear to be clear cut.
    Bedford City Council canceled its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday and called a special meeting today, at 6 p.m., to take its first public action on the plan. The Bedford County Board of Supervisors will follow with its own vote and discussion at 7 p.m.
    Officials    said     they     wanted    to coordinate the meetings so questions could be asked at one time of them. Council will hold its meeting in its chambers and the supervisors will meet in the board room of the County Administration Building.
    Among the questions to be answered:
    • How will this affect the public schools? Bedford Mayor Skip Tharp said last spring that the county stands to gain millions of dollars in additional revenue from the state, should reversion take place. This is because of the change to the local composite index, which would allow the county to benefit from adding the city's students to the formula. The future of Bedford Middle School, Bedford Elementary School and Bedford Primary School, will also likely be affected. Currently the city owns BMS and BES and BPS resides in the city. The county school board sought to close that school last year, but scrapped that idea after the supervisors got involved and threatened to withhold funds. The city currently has a contract with the county for education of its students, but reverting to a town would leave that responsibility solely with the county.
    • Another issue will be indebtedness. The city is likely to carry its debt over to the new town. That would be the case unless there is an agreement between the city and the county otherwise.
    • Some positions would be lost in the transition. The offices of the constitutional officers of the former city will terminate when the transition is complete. In addition, it appears the county will be taking over the responsibility for economic development. The electorial board of the city would be abolished and the county electorial body would assume responsibility within the town.
    • Real and tangible property in the former city will be subject to county taxation, in addition to those property tax rates established by the town, following reversion. City officials have said, previously, their intent to not have taxes go up for city residents under reversion.
    • Elections for members of the town governing body would be held at least 30 days prior to the effective date of transition. Residents of the former city would be eligible to vote for members of the board of supervisors and county election district lines would be redrawn.
    • As a town, Bedford would be permitted to petition for annexation of territory within the county, following a two-year moratorium after reversion. Mayor Tharp noted last week that reversion would allow the city to grow, something that it hasn't been able to do.
    • The town, which became a city in 1968, would be permanently barred from returning to independent city status.