Martinsville and the Reversion – Part 2

by James C. Sherlock

Dick Hall-Sizemore yesterday gave us a rather bloodless, bureaucratic, and relatively positive description of the upcoming shotgun marriage between Martinsville and Henry County. He could not seem to understand the angst on the part of Henry County.

I’ll try to help him out.

It was good to have the historical perspective that Dick always brings, but I am going to take the opportunity to offer a bit of the human side of that merger.

First, these are two profoundly poor areas. The people, white and black, are also much less healthy than the rest of the state. The tale, however, doesn’t stop there.

Selected differences


  • The 2020 population of Martinsville was 13,821. The median age was 42.7 compared to the state average of 37.8. The population was 53.5% female. Percentage in civilian workforce 54.9%.
  • The median household income in Martinsville, VA in 2019 was $35,405, which was 115.9% less than the median annual income of $76,456 across the entire state of Virginia.
  • The FY 2021 budget for Martinsville was $103 million, of which $27.6 million is school-related for 1,881 pupils. Totals: $7,452 per citizen, $14,673 per pupil. Black student 2019 SOL pass rates: Math, 74%, Reading, 59%.
  • Persons under 18 years: 25.4%
  • Persons over 65 years: 18.1% because of much lower life expectancy
  • Building permits 2020: 1

Henry County

  • The 2020 population of Henry County was 50,953.
  • The median household income in Henry County in 2019 was $36,683
  • The FY2021 budget for Henry County is $157 million. $88 million of that is for schools for 7,130 pupils. Totals: $3,081 per citizen, $12,342 per pupil. Black student 2019 SOL pass rates: Math 76%, Reading, 68%
  • Persons under 18 yrs: 19.2%
  • Persons over 65yrs: 24.5%
  • Building permits 2020: 18
  • Tax rates are far lower across the board in Henry County than in Martinsville because of the far lower expenditures per citizen in Henry County.

County Health Rankings 2020.

  • Health Outcomes overall. 133 localities in Virginia. Martinsville ranked 128/133. Henry County ranked 97/133
  • Poor or fair health. Virginia 16%, Martinsville 22%, Henry County 21%.
  • Low Birthweight. Virginia 8%, Martinsville 13%, Henry 9%.
  • Diabetes prevalence. Virginia 11%, Martinsville 14%, Henry 21%.
  • Access to primary care physicians. State 1,320:1. Martinsville 13,140:1, Henry 1,650:1
  • Mental health providers: State: 570:1, Martinsville 2,60:1, Henry 8,490:1.
  • Children in single parent households: State 30%, Martinsville 61%, Henry 36%.
  • Children receiving free lunch. State 44%, Martinsville 99%, Henry 85%

You get the idea.

Both Martinsville and Henry County are poor. But Henry County, conservatively governed, spends less than half as much per citizen on government than does Martinsville.

Henry County, spending 19% less per pupil, has better SOL results for Black students.

You can perhaps now get some idea of the reticence of Henry County to absorb Martinsville. Henry County can’t afford it in more ways than one.

Just raise taxes

Dick’s idea for the county to raise taxes on Martinsville’s rich and businesses doesn’t work here. What rich? And does anybody think that business can successfully raise prices on their profoundly poor customers to cover added costs? Higher prices, like higher taxes, in this case will mean lower revenues.

Can annual building permits go below zero?

I don’t know how much of the taxable property in the city is now owned by the city from tax foreclosures, but it is a lot. Is Henry County to tax that? Martinsville’s own tax receipts continue to decline with the population.

Increase taxes on Sovah Martinsville Hospital?

The West Piedmont health district serves Martinsville and the counties of Henry, Franklin, and Patrick. Patrick County west of Martinsville lost its only hospital two years ago.

So Sovah Health is the only hospital in the health district and a for-profit system. It is already cutting back services to maintain margins. If it can’t make a profit it will close. It would do the same if it were non-profit.

Net tax increases on the city have no chance of working here.


Martinsville is strongly liberal. In Martinsville, 62.6% of the people voted Democrat in the last presidential election, 36.0% voted Republican, and the remaining 1.4% voted Independent.

Henry County is strongly conservative. In Henry County, 35.0% of the people voted Democratic in the last presidential election, 64.1% voted Republican Party, and the remaining 1.0% voted Independent.

So, Democrats are turning over the wreckage of Martinsville after decades of Democratic control to a poor Republican county.

Dick is philosophical. The people of Henry County not so much.