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Two on panel say tax hike should wait

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By Ben Orcutt - borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Councilman Thomas H. Sayre and Vice Mayor Chris W. Holloway say now is not the time to raise the real estate or personal property tax rates.

On March 14, the Town Council voted 4-1 to affirm on first reading an increase in the real estate tax from 7 cents to 11 cents per $100 assessed value, with 2 cents of the increase going toward equalization of the town's revenue because the total value of property in Front Royal has decreased from last year by just over 27 percent.

Part of Councilman N. Shae Parker's motion was that all funds realized beyond any equalization would be evenly dispersed between design and/or construction costs associated with the Kendrick Lane and Kerfoot Avenue connector road, and development of a townwide facilities plan to include a new public safety building and design and/or acquisition of right of way for Leach Run Parkway.

Parker's motion also included increasing the personal property tax rate from 60 cents to 64 cents per $100 value, with both rate increases effective July 1.

Sayre cast the only vote against the tax hikes and while Holloway missed the March 14 meeting due to a previous commitment, Holloway said Monday that he will vote against the increases on second reading.

"We have a balanced budget, but there is surplus money available and therefore I think it's unnecessary to have a real estate tax increase or a personal property tax increase," Sayre said. "Now, I'm not against equalization with the real estate taxes. If the equal amount comes to 2 more cent, I'll probably be OK with that, but I'm not for increasing it to [11 cents], no."

Sayre said automobile prices appear to be on the increase, so there is no need to increase the personal property tax.

"I do not think it's going to set well with the citizens of Front Royal to raise their taxes when there's surplus funds available," Sayre said.

Holloway agreed with Sayre on the prices of vehicles, saying that used car prices are up about 20 to 30 percent.

"Well honestly, I'm not for raising taxes right now, especially personal property," Holloway said. "Equalization, I could see equalizing the real estate because when the assessments go back up the tax rate will come back down, supposedly, if I'm not mistaken. As for any increases, I'm just totally against it right now. ... It doesn't sound like a whole lot, but to some people it's a lot."

However, Parker and fellow Councilmen Thomas E. Conkey and Hollis L. Tharpe see things differently.

"The fallacy of it is that just because we've got money in the electric department, for instance, doesn't mean we can spend it on roads," Conkey said. "We have some major infrastructure improvements that need to be made to support the growth that we know is coming in the town, and the only way we're going to make those infrastructure improvements is if we get the tax money to do that. We could wait until we start, and have one massive tax increase, or we have a couple small tax increases or a single small tax increase so we accumulate money over the years and then spend that money."
Parker agreed.

"Me supporting this [real estate] tax increase is because we have outlined specific uses for the tax increase and in my mind they are needed infrastructure improvements within the town that have been talked about, but never acted on for years and years and years," Parker said. "One being the Leach's Run Parkway, the other being the Kendrick-Kerfoot connector, and if we don't sit aside the funds for those, they're never going to come to a realization. That's my main reason for supporting those two items. The other is my entire time on council, we've been approached by the police department that they are basically in a very crammed and cramped space."

Tharpe spoke in a similar vein on the real estate tax increase.

"If we're going to get anything done, you've got to have money to get her done, and those three projects have been on the back-burner and they need to be brought forth, and we need to start on them now," Tharpe said.


They should raise the rate so that they get basically the same amount of taxes as before. Then when the economy gets better they can lower it back.
Basically dollar for dollar as before in taxes.

I just don't understand the Town Council.

Financially, this country is in the worst shape that has been seen since the great depression of the 1930’s, and this council believes now is the time to raise taxes.

Agreeable, a slight increase in taxes for equalization is reasonable (2 cents), but to put another whopping financial burden (9 cents for growth) on tax payers who already are having difficulty just meeting their basic living needs for shelter, food, and medicines. I find their proposal to be a slap in the face, and evidence that the town council may be out of touch with the financial situation facing many residents of Front Royal.

For someone who’s home is valued at $100,000 dollars, the proposed growth portion of the tax increase will add another $90 to their yearly tax bill. For someone who is in a situation where they are spending their last $8.00 a month for a medication, this increase will cause them to choose between paying the tax or getting their medication.

Has any of the Town Council members visited the grocery store lately? I know my weekly grocery bill has increase at least 30-40% in the past two years. Have they visited the gas station lately? Compared to four years ago, gasoline has increased over 60%. Everything we buy has substantially increased in price over the past few years, yet our income has not grown at the same pace, some incomes have become non-existent.

First I ask, why do they believe that the residents who elected them want growth in Front Royal? Front Royal is a nice place to live with a small town feel. However, those who support growth for tract housing and road improvements obviously have a personal agenda that is not in tune with most who live in Front Royal. Ask anyone on the street, we want to keep the small town feel, if we wanted to live in places like Leesburg, VA (another small town that was destroyed by growth), we would live there.

Nevertheless, I understand that growth is natural, it can’t be stopped. However, it can be controlled as to when, where, and how fast it occurs. Growth is also naturally predicated on three major factors, financial gain in the business sector, a healthy economy, and a strong tax base.

Right now, overall business is not gaining financially, we have lost many jobs that have not been replaced, our economy is poor, and our country is in debt at levels never seen before. Yet it appears that the Town Council wants to create a false healthy tax base for the town, by shouldering the residents of Front Royal with additional taxes we cannot afford, and for what reason, so they can perpetuate growth that we neither need at this point nor are in a financial position to support over the long term.

Town Council, it’s time for a reality check. Right now we don’t need growth, times are lean, it is time to save for a rainy day. Let’s put growth on the back burner for a while until all of us are in a better financial position.

John and JT you are spot on. I enjoyed reading your comments! I hope you show up at Monday's TAX INCREASE feast by the town council. Let them know there is over ELEVEN MILLION DOLLARS in reserve and that does not even count the so-called rainy day fund.

Might the council fund projects with the developers paying their share? What happened to the developers paying their share for their pet projects that directly enrich them with $?

Just to be clear, 9 cents of the new rate keeps the tax bill the same as it was in the past. Assessments went down and we have to equalize the tax rate so that revenue collected is the same as we collected before the reassessment. If assessments went up, we would have to lower the tax rate ... which we have done in the past.

In your example, the $90 annual tax bill should be roughly the same as it was in the past. This pays for the Police, upkeep of the roads ... including snow clearance and repaving ... and all the other town services that you don't pay separately for (such as water and electricity which are not paid for by taxes, but are billed by usage.)

2 cents or $20 per year, in your example, will go to improving the infrastructure we have tied that raise to.

This is a $20 per year increase, not a $90 per year increase and it can only go to improve three of the projects that this town needs to start.

That theory is what Shenandoah County tried to shove down our throats when they raised our rates on real estate taxes, but the odd thing was....my real estate tax went up a bit more than $100 even though our assessment went down! A lot of other people were hit harder than that! Doesn't sound like much but when some people have little to nothing and you add any increase onto that, they feel the pinch. Actually, it is more like a stab right through the wallet!

Mr. Conkey,

I see your point and concede that my computations were in error. Nevertheless, even $20 is an unnecessary burden some folks, and if you look at the past ten years, the overall increase in tax dollars per capita that the town is receiving is substantially more than it was 10 years ago. Have the town citizens incomes kept pace? My answer is no, and I am sure most will agree.

Furthermore, I do not agree with your assessment that we need to start these projects now. Folks need to wake up. This country is in a financial crisis. I don't agree with your definition of infrastructure as it pertains to new projects. Yes I agree we need to maintain what we have in terms of our water/sewage lines, power lines, existing roads etc. This is necessary infrastructure.

But new connector roads and right of ways, are not absolutely necessary at this point in time for the town of Front Royal to function. It's time to give the citizens a break and only provide essential services that we need to maintain the status quo. We don't need a pie in the sky growth agenda at this time. If developers want growth and really want to develop Front Royal, then put the burden of building the infrastructure on them, not on the citizens in the town that will realize not one iota of benefit from these projects.

The writing of the growth agenda is on the wall, and you put it so well...

" Conkey said. "We have some major infrastructure improvements that need to be made to support the growth that we know is coming in the town, and the only way we're going to make those infrastructure improvements is if we get the tax money to do that."

The only way growth is coming in the town is if the Council nurtures it. I am not against growth, but I am against unnecessary growth at this time, and using the citizens of Front Royal as a piggy bank to support this unnecessary agenda is a travesty.

Why does the revenue collected have to stay the same if property assment went down? My investment decreases in value but your revenue stays the same? Ive had to rearrange my budget, Front Royal should consider doing the same. Its not "equalize" when you are essentially taking more because people have less.

Don't the people get it that run are town just stop spending or are they just that "DUMB"

I am glad to see one member of the Town Council speak out on the issues on somewhat of a regular basis. While the position that this Member makes might not always be a popular position, at least the offer of clarify and explanation has been made. I can't recall any other members of the board utilizing the media in this fashion. For the other members, I guess "out of site out of mind" holds true.

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