By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Front Royal residents now face higher penalties for not paying their utility bills and fees for on-call trash collection.
Town Council at its meeting Tuesday voted in favor of several code changes that set the amount Front Royal can charge for certain services as well as levies assessed to users of the locality's electrical power and water utilties.
Members voted 5-1 to adopt a resolution on a first reading to set the user fees for the town's on-call refuse collection and utilities. Councilman Thomas E. Conkey cast the dissenting vote after a failed attempt to reduce the fees charged to reconnect electric and water.
No one spoke at public hearings held Tuesday on the code changes regarding fees.
Per the ordinance, the town would, effective July 1, allow one residential address to receive one collection of up to 20 bags of refuse per fiscal year. The town will, under the ordinance, charge a $100 fee for collections of more than 20 bags. A second collection of 20 bags or less would cost the resident $50; $100 for a third pickup and $200 for the fourth.
Staff with the environmental services department came up with the new fees because the agency felt some residents were taking advantage of the Front Royal's on-call collection service, according to Town Manager Steven Burke.
Conkey said he supported fees to cover the costs of the service but the levies as proposed went too far.
"The reason largely that I have heartburn with it is that it's punitive," Conkey said. "To go from $400 to $600 to $800 an hour is punitive in my mind and inappropriate."
"We, the citizens, are the town and I understand people are abusing the system and when they abused it they should pay what it costs but they shouldn't be punished I don't think," Conkey said.
The councilman expressed concern the language of the ordinance could confuse residents.
The typical situation where the fees apply involves a landlord who has evicted a tenant and thus empties the property contents for pickup, Burke explained. The town incurs a cost of $400-$600 to collect and dispose of the trash and other items from the property, according to Burke.
The town collection service is geared mainly toward individual residents, not to commercial property owners, to do "spring cleaning" or to rid their homes of furniture and other items, Burke said. The town offers the collection service so residents do not have to haul refuse themselves to the transfer station in Warren County, he added.
The town's environmental services department plans to send information to residents explaining the new fee system, Burke said.
Conkey and Vice Mayor Chris W. Holloway voted against the ordinance.
The proposed ordinance also sought to raise the utility reconnection fee from $15 to $50. The ordinance also raises the civil penalty for tampering with utility meters to $1,000.
Conkey made a motion to reduce the proposed reconnection fee from $50 to $20.
"I belief a $50 reconnection fee is too high." Conkey said. "If somebody is having trouble paying their electric bill, paying an additional $50 to get their electric turned back on is just rubbing salt into the wound in my estimation. It just makes it that much harder for them. We're not here to be punitive; we're here to serve the public."
Burke told council that Front Royal pays approximately $25 for the hour it would take an employee to reconnect a resident's utility plus an additional $15-$25 for the vehicle costs.
Council voted 3-3 for Conkey's amendment seeking to lower the proposed fee. Mayor Timothy W. Darr voted against Conkey's amendment.
"I don't feel that the rest of the citizens of Front Royal should have to pay to reconnect someone who has been delinquent on their bill or not," Darr said.
Council then voted 5-1 to pass the ordinance on first reading, with Conkey casting the lone vote against the measure as proposed.