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Posted May 25, 2012 | comments 6 Comments

Front Royal to hold line on taxes, utility rates

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Front Royal residents may find little reason to speak against the locality's proposed fiscal 2013 budget when it comes up for public hearing Tuesday.

If Town Manager Steven Burke's proposed budget is passed, the rates on the town's tax levies and utility rates will not increase.

"The department heads work very hard to minimize their department budgets in order to provide for specific programs and needs that are presented in this budget," Burke said.

The proposed fiscal 2013 budget includes a total spending package of $37.45 million.

The budget offers several benefits sought by the Front Royal Police Department, including the reorganization of agency, Burke explained. Funding as proposed would allow the department to upgrade a lieutenant to the captain position and a sergeant to lieutenant, according to Burke. The crime prevention specialist position would increase from part time to full time, he said.

The upgrades come with increases in the salaries. The budget includes funding for a master police officer and senior dispatcher designation program, according to Burke.

The proposed budget includes a one-time salary bonus for all full- and part-time employees. Full-time workers also would receive a 1 percent salary increase to offset the requirement that employees pay an additional 1 percent into the Virginia Retirement System.

The general assembly this session passed legislation requiring that local employees contribute five percent of their salary to the VRS. The legislation did allow localities to spread the five percent over a period of up to five years. Localities in turn included salary adjustments to offset the costs to employees so they do not see a pay cut.

"Unfortunately, due to the last-minute nature of the state's approval of their budget we were not afforded an opportunity to review the impact of the salary adjustments on our overtime budgets for our police department, our energy services and other departments," Burke explained. "Based upon concern about impacting the overtime budgets we opted to go with the minimal transition this fiscal year."

Council will hold a public hearing on an ordinance to set the VRS rate. Town officials may consider going to a higher rate for the subsequent fiscal year once they evaluate the impact on the overtime budget, according to Burke.

Tax rates for real estate, personal property and machinery and tools remain unchanged under the proposed budget. Front Royal charges 11 cents per $100 of assessed value for real estate; 64 cents per $100 of assessed value for machinery and tools and personal property.

Water and sewer rates will remain the same for the next fiscal year under the proposed budget, Burke said.

"We will most likely be facing a rate adjustment next year," Burke said. "Where we're at as far as the design and construction of our improvements of the wastewater treatment plant we were able to maintain the rates based on the previous fiscal year's rates."

Also on the agenda, council plans to hold a public hearing for a first reading on an ordinance for the town's on-call trash collection. The ordinance seeks to allow the town charge fees for people who generate too much trash and limit the items accepted by the Warren County Transfer Station.

The ordinance as recommended by town officials would let Front Royal limit addresses to one free collection each fiscal year which covers up to 20 bags of trash and appliances or furniture. The town would charge $100 for any collection of more than 20 bags of trash. Also, Front Royal would charge additional fees for each collection after the first.

The limits come at the request of Jimmy Hannigan, director of environmental services, who states in a memo that the town department recently picked up more than two tons of household items from one resident and the operation took man and equipment hours.

6 Comments | Leave a comment

    The Police Department fails to keep its rank and file officers and the thinking goes it must be due to inequalities of compensation when compared to surrounding jurisdictions?

    Hiring and training a new rank and file policeman is expensive only to have him or her depart for "greener pastures" shortly after coming on the force which necessitates hiring and training a new rank and file policeman; the vicious circle problem.

    Front Royal authorities say they have designed solutions to this employee retention problem into the new budget. They say they gave the rank and file a miniscule 1% salary increase which then disappears into a retirement fund. Net take home pay increase.....ZERO. What, exactly, was solved?


    If I were a new rank and file policeman, I would view the recent mega publicity and resultant citizen uproar bashing the Front Royal authorities as my best chance at achieving parity with my neighboring peers. Imagine my disappointment when the end result was "more of the same".

    Front Royal authorities also increased the police department budget to pay for a couple of NEW upper management positions in the police department. In effect they have increased the number of well paid "Chiefs" to oversee the remaining disadvantaged "Indians", exasperating the main problem they were trying to resolve...Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.

    Over and over, beginning with the Good Old Boys (Holloway, Tharpe, Lauder, and Darr) dismissal of Town Manager Mike Graham, Front Royal authorities continue to demonstrate their lack of effective skills at management and problem solving. Increasing the police department budget in favor of the "Chiefs" over the "Indians" doesn't seem to address the rank and file retention problem.

    The police retention problem is yet another shining example of Front Royal authorities punishing success and rewarding failure.

      And I observe in amazement, judging by your comments, at how much you actually have no idea what is going on. How is addressing employee retention and reorganizing the department to handle what it's responsible for punishing success and rewarding failure?

        And I thank you for observing I have no idea what is going on. I see I can't fool an old fooler.

        But, I've had nicer people call me worse.

        Napoleon once observed medals motivate men to die. And I learn a lot from handing out free coffee and donuts, so to speak.

        Retiring Chief Furr told the Good Old Boys the "problem" was retention of rank and file members of the police department who leave Front Royal for higher paying patrolman positions with surrounding jurisdictions. We were told when a patrolman leaves it costs upwards of $50,000 to hire and train a replacement. Let us assume Chief Furr, having learned a valuable lesson from Sheriff McEathron, was telling the truth and not intending to reward others for covering his backside before he retires.

        How does bumping 2 senior management job titles and upgrading a part-time dispatcher solve the problem of front-line patrolmen leaving for greener pastures? How, exactly, does a front-line patrolman benefit here if his supervisor gets a bigger desk and a prestigious title and maybe a salary increase and a take home government vehicle too? Is this what is meant by "re-organizing" to improve the department? We've been to this rodeo before.

        Tell us, Mr. Sword, your past comments indicate you just might be a member of the Front Royal Police Department (or somehow you're privileged on the inside looking out). Is it possible one of the new titles will appear on the door to your new office and your new business card too? Or are you "in-the-know" and the new job titles will fall to your underlings as rewards for covering YOUR backside? Are you in the running to step into Furr's empty shoes? Plausible, possible, probable, or preposterous?

          Well, I wasn't looking for an argument. Apparently my choice of words found one for me so it wouldn't be gentlemanly to disregard it.

          If the attempt to retain officers was based solely on a re-organization, I would have to agree with you. That would be a colossal failure. That's not the case here. There are two separate issues being addressed; 1) retention of qualified and skilled officers (the Master Police Officer program), 2) organizing duties and responsibilities at the command level (the re-organization). The article above incorrectly places emphasis on the re-organization as a means to retain, but brushes past the actual retention component. It is my understanding that the master officer program was developed by the rank-and-file officers of the department and only rank-and-file officers can participate. It is meant to enhance and develop an officer who doesn't want to pursue a supervisory path. It also prepares and allows an officer to build their skill sets for a time when/if they do decide to follow a supervisory path. So, please, tell me how this is a bad thing. I don't think the department is asking for the moon, only what it needs to legitimately compete in the region. Or would you rather the department remain stagnant? As the town seeks to improve itself, allow the police to languish at status quo?

          In reference to the 1% VRS issue, that problem was handed down from the state. The localities were forced into this situation by our friends in Richmond. It has nothing to do with officer retention or a feigned raise.

          I'm not sure what your comment about the good ole boys has to do with the police department asking for what it needs. In addition, please elaborate on the "valuable lesson" that was supposedly learned.

          As far as your last paragraph.................preposterous. I have other words for it but I don't think the NVD would allow them.

            Well, Sword, sounds like you just described a "finishing school" to prepare rank and file policemen to become better qualified to move on down the road to greener and better paying pastures. Now THAT I could understand the rank and file supporting.

            Probably good for Front Royal... after all, who wants to employ personnel who are not interested in and discouraged from advancing where they are presently employed? Oh wait.....perhaps that pathway to advancement is all clogged up with senior supervisors enjoying the ride on the gravy train to retirement?

    If this were a private corporation and not municipal government, the CEO would have been removed from his position and replaced. No business model on earth would run this way and survive. If you don't do anything to increase the tax base and continue to make it hard, or nearly impossible for new business to come to this town, then how can this town be expected to flourish?

    Sounds like this town just remains in the hands of the same people who simply look to pander to what ever will fatten their own pockets. Front Royal is no longer the sleepy little valley town you would like it to be. It's too close to major cities who are undergoing their own urban renewal innitiatives in an effort to root out thier crime element. Care to take a guess at where those displaced miscreants are headed? You guessed it, FRONT ROYAL. Why might you ask? Well it's simple economically. If this place continues to keeps it's property values low and taxes low, local slum lords continue to keep rent very low while the person in the very political position of Fire Chief does nothing to enforce code violations, thereby allowing these slum lord to make maximum proffits while there rental properties become delapidated, only allows for a fertile and welcoming invite for these types of people to flood into our formerly sleepy little town. Oooh and guess what THAT means for Front Royal? Or as it will be known in the near future "Little DC"? Yup, an influx of illicit narcotics, and the crime rates that follow.

    Serously, take a look at our neighboring major cities and look at how they are handling these HUD housing neighborhoods, where this type of illicit activity seems to flourish. Not stereotypically, but based in complete and verifiable fact. The souloution begins with smart planning at the top and a good police force to wrangle the problem as it flood our community.

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