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Posted January 2, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Warren County may drop tax effort

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- Legislators are warning Warren County that a request to raise meals and hotel taxes may not fly in the Virginia General Assembly.

Supervisors sought to raise the tax rates by 2 percent on both meals and lodging in an effort to help Front Royal recoup revenue lost by supplying utilities to businesses in the U.S. 522-340 corridor outside of town.

County Attorney Blair Mitchell told the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday that state legislators who met with officials from both localities last month warned that the General Assembly likely would not support the request.

The news of the possible non-starter comes after months of discussions between local elected leaders and officials over how to make the town whole.

County officials and Front Royal Mayor Timothy Darr met Dec. 21 with Delegates Beverly Sherwood, Michael Webert and C. Todd Gilbert, as well as a legislative aide to state Sen. Mark Obenshain, Mitchell said. Officials discussed the county's wishlist for the General Assembly's 2013 session.

"As far as raising of the taxes -- the meals tax and the hotel tax out in the [U.S. 522] corridor and using that funding as revenue sources to help with the town -- they were really rather pessimistic about that," Mitchell advised. "They pointed out that absolutely no county in the commonwealth has a meals tax of higher than 4 percent so they were very pessimistic about that.

"But they had a positive suggestion for the town -- that they consider changes in their charter that would allow them to add that amount of money as part of the service funds on their water bill -- a little bit different from what they've done in the past," Mitchell added.

The council already had approved proposed amendments to the Front Royal charter, such as changing the date of local elections to November in even-numbered years. Town officials expressed worry about adding more changes to the charter this late in the process, Mitchell recalled. However, Gilbert, already planning to carry a bill for the town charter changes, told officials he could make an amendment to the proposed language once in the General Assembly, according to Mitchell.

Chairman Archie Fox asked Mitchell whether supervisors could help the town's request to change its charter by passing a resolution of support for the effort.

"Certainly wouldn't hurt," Mitchell replied and noted he could prepare a resolution for the supervisors' next meeting.

Delegates in a Dec. 15 letter to County Administrator Douglas Stanley stated, "while we understand that the issues between the county and the town regarding the Route 340/522 Corridor are complicated and long-standing, we are concerned that the county's request does not represent a viable method of addressing that issue for a number of reasons.

"First among our concerns is that both of these requests call for an unprecedented departure from existing tax policy in the Commonwealth of Virginia," the letter states.

Delegates note in the letter that the county already has in place the maximum meals and lodging taxes allowed under state code.

"Furthermore, the use of lodging tax revenues beyond two percent appears to be reserved exclusively for the purpose of promoting tourism and related matters," the letter states. "As such, we believe that your requests go far beyond the originally intended uses and limits of these methods of revenue collection."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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