By Alex Bridges
Real estate taxes may likely not go up in Front Royal. But Town Council members this week decided to give themselves breathing room in case Front Royal needs extra revenue.
Council debated whether to advertise the current real estate tax rate of 11 cents per $100 of assessed value or a slightly higher levy. Council can approve only a rate equal to or below the advertised levy when members take up the matter for a vote.
Council plans to hold a public hearing March 11 on the advertised tax rates and the level of relief granted from personal property tax.
Councilman Hollis L. Tharpe sought to amend the motion to advertise a rate of 13 cents per $100. Tharpe noted that he didn't support raising taxes and even though the rate suggested would call for an increase, council does not have to approve the levy. Tharpe eventually withdrew his motion after several council members spoke against advertising the higher rate.
Councilman Bret Hrbek expressed concern that merely advertising a higher rate might give the public the impression the town plans to raise taxes. Hrbek said he opposed advertising a rate that would cause undue angst among the residents.
Councilman Thomas H. Sayre also said he opposed advertising a higher tax rate and went so far as to suggest the town could lower its levy. Councilman Daryl Funk also expressed opposition to raising taxes even if just in an advertisement.
Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker sought a compromise. Parker told council he would support advertising a rate of 12 cents per $100 that would give the town a safeguard in case the need for more revenue arises. Parker offered the suggestion as an amendment to the original motion.
Funk, Hrbek and Sayre voted against Parker's amendment. Councilman Eugene Tewalt, Parker and Tharpe voted for the amendment. Mayor Timothy Darr voted yes as the tiebreaker and noted that the public the rate is only for advertising purposes and council can approve a levy at or below that amount.
The original motion to advertise the personal property tax rate, the level of relief, and the amendment with the higher real estate levy passed by a vote of 4-2. Funk and Sayre voted against the original motion.
Finance Director Kim Gilkey-Breeden said she must provide the town rates to Warren County no later than April 1. However, Town Manager Steven Burke is scheduled to present his proposed budget for fiscal 2014 on the same date, so council should approve rates prior to April 1.
Personal property levies would not change under the advertised rate of 64 cents per $100 of the assessed value. However, Gilkey-Breeden advised that property owners would see bills increase by a matter of a few cents up to $2 for one half of the year because the town needs to reduce the level of relief it gives to taxpayers. The town currently provides 70 percent relief to taxpayers on the first $20,000 of assessed value of the property. The advertised rate of 67 percent is necessary to cover a deficit the town has experienced over the past year, Gilkey Breeden explained.
Also at the meeting, council:
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org