By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL - Town Council shot down a first step toward a redevelopment proposal Monday after members and residents questioned the idea.
More than a half-dozen people spoke during the public comment period of council's regular meeting on a proposed relationship between the town and Kratos Infrastructure LLC that could include a hospital, wellness center, hotel, shops and restaurants, housing and a solar field.
Council voted 6-0 to not approve a non-binding letter of intent with Kratos.
Councilman Bret W. Hrbek, who brought the potential relationship between Front Royal and Kratos to light, said Town Attorney Douglas Napier had indicated he had trouble with language in the letter.
Hrbek tried to have action on the letter delayed until March 22, but the motion to that effect failed after Councilman Daryl L. Funk spoke against the postponement. Funk also grilled Hrbek over the initiative that council had been discussing in closed session for months.
During the public comment period, several people suggested that council hold off on approving the letter. Some suggested council set up an informational meeting on the proposal.
Funk took to the floor, stood by a drawing easel and asked questions of staff and other members about the proposal. Hrbek said he could not talk about where the money would come from for the town to invest in the project. Hrbek, in response to more questions from Funk, said he would talk more about the initiative if the council approved the letter of intent.
"There's nothing binding anyone," Hrbek said.
Matthew Tederick expressed opposition to the proposal and said the town would draw more economic development with "less government, less taxes, less regulation." Tederick also questioned the process by which council brought the matter into the public eye. Tederick said he would seek information on meetings and correspondence between council members and representatives of Kratos.
Tederick pointed out that the letter shows the intent for the town and Kratos to partner and bring certain types of businesses into Front Royal.
"I'd hate to be the owner of Gold's Gym and have a town council ... backing a wellness center," Tederick said.
Town resident Harry Reed compared council's push of the letter of intent and the relationship with Kratos to the swift passage of the federal health care legislation. Reed expressed concern about relationships between council and Kratos.
"I see a bit of cronyism here," Reed said.
Kratos is based in McLean and is managed by former Front Royal Town Manager Michael Graham. Also on the Kratos leadership team are former Town Councilman Tom Conkey and William Lauterbach, who was involved in the town's proposed SolAVerde solar farm project a few years ago.
Reed told council that members represent town residents and voters. He commented that he wanted council to bring more of the matter into the public eye.
Some speakers showed support for the intentions of the proposed relationship and redevelopment. Local proprietors Christian Failmezger and Herb Melrath spoke in favor of bringing more businesses downtown. Failmezger noted the town needs more opportunities for job seekers.
Tim Ratigan and Linda Allen suggested council table the matter. Ratigan recommended council invite Kratos representatives to an informational meeting on the proposal.
Ratigan noted that, "I'm not on board with this project yet, but I'm not 100 percent against it either."
Allen said it appeared council put the cart before the horse by bringing the letter of intent up for approval before members divulged more information about the project.
Funk demanded council take action on the letter and to give the project a vote either for or against the proposal. His request garnered support from the audience.
"I don't believe it's the government's role to get involved in development," Funk said.
Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker spoke in support of the initiative and idea behind the proposal. Parker acknowledged that more information is needed and that the measure has been pushed through the process. He said the letter would not tie the town to any money.
"We need to be objective about this and look at all the options," Parker said.
Also at the meeting, council held a public hearing on setting tax rates for real estate and personal property. No one spoke during the hearing for the matter on its first reading. Council voted 6-0 to leave real estate and personal property tax rates unchanged.
Personal property tax relief would decrease from 70 percent to 67 percent. While the town advertised a rate of 12 cents per $100 of assessed value for real estate - an increase of one cent over the current rate - council took up a motion to keep the levy at the current amount.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt made a motion to approve the 12-cent rate, noting that the town may find a need for the extra revenue that would come with a higher levy.
Councilman Hollis W. Tharpe supported Tewalt's motion. Several other members said they opposed raising taxes. Tewalt, after hearing information from Finance Director Kim Gilkey-Breeden, withdrew his motion. Gilkey-Breeden said she would have a better idea by later this month as to whether the town would need more revenue to balance the fiscal 2014 budget.
Hrbek suggested council accelerate the budget-creation process to avoid running into problems with the timing of advertising and approving tax rates.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com