Town, county take paths on corridor issue

By Alex Bridges

An attorney with a Richmond firm may help Front Royal find more ways the town can make money.

But critics of the move to hire the attorney say the action could lead the town into another legal battle with Warren County over the U.S. 522 North Corridor.

Town Council voted 4-2 on a motion Monday to retain Carter Glass of Troutman Sanders LLP for the purpose of providing legal advice on “alternative methods” Front Royal could use to expand its revenue base. The motion limits spending for the services to the budgeted amount of $100,000, and also called for Town Attorney Douglas Napier to send an engagement letter to Glass’ law firm on behalf of council.

Meanwhile, Warren County plans to contract with a consulting firm to review the Route 522 Corridor Agreement approved in the late 1990s, to determine who benefited from the deal and its impact on the two jurisdictions. Specifically, the county issued a request for proposals from consultants to analyze the fiscal and operational impact of the agreement on the jurisdictions, the revenue generated by growth in the corridor and the cost of services dictated under the deal. The firm also would consider the fiscal condition of the town and county, tax rates and ability to fund operations for each jurisdiction.

Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker broached the idea of annexation several months ago as a way for the town to recoup certain tax revenue it currently cannot. The town provides water and sewer to businesses in the corridor but can’t collect meals and lodging taxes because the properties lie in the county.

Councilman Daryl L. Funk provided to council an opinion from Napier related to the matter. Funk noted in a written statement that he planned to broach the subject of annexation and that his law firm, Pond Athey Law, represents some property owners in the U.S. 522 North Corridor.

“However, I do not believe that this would impact my ability to participate in this debate and that I am able to participate in the transaction fairly, objectively and in the public interest and this does affect multiple landowners not just my clients,” Funk said.

Funk noted that years ago the town reached a voluntary settlement agreement with Warren County. The 522 Corridor Agreement, as the deal is referred to now, called for the town to supply water and sewer service to properties along U.S. 522-340 North in exchange for some compensation from Warren County. A judge ruled in 2009 that the town could not collect certain taxes from businesses in the corridor.

Funk pointed out that negotiations between the town and county over how to make Front Royal whole remain “fruitless.”

“Not helping matters, I believe that there are those on both sides who long ago came to the conclusion that either settlement in this matter was unlikely or not in their best interests,” Funk read. “Let’s call this motion what it is – This motion is about preparing for annexation and there is a combined $100,000 in those accounts. This motion tonight is council’s first public action toward annexation.”

Council members have over the past few months met in closed sessions to discuss annexation.

“As I’m sure others will point out we’re not filing any formal action for some time, once this vote is taken I believe this money is gone,” Funk said. “If you haven’t guessed already, I’m going to vote against this motion.”

Funk noted that Warren County staff issued a request for proposals seeking a firm to study the corridor issue. The councilman gave credit to fellow members for “taking a public action.”

“A pox on both our houses for wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially on a fight I don’t believe we can win,” Funk said.

Funk thanked Mayor Timothy W. Darr and Chairman Archie Fox, of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, for their work over the past few weeks on ways the municipalities may come to an agreement.

Parker refuted Funk’s assertion that the action begins the pursuit toward annexation.

“Basically some members of this body are throwing down the gauntlet that we’re going down the path of annexation and I know that this body has thought that that is one of the potential outcomes out of the end of these negotiations,” Parker said.

Parker noted the agreement gives the town the right to annex after a period of seven years or since 2006.

“Does that mean that’s the path that we’re going? No,” Parker said. “We want to explore our options and that’s clearly all this motion is doing is to consult and to look further into what other options are left to resolve the ongoing issues that are in the corridor.”

Darr told council he spoke to Fox and a member of the Economic Development Authority who expressed concerns about the action. Darr said he told them council is exploring its options.

“With anything important you do your research before you make your move and I think that’s what this council’s doing by this vote,” Darr said.

Darr added that he hopes to broker an agreement with the county rather than move on annexation.

Councilman Thomas H. Sayre echoed Funk’s concerns about the town spending money on legal services. Sayre sought to amend the motion to limit the amount the town could spend to the $100,000 earmarked in the current budget and require council’s authorization to approve any expense over that amount. However, by law town council must approve any spending request for an item that goes beyond the budgeted amount, Darr said.

Sayre’s amendment passed 6-0.

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