By Alex Bridges
The dispute over the U.S. 522-340 North Corridor heated up again this week.
Front Royal Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker reacted Monday to a revelation that a Warren County supervisor asked for information on how to annul a town charter. Parker's lengthy statement given at the Town Council meeting cited the debate over the corridor and a years-old agreement that he says allows Front Royal to annex the business-rich area.
Supervisor Tony Carter said Tuesday he had asked County Attorney Blair Mitchell several weeks ago, on behalf of a constituent, to research the issue. The constituent, who Carter did not name, also had asked him about consolidation of the town into the county, the supervisor recalled.
Parker also claims in his statement that the county refuses to sit down and talk with town officials to resolve the issues centered on the corridor. Talks between Mayor Timothy Darr and supervisors Chairman Archie Fox ended recently with no resolution. Town Council agreed to hire a Richmond-based attorney to look into annexation of the corridor. Meanwhile, the county has sought to hire a consultant to study the corridor agreement.
"We're probably going to choose our consultant to look at the issue and, hopefully the town's doing the same thing," Carter said. "Hopefully both of those reports will look at it in an objective, unbiased way and then we can compare the numbers, data, and at that time I think that's when we sit down and talk."
Parker referred to Mitchell's activity report presented to the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 6 that noted his office researched the issue of annulling a town charter. While Mitchell did not identify a specific town in the research, Parker stated that he surmised the inquest focused on Front Royal.
Mitchell acknowledged in an email Tuesday his office received the request to look into whether a town charter could be voided, annulled or surrendered. The attorney would not say from whom he received the request but noted that the person did not specifically identify Front Royal as the subject.
Carter said he asked Mitchell to research the issue of charter annulment. Information Carter said he received indicated that any annulment of a town's charter would need to be initiated by a citizen in the form of a petition. The petition would need to have the signatures of 15 percent of the registered voters in the jurisdiction, or approximately 4,000 people, Carter said.
As Carter explained, at that point officials from the town and county would need to talk about coming to an agreement over transfer of assets or the takeover of public services.
Parker has said in recent weeks that all options before the town should remain on the table -- annexation, boundary adjustments or other actions to address the issue of the corridor agreement.
Parker claimed Monday that some of the principles included in the years-old Route 522-340 North Corridor Agreement are being ignored.
"It is quite obvious from the wording that this was not research on consolidation between the two entities, but rather exploration of an option to destroy the town," Parker stated. "To the citizens of Front Royal, it is up you to draw your own conclusions as to these actions, and if you are asked to sign such a petition do keep in mind from where did it originate and what it is being asked of you."
Parker commented further on the town's efforts to meet with the supervisors to discuss the corridor agreement. Parker noted that the sides have reached a stalemate. Town Council went as far as to suggest that leaders of both sides meet with a facilitator from the Commission on Local Government who would bring the parties together on the matter.
But some county supervisors argue that Front Royal has little reason to complain as it receives hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in revenue from the corridor without the property lying within town limits.
Parker stated that the town does not intend to take away the county's right to tax and pay for needed services and facilities in the corridor. But the town has lost part of its tax base as a result of the agreement and that amount grows the longer the sides put off discussions and a possible solution, Parker said.
Dominion's power plant should cover part of the $7 million cost to run more water lines to the north corridor, but the remaining $4 million falls to the customers of the town's system.
Parker called for the leaders of both jurisdictions to put aside their differences and determine whether the corridor agreement remains valid, if it benefits the town and county, if it is being followed and should they seek to modify the deal.
Parker asked that council draft and pass a formal resolution to request that the town and county continue their discussions of the corridor agreement, with or without facilitators. Parker said parties should not wait for studies nor should they focus on the idea of lost revenue but rather they should discuss the agreement in its entirety.
"All ideas are to be welcomed and discussed for the mutual benefit not of any government but for this community, the people of Front Royal and Warren County," Parker stated. "If a resolution is passed by this body and then rejected or delayed by the Board of Supervisors, I believe the people of Front Royal have no recourse but to consider our agreement void and in an effort to protect our assets and investments proceed with legal action and formally file a petition of Annexation with the Circuit Court."
Darr suggested that council discuss Parker's request at a future work session.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org