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Front Royal council to consider tax increase

By Alex Bridges

Front Royal Town Council may raise the real estate tax rate to pay for two major projects.

At its work session Tuesday, council directed staff to advertise a public hearing on tax rates to include a 2 cent increase for the levy on real estate. If approved, the real estate tax rate would increase from 11 cents to 13 cents per $100 of assessed value. Council is not considering any changes to other tax rates.

Council has the option to approve a real estate tax rate at or below the levy advertised for the public hearing. Council cannot approve a rate above the advertised levy without holding another public hearing.

The town needs to find revenue to help cover its share of the loan payments on the Leach Run Parkway, Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker said Wednesday. The town also needs to raise money to pay for a new police department headquarters.

"I think at this point council's sort of exploring its options," Parker said. "It could have chosen to go more than 2 cents.

"But I think they're looking at either phasing it in so that it's not thrown in there all at once," Parker added. "Then, as we go through the budget process, there may be the opportunity that we can find available funds elsewhere without having to implement a full tax increase."

Parker noted that council reached a consensus to consider advertising a new tax rate.

"We'll still need to hammer out how much is needed, if any," Parker said.

Information from the town shows that each 1 cent increase in the real estate tax generates $110,000 in additional revenue. The town estimates it would need to make annual payments of $400,000 to pay down a loan on the police department building and $250,000 for its share of the Leach Run Parkway costs.

Council raised the real estate tax rate by 2 cents in 2011 in anticipation of the Leach Run Parkway expense as well as to cover the cost of a facilities study that included a new police headquarters. Council passed the increase also to help pay for a connector between Kerfoot Avenue and Kendrick Lane.

The long-awaited Leach Run Parkway is in the design phase. The Virginia Department of Transportation will cover 50 percent of the project cost, with the town and Warren County splitting the remaining half equally.

Parker noted that the town has collected some funding for the police building. Early estimates put the cost of a new facility at about $4 million. The building has not yet been designed.

"I'm very hopeful that we can reduce that number, hopefully substantially," Parker said.

The councilman added that the town bought property for the facility at the former Avtex site for less than $40,000 -- a price that should help reduce the overall cost of the project.

"For the most part, council's trying to look toward the future," Parker said.

The town also expects to finish paying off a loan it has through the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, and that money could also help cover new expenses, Parker said.

"There may be some shuffling but there will still be a shortfall," Parker said. "Hopefully we can find some unconventional funding opportunities."

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

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