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Warren County leaders support town annexation ban

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County leaders may draw a line on any future efforts by Front Royal to expand its town limits.

The Board of Supervisors ranked "No more land annexed to Town" as its second highest priority in a list of goals that included major construction projects and other long-term initiatives for the county. The board discussed the goals at a work session Tuesday and could formally adopt the list at a future meeting.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley explained that supervisors each year receive a list of initiatives underway and are asked to provide additional items. Board members then score each item with 10 being the highest rating. The list ranks the 48 items in order of importance as prioritized by the board. The Morgan Ford Bridge received a perfect score of 50 and ranks at the top of the list. The list also gives a timeframe to reach each goal, either in a matter of months or years. Some are seen as ongoing projects.

This marked the first time the idea of a ban on annexations made the list, according to Stanley.

"I think the value of the goal-setting is to make sure that the budgeting, the staff time all sync with what the board's goals are," Stanley said. "Realizing that different board members have different goals ... But the process really kind of forces the ones that are universally held as priorities of the board scored higher and ended up at the top of the list."

Board Chairman Daniel J. Murray Jr. went down the list from the top and entertained discussion on each item. The board spent time talking about the Morgan Ford Bridge replacement and voiced concerns about any issues that may delay the project.

When it came time to discuss annexation, board members made almost no comments. Murray and Supervisor Archie Fox pointed out that the item received a high score before the board moved on to the next item.

While a ban on annexation ranked high on the list, the idea of consolidation also made the Top 20. Murray broached the basic concept of consolidation of the town into the county at the town-county liaison committee meeting late last month. Supervisor Richard Traczyk suggested the item remain on the committee's agenda and that officials investigate the issue.

"It was a surprise of the town but I think we ought to start talking about it," Traczyk said. "There's just a whole lot of things we need to know and it might be time to do that and spin the wheels that way ... rather than spend a lot of money on attorneys on both sides. Look at something that may work or may not."

Fox suggested that any study of consolidation include the impact on the taxpayer in both the town and county.

"It doesn't necessarily mean the town government is going to go away or we're going to go away," Traczyk added. "There may be a way to blend them in. We've never investigated or looked at it and with the financial problems they seem to have on and off and the way things are going for the future it might be time to look at it."

Several supervisors suggested a committee could look into the options for consolidation. The chairman pointed out that such a panel should include other residents, not just supervisors and county or town staff members.

Murray said he brought up the concept at the liaison committee meeting as an alternative to annexation -- a term that has divided the town and county in recent years. At the committee meeting, Murray also suggested that any push for consolidation go to the voters as a referendum.

"But, if this happens, it has to be open. It's got to be transparent and I'm even looking for the press to support us in that, to give factual comments of what's going on, to dispel all the rumors that can destroy any work that anybody's doing," Murray said.

Town Council and the Board of Supervisors have essentially signed off on a proposal by the Front Royal Limited Partnership to annex more than 600 acres into the town limits. Town and county officials remain divided over whether the agreement concerning the annexation should include the developer as a party to the deal. Parties have been discussing and debating the annexation proposal since the landowner submitted its request to the Commission on Local Government in 2012.

But annexation took on another meaning when Front Royal Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker suggested last year that the town take the U.S. 340-522 North Corridor area as allowed under a 1999 agreement with the county. The town hired a Richmond-based attorney to look at Front Royal's options with respect to the corridor and the agreement.

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

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