By Alex Bridges
Front Royal will continue to pay a Richmond-based attorney to study the town's interest in the U.S. 340-522 corridor.
The town has spent more than half the $100,000 earmarked last year for legal fees out of the current water and sewer budgets. Town Council this week defeated a move to reduce the amount of money earmarked for services by the law firm of Troutman Sanders LLP and attorney Carter Glass. Council voted 4-2 against the motion.
Council last July approved allocating up to $100,000, taken from the water and sewer funds, for the legal services. Information provided to council showed that the attorney has invoiced the town for $21,275. Another $31,800 has not yet been invoiced.
Opponents of the move to hire the attorney say this is a precursor to an effort to annex the corridor. However, other members say the attorney's work is to take a broader look at the town's interest in the corridor and that council has not endorsed annexation.
Councilman Thomas Sayre, who opposed spending the money to hire the attorney, tried to make a motion that council terminate the retention of the law firm. However, Sayre could not make the motion because he was in the minority when council approved the measure to retain the attorney and a year had not passed. Mayor Timothy Darr cited Robert's Rules of Order, noting that Sayre and Councilman Daryl Funk voted in the minority against hiring the attorney.
Councilman Hollis Tharpe made a motion that council reduce the maximum amount for the legal services to $60,000 and to transfer any remaining money back to the water and sewer funds. Sayre seconded the motion.
Councilman Bret Hrbek said members need to spend the money to find out the costs to the town to extend water and sewer services into the corridor. Hrbek said he opposed reducing the limit and supported using the money to find out "the truth" and to determine if the town should or shouldn't annex the corridor.
Warren County spent less than $20,000 for a study conducted by the consulting firm Springsted. The study looked at the 1999 Route 340-522 North Corridor Agreement between the town and the county and how the deal has affected both jurisdictions. The report presented earlier this year shed light on the benefits experienced by the town and county. Town officials said the study missed the mark on several points. County leaders lauded the study's result. The county had asked town leaders if Front Royal would want to work together on the joint study.
Hrbek at the council meeting called the Springsted study "bogus." He added that council needs the data from the attorney's investigation if the town wants to move forward with annexation.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt said he opposes both study efforts but noted that he supported the town spending the rest of the money if needed. Tewalt said he likely would oppose spending any more money on the study.
Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker said the town needs to finish its study so council can talk with county leaders about the issue. Parker said he doesn't necessarily advocate annexation but acknowledged that this could be an outcome. Parker said the county's study was incomplete.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org