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Council hears request for breaks in utility costs

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL - The town recently received a handful of requests from property owners asking for breaks on utility fees and rates.

Town Council took up three separate yet similar requests from different property owners at a work session Monday seeking waivers from paying either in-town or out-of-town tap fees.

Front Royal charges in-town properties $9,750 to connect to sewer and $4,340 to tap into the water system. Out-of-town properties pay double the fees.

The Board of Directors of the Henselstone Woods Property Owners Association requested that council consider lowering the water and sewer rates that residents pay. The neighborhood of 110 property owners abuts the town limits to the north, off U.S. 340-522. Residents currently pay the out-of-town rates - double the in-town rate - as do all users that lie outside Front Royal.

Board President Charles McGlothlin, in making a case for the request, noted the subdivision's proximity to the town. Councilman Eugene Tewalt interrupted McGlothlin by saying other users are just out of town, adding "if we would do it for Henselstone then we would have it for all the other people that are abutting the town requesting the same thing."

McGlothlin stated in a June 6 letter to council that some homeowners report water bills of $200 to more than $300 a month. The letter goes on to state that subdivision entrance on West Duck Street is within the town, with the first home 15 feet outside the limits.

Tewalt said the town faces having to spend $44 million to upgrade its sewage treatment plant.

"Nobody in the county paid a nickel to build the original water and our sewer plant," Tewalt said, adding the town charges higher rates to recoup the cost of the plants.

The idea of the neighborhood coming into the town by way of a boundary adjustment came up. If brought into Front Royal, residents then would pay in-town rates. Town Manager Steve Burke told McGlothlin the neighborhood would need to go to Warren County to pursue any interest in an annexation. Council warned that neighborhood roads would need to comply with town, not just state, standards.

The River 95.3 has asked the town to waive the sewer fee. Radio station representatives told council that renovations to the business on Elm Street require that it connect to the town and no longer use the existing septic system. The business is already connected to the town water system.

Kathy Willis, administrative assistant and office manager at the station, told council that nearly $10,000 for sewer service plus likely would hurt the business. Willis said the station chose to stay in town and renovate rather than move to the county.

Burke told council the radio station's request has merit given how the broadcaster helps Front Royal, including communicating alerts by the town to residents. Tewalt, who at first said he opposed cutting the station a break, asked how often the broadcaster helped the town.

"Well, I know that whenever we have contacted them they've worked with us," Burke said.

Other councilmen agreed that the station provides a service to Front Royal and its residents. Tewalt later softened his stance and sided with councilmen who said they'd support reducing the fee.

Councilman Bret Hrbek suggested they draft a resolution identifying the uniqueness of the business in the justification for any fee reduction.

"But I don't want to open the door up to more," Hrbek said.

The Warren County Habitat for Humanity also has asked council to waive not only the utility tap charges for a house planned on Cannon Street but also the planning fees for the project. The town waived the planning fees but not the utility charges for a Habitat project in 1993, Executive Assistant Tina Presley's research showed, Burke said. Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp said his department's fees total about $200. Several councilmen voiced support for waiving the planning fees but not the tap charges.

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

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