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County neighborhood seeks relief on utility rates

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL- A Warren County neighborhood group says Front Royal has wrongly charged property owners too much for water and sewer for years.

Henselstone Woods residents pay double the rates for the utilities because the subdivision lies outside town limits. The subdivision entrance off West Duck Street actually is inside Front Royal with the first house 15 feet in the county. The house furthest from town limits lies 2,000 feet away. The neighborhood is composed of 110 property owners.

A few weeks ago, the property owners association sent a letter to Front Royal officials stating that residents feel paying double the rate that in-town users pay is unfair. Association President Charles McGlothlin said Thursday he remains doubtful council would consider any relief.

"I was hoping Town Council could address some of the confusing issues," McGlothlin said. "They just seem not to want to discuss it at all."

Town Council heard the association's concerns at a work session last week. Members did not voice support for granting any relief and some said doing so could open the door to more requests. Instead, some council members suggested the association consider pursuing a boundary adjustment that would bring the neighborhood into town limits. That likely is a moot point if the neighborhood roads don't meet town specifications.

McGlothlin commented that a boundary adjustment also requires the neighborhood go through a long, potentially costly process. The association would first need to decide whether or not to pursue annexation. Warren County County Administrator Doug Stanley said Thursday the association would need to make such a request to both jurisdictions.

McGlothlin said that the town has several options that could provide relief, such as charging rates based on a user's distance from town. He suggested the town could charge rates on a sliding scale over the course of years.

Henselstone Woods utility users make up a third of the out-of-town water users and a half of the sewer customers. Front Royal has 331 water and 205 sewer connections outside town limits, according to information from Finance Director Kim Gilkey-Breeden. This includes residential and commercial users. A majority of the out-of-town meters are in the area north of Front Royal.

The town operates its water and sewer utilities with a separate enterprise fund and not with the goal of profiting from providing the service.

But McGlothlin said in many cases users received bills of $200-$300 or higher -- a significant cost for low-income, elderly or retired residents.

The association has asked the town to conduct an analysis on what it costs Front Royal to provide water and sewer service to Henselstone Woods. The town conducted such a rate study in 2010 but the association contends that analysis did not address out-of-town rates, only in-town levies.

Henselstone residents began paying double the in-town water rates in 1993 when the council at that time set the levies and after most homes had been built, according to the association's letter. The letter goes on to state that no record of any decision made to specifically double the residential rates for out-of-town users exists, according the association's study of the meeting minutes from that time.

"All indications are that the double rate was set arbitrarily by the Council at some closed meeting with no basis to defend that rate," the letter states. "And it appears that once that decision was made, no effort has been made to review it or determine if it is reasonable."

Town Manager Steve Burke said Thursday that staff researched the matter and the association's concerns in the letter and could find no other agreements with the neighborhood other than the out-of-town rates. Legislation set by the town encompassed out-of-town rates for all users and did not differentiate between residential and industrial.

"If they are able to locate any other documentation, we would be interested in reviewing it," Burke said.

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

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