Council seeks corridor deal with county

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council wants to make a deal with Warren County over the U.S. 340-522 corridor but could limit Front Royal’s ability to grow in the process.

Council voted 5-1 on Monday to adopt a resolution to compromise on the issue of the town’s ability to collect payments in lieu of taxes, known as PILOT fees, from some businesses in the corridor. The resolution calls for the town to send a letter to Richard Traczyk, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, asking that the county leaders consider a compromise. Councilman Bret Hrbek voted against the motion and said he supported the resolution points except the limit on annexation.

The resolution lists 10 points about a proposed compromise, including new terms by which the town and county could work together on the corridor revenue issue. The last point in the resolution states that while the memorandum of agreement remains in effect, “the Town will not pursue any annexation legal filings, and the County will not pursue any consolidation legal filings. Should either body pursue legal filings, the MOA will be deemed null and void.”

Hrbek tried unsuccessfully to take out language in the resolution he said would keep the town from growing by adding land through annexation. Hrbek called such a move “irresponsible to completely take that off the table.” Council members John Connolly, Daryl Funk and Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe voted against Hrbek’s motion to remove the restriction from the resolution. Council members Eugene Tewalt, Bébhinn Egger and Hrbek voted for the motion. Mayor Timothy Darr broke the tie and voted against Hrbek’s motion, saying that he hoped someone would try to modify the restriction.

Council eventually voted 4-2 in favor of adding language to the annexation restriction to limit such a ban to the U.S. 340-522 corridor. Hrbek argued that, under the original resolution, the town would nullify the agreement if it tried to annex any area outside Front Royal.

“My opinion is that this plan that was proposed was meant to move us beyond just the 522 corridor, to provide a framework for us to work with the county in other areas to allow for expansion in the future,” Connolly said. “By limiting this down to just the 522 corridor I think this opens the door, again, that this problem is just going to rear its head wherever else growth begins.”

Connolly argued that Hrbek’s motion contradicts what the town wants to do in the agreement. Hrbek said the town is trying to fix a problem in the U.S. 340-522 corridor, not in other areas such as Va. 55 or U.S. 522 South.

“If we pass this MOA as is, and the county would agree to it, we have now defined, permanently, the boundaries of Front Royal and we will not be able to grow,” Hrbek said. “If you cannot grow, you will die.”

Council also voted 4-2 against Hrbek’s motion to set a five-year sunset clause for the annexation ban specifically in the corridor.

Town Manager Steve Burke tried to remind council that its action sends a letter to ask county leaders to initiate talks about a possible compromise.

“It does not provide final requirements for the [memorandum],” Burke said. “Any sort of discussion or changes to how the [memorandum] could be terminated could be negotiated with the county once we have sent this letter to them and we start the discussions on the attempt to come to some agreement.”

The resolution states that, under the agreement, Front Royal will continue to collect PILOT fees from commercial utility customers outside the town limits and will maintain the moratorium on collecting meals and lodging taxes as set by a resolution adopted in 2010. The county will pay the town the equivalent of 25 percent of the meals tax and 50 percent of the lodging tax collected from all existing, commercial utility customers under the original contract. The county will pay the town the equivalent of 50 percent of the meals and lodging taxes collected from existing and future customers under the updated utility contract.

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