Front Royal leaders to set legislative agenda

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council plans to ask state legislators a few favors when the General Assembly starts its regular session on Wednesday.

Council discussed its legislative agenda as outlined in a proposed resolution during a work session Monday. Council is expected to adopt the resolution at its regular meeting on Monday.

Town Manager Steve Burke explained Thursday that once council adopts the resolution, the town will send copies to Front Royal’s legislators in the General Assembly. Town representatives will also present the resolution to legislators at the Virginia Municipal League’s “VML Day” later this month. The VML represents town, city and county governments.

Whether the General Assembly obliges the town’s requests, some of which they continue to make, remains uncertain. Mary Jo Fields, director of research for the VML, said such resolutions are helpful at least to inform the organization on the concerns of local governments as it lobbies for its members.

“We’ve won on some issues; we’ve lost on some issues,” Fields said. “We would have lost on a lot more if there weren’t localities adopting those legislative programs and making sure that their legislators know what their priorities are.”

Front Royal opposes any proposals to cut or eliminate any local taxing authority unless the state provides a permanent, suitable, revenue neutral replacement, the proposed resolution states and uses the Business, Professional and Occupational License tax as an example. The town collected about $620,000 in BPOL taxes in fiscal 2014.

The General Assembly has in the past tried to eliminate the BPOL tax, seen by some as a deterrent to economic development and business improvement. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has voiced his disapproval of the BPOL tax, but would not support eliminating the levy unless the state came up with a replacement.

The General Assembly directed the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee to study BPOL taxes. Elimination of the tax remains on the radar, Burke told council. Councilman Daryl Funk pointed out that support for removing the tax continues to grow.

“It’s kind of dire because both gubernatorial candidates in the last election were proposing removal of the BPOL and I think the disconnect is it certainly would make us more business-friendly,” Funk said. “The problem is localities are so dependent on … that money that there’s no way we can really make up that without making property taxes unsustainable.”

“I think it is a real threat but hopefully they’re not going to leave us high and dry in the process,” Funk added.

The town, as stated in the resolution, wants the General Assembly to fully restore “599” funding that generally goes to local law enforcement agencies. The state has pulled funding from this source over the years to cover costs elsewhere in Virginia’s budget, leaving localities to make up the difference.

“It has taken hits in previous years,” Burke said, noting that the town has seen its 599 funding reduced from about $600,000 to $350,000.

Mayor Timothy Darr said police departments often depend on 599 funds and count on the money to plan their budgets.

“Promises were made when things were good,” Funk said. “Things have not been so good.”

“When the state needs additional monies for additional things, 599 seems to be always one of the ones that becomes part of that – just move money from here to there,” Darr said.

The proposed resolution also states that:

  • The town asks the General Assembly provide adequate funding to localities for water quality improvement efforts, such as treatment-plant upgrades.
  • The town opposes any bill that reduces or eliminates local land-use authority.
  • The town supports cost-sharing programs between localities and the Commonwealth.

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