Council to consider county corridor offer

Front Royal leaders might not agree on Warren County’s latest offer to share U.S. 340-522 revenue.

At least one Town Council member says he expects to see members vote on a move to lift the moratorium on Front Royal’s collection of the equivalent of meals and lodging taxes from certain businesses in the corridor. Whether such a move would receive enough support from council remains uncertain. Council could discuss the matter in closed session at its meeting Monday.

The Board of Supervisors’ latest counter offer would give the town 30 percent of the meals tax and 5 percent of the lodging tax collected in the corridor. Supervisors approved the motion Tuesday to offer the terms in a memorandum of agreement to the town. The board’s counter offer falls short of the town’s offer and includes a condition some council members call a sticking point.

Councilman Bret Hrbek said Friday he would not support the offer if considered by council.

“I appreciate the fact that the county feels there’s a perception of us bickering that’s not healthy for the economic environment out there,” Hrbek said. “But they could stop the bickering by either accepting our offer or agreeing to a friendly boundary adjustment to bring in that retail area into the town limits, which is where it should be anyway.”

However, Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe called the county’s offer “very favorable.”

“As a member of the council for a third term, we do have great relations with the Board of Supervisors and I think that this is something we need to get done and get behind us so we can move forward with other projects,” Tharpe said. “It may not be the amount that we would like to get and it may be more than what the county wants to give but somewhere along the line there has to be a compromise and looking from the outside in at the moment it does look favorable.”

Tharpe noted that council has not discussed the offer nor consulted with the town attorney for his guidance.

The county’s latest offer also includes a condition that the undeveloped Crooked Run West would fall under a non-annexation zone. Leaving Crooked Run West out of any potential future tax collection remains a sticking point with some council members.

Hrbek said. “That’s an absolute deal-breaker. That was clear that that was not going to be part of the conversation. We can negotiate numbers ’til the cows come home. That is not even something that I want to entertain and I believe I have support on that.”

Such a condition would prohibit the town from collecting tax revenue, or the equivalent there of, generated by restaurants or hotels that go into Crooked Run West.

“I’m not going to put a future council into the same situation that we are in right now, binding their hands,” Hrbek said.

The town agreed years ago to supply utilities to Crooked Run West, Tharpe said.

The board likely put the condition in its offer to make sure the properties would be included in the agreement, Tharpe said.

He said he feels Crooked Run West should be added to the corridor but he doesn’t want to tie the hands of future councils.

Tharpe said reaching an agreement would likely help foster the development of a Marriott hotel proposed for the corridor as well as other businesses. Some supervisors have hinted at the same prospect.

“They’ll feel that the town and county are working well together and there’s not going to be a hindrance and they’ll come,” Tharpe said.

The town lost a court battle with several corridor businesses a few years ago over tax collection. As such, the town cannot collect meals and lodging taxes from those businesses. A payment in lieu of taxes [PILO] agreement allows Front Royal to collect the equivalent of the various levies outside the corporate limits via the county. Newer contracts allow the town to collect the equivalent of the taxes from the corridor but Front Royal doesn’t enforce that provision.

Hrbek earlier this year proposed that the town lift the moratorium. Council sent a letter to the board in late May with the town’s final offer before members consider lifting a self-imposed moratorium on collecting the equivalent of meals and lodging taxes from certain corridor businesses.

“They agreed to pay it in the contract,” Hrbek said. “They went in with eyes wide open.”

Whether or not lifting the moratorium and collecting taxes from other businesses would spur another legal battle remains uncertain. Tharpe said lifting the moratorium would create an unfair playing field for businesses in town and the corridor.

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