Councilwoman blasts members for deal vote

Bebhinn Egger

FRONT ROYAL – A town councilwoman this week continued to criticize fellow members over their support for a deal with Warren County.

Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger also compared the town’s situation as party to the agreement over the U.S. 340-522 Corridor to that of someone in an abusive marriage, with divorce as the only way out.

Egger noted her disappointment in the council members who supported the memorandum of agreement approved earlier this month. Egger and Councilman Bret Hrbek had criticized the agreement as one that ties the town’s hands and puts Front Royal businesses at an unfair advantage compared to those in the corridor.

“I feel especially frustrated that time was taken to present this council with facts – some of them were old and some of them were new – that were then promptly disregarded and ignored,” Egger read from a statement at Monday’s council meeting. “We owe it to the people of Front Royal to revisit what we did at our last meeting. It was done in haste and without proper care.

“The overall feeling that I got from council, including you, Mr. Mayor, was that we should sign on the dotted line now and then, if something goes wrong later or if we don’t like what’s happening, we can simply extract ourselves from the MOA,” Egger added. “This is similar to if I were to say ‘I’ve been dating this guy; he’s really great except that he hits me sometimes and he wants me to sign on the dotted line and I think it’s not a bad idea because I can always get a divorce if the beatings get really bad.”

Egger noted that she could divorce an abusive husband just as the town can pull out of the memorandum of agreement with the county. Egger questioned council operating government in this way.

Mayor Timothy Darr said he respected Egger’s comments but took issue with her comparison and takes domestic violence seriously.

“I don’t think it’s something that should ever be taken in light or in jest in those types of forms but that’s just my opinion,” Darr said.

The councilwoman then called on fellow members who did support the agreement to explain why they feel this action represents a responsible decision for the town. Egger specifically called out Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe who made no comments when he voted in favor of the agreement.

The agreement calls for the town to provide water and sewer service to the future Crooked Run West development. Egger claimed again that once the town turns on the water to Crooked Run West it cannot stop supplying utilities to the development.

Councilman Daryl Funk made a comment at the last meeting that the town could double the water rates charged to users in Crooked Run West in the future. Egger responded Monday by noting that increasing the rates would not help the town.

“This is, as they say, a lame-sauce excuse, and I know that Mr. Funk knows that,” Egger said.

Double water rates would not make up for the revenue the town loses in meals and lodging taxes it can’t collect out of the corridor, Egger said. The town could only take a portion of the additional water and sewer revenue from that fund and use it for other purposes, Egger added.

The councilwoman also criticized members for not involving the public more in the process before they approved the deal.

Earlier in the meeting, council heard a report from Jennifer McDonald, executive director of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority. McDonald also told council the developers seeking to build a Marriott hotel in the corridor likely would move forward with that plan since the town signed off on the agreement. In response to Councilman Bret Hrbek’s question, Town Manager Steve Burke said the Marriott developers had not signed an agreement with Front Royal under which the town can collect Payment In Lieu of Taxes from the hotel. The PILOT agreement also would set forth the town’s obligation to provide water and sewer service to the hotel. The town does not bring proposed PILOT agreements before council for review.

Hrbek, who also criticized the corridor agreement, said Front Royal taxpayers sacrifice $5 anytime a person chooses to stay at a hotel in the corridor rather than in town. Front Royal would lose revenue anticipated from the latest corridor deal if the town lowered its tax rates, Hrbek said.

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