Front Royal not pursuing options to add corridor

Elected officials in Front Royal try to avoid using the “A” word when it comes to the U.S. 340-522 Corridor.

But annexation has been an option for the town since 2006, thanks to an older agreement between Front Royal and Warren County. Since then town leaders have not pursued annexation or a “friendly” boundary line adjustment – a process that would require support by the county.

Councilman Bret Hrbek recently tried unsuccessfully to persuade members to set up a meeting with the Board of Supervisors to talk about a boundary adjustment that would bring the corridor into town. A majority of council voted against Hrbek’s suggestion. Hrbek said recently that he didn’t think he could revive the idea of a joint meeting with the county. At the meeting, Councilman Eugene Tewalt commented that he might favor such a conversation with the Board of Supervisors but not until after the next election in November. Hrbek said Tewalt should bring the idea back up.

“I still think that we should have asked and we still should ask because it’s a legitimate question,” Hrbek said. “It’s never been asked and for us to decide the fate of the town without even asking all the questions … We really pulled this trigger way too fast.”

Councilman Daryl Funk voted against Hrbek’s motion to hold the meeting with the county. Funk, who’s running for Warren County Circuit Court Clerk in November, said recently that a boundary adjustment is likely a non-starter.

“I don’t think anyone on the Town Council is opposed to talking about it but … it takes two to tango and, while we may not have formally asked the question, we do know what the answer is: The county is not interested in pursuing that avenue and a majority of council is not interested in annexation,” Funk said.

The Board of Supervisors might not support a boundary line adjustment given what the county could stand to lose in revenue generated by the corridor businesses. The county would lose the ability to collect taxes on meals taxes, which is dedicated to helping fund the school system, as well as lodging, machinery and tools and through the business professional occupational license fees. Likewise, the county would no longer determine the zoning of properties nor could it ask for contributions from developers to offset the public cost of development.

The board hinted at its opposition to a boundary adjustment with its version of the new agreement that bars the town from filing documents to pursue annexation.

“Honestly, I don’t know that we won’t ever get there,” Funk said. “But, you know, as I said in my comments (Aug. 10), a boundary adjustment I think, other than a hostile one, requires a level of trust and cooperation that the town and county haven’t been able to reach.

“I’m hopeful that maybe we’re starting to move in a direction of rebuilding that sort of relationship because I think the success of Warren County and Front Royal is in regional cooperation,” Funk added. “Maybe that will result in a boundary adjustment someday but I don’t think the political will is there.”

If council and the Board of Supervisors agreed to discuss a potential boundary adjustment for the corridor, Hrbek said the parties could talk about revenue-sharing options and responsibilities.

“We have a history of getting along and doing that,” Hrbek said.

Council might not have had an incentive to pursue annexation in 2006 because the corridor remained largely undeveloped, Hrbek said. Numerous other businesses have taken root in the corridor since then. Hrbek said no problems existed even as the town collected certain revenue from the restaurants until the county imposed the meals tax. Eventually the town lost a lawsuit filed by several restaurants contesting Front Royal’s ability to collect the equivalent of a portion of the meals taxes from those businesses.

Hrbek is not the first councilman to suggest a boundary adjustment. At a work session more than a year ago, then Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker told council that the 1998-1999 agreement had allowed the town to pursue annexation for years. Parker, who’s running for the North River district on the Board of Supervisors, did not appear to gain enough support from council to pursue that option. However, council has budgeted $100,000 to hire attorney Carter Glass to investigate the town’s standing in the corridor debates.

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