Council takes heat for corridor deal vote

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council drew fire Monday for its recent vote on a U.S. 340-522 corridor deal with Warren County.

Nearly a half-dozen town residents criticized four council members and Mayor Timothy Darr for supporting an agreement that lays out Front Royal’s responsibility to provide water and sewer to the corridor.

Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe and Councilmen Eugene Tewalt, John Connolly and Daryl Funk voted with Darr on Aug. 10 approve the agreement. Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger voted against the deal. Councilman Bret Hrbek vocally opposed the agreement but he voted for the deal so he, as part of the majority who passed the matter, could revive the topic at a future meeting. Hrbek noted Monday night that he likely would try to bring the deal back.

Council didn’t hold a public hearing on the proposed deal. Council was not required to hold a hearing and a majority of members thwarted an effort to do so before approving the agreement.

Betty Showers said during the public comment period Monday it appeared that the county’s offer isn’t suitable or fair for the town.

“I think there are too many questions that should have been answered before the council vote,” Showers read from a statement. “I observed that several of the elected officials have never really given a good explanation of why they voted in favor of the agreement.”

Speakers also voiced concern that council would approve a deal that appeared to violate the town’s policy on providing water outside corporate limits. Town Attorney Douglas Napier has advised that the agreement, in his opinion, does not violate the policy. Speakers also expressed worry that once the town installs utility lines to Crooked Run West, as called for in the agreement, Front Royal would be required to provide water to development even if the county decides not to give the town revenue from certain taxes collected in the area served.

“When you add all these factors together it appears that something else is going on here that is overriding the common sense solution to this problem,” Showers said.

Janice Hart criticized members for appearing to ignore concerns made by Egger and Hrbek. Hart called on the members who supported the deal to publicly give their reasons why the agreement works for the town. Debra Siksay called the vote “a blatant show of disregard and disrespect for the citizens of Front Royal and an act of political arrogance.”

Linda Allen stated her concerns about the agreement and pointed out that should the county decide not to pay the town the revenue as required in the deal, Front Royal would need to increase its water and sewer rates to make up for the loss.

Former Councilman Thomas Conkey, who now lives in the county, echoed Allen’s concerns and gave a hypothetical account of what could happen.

“I don’t understand what you people are doing, OK?” Conkey said.

Connolly responded to the speakers’ comments, noting that the deal is the best the town can get in light of a court ruling that limited Front Royal’s ability to collect revenue from the corridor. The town will benefit from the increased utility revenue, Connolly said.

Also at the meeting, council:

• Approved a motion to loan $10 million to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority for the construction of a lot on the former Avtex Fibers site for IT Federal. The EDA will be required to repay the loan within 30 days.

• Approved on first reading changes to town code pertaining to parking violations. No one spoke at the public hearing held on the matter. Changes call for reducing the fines for parking violations by as much as 50 percent. The amended section also extends the period of time a person can contest a violation notice from 48 hours to seven days. However, the amended section also calls for the fines to double if not paid in seven days.

• Accepted a bid submitted by William Murphy to buy 6,346 square feet of property on South Fork Drive owned by the town for $7,000. Darr opened the lone bid the town received for the property. Council approved the motion to vacate the right of way and to accept the bid.

• Approved the purchase of tablet computers for the police department at a cost of $35,000. The budget includes the funds for the purchase.

• Approved a deed of easement for as-built water lines, meter vaults and meters to Cedarville Corners at 8498-8506 Winchester Road. Funk recused himself after he said his law firm of Pond & Williams represents a client at the location.

• Approved an amendment to the lease agreement with Warren County for the police department. The amendment calls for the police department to continue its lease at 23 E. Jackson St. for two years, from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2017. The annual rental rate will increase from $48,000 to $48,768.

• Approved a budget amendment in the amount of $124,025 for the Westminster Drive sidewalk project. The town will provide a match of $83,024 while the remaining funds will come from a federal transportation program.

• Authorized town staff to advertise the position of community development director.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or

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