Council debates police station project

FRONT ROYAL – Town leaders moved ahead Monday on plans for a new police headquarters despite concerns over funding the project.

Town Council voted 4-2 to adopt a resolution directing staff to pursue the design and construction of a new police headquarters at Kendrick Lane and Monroe Avenue that would serve the needs of the department at least until the year 2040. Moseley Architects presented an option to council last week that calls for building the facility at an estimated cost of almost $8 million – $2.5 million more than an earlier estimate.

Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe and Councilmen Bret Hrbek, John Connolly and Jacob L. Meza voted for the resolution. Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger and Councilman Eugene Tewalt voted against the resolution, citing concerns about the funding.

An effort to delay action on the resolution until council can discuss how the town could cover the additional cost – would council need to raise taxes – failed. Egger and Tewalt voted for the delay.

Tewalt said information he asked for last week and received Monday night showed that the town would need to increase the real estate tax rate by 4 cents to cover the cost for the 2040 option. Tewalt said he does support the 2040 option.

But at least two councilmen said the resolution does not commit the town to move forward with the 2040 option. Hrbek said it’s important that the town look at its future needs. The town needs to take advantage of low interest rates today rather than put off the expansion of the facility in the later years, Hrbek said. The councilman said members could decide in a few weeks whether or not the town can afford the long-term plan.

The police department needs to grow with the population, Connolly said, adding that he believes the town can find the funding.

Egger put it in different terms.

“This is essentially a budget request from a department and we’ve been presented with a proposal from an architectural firm that’s gonna make a lot of money off of this,” Egger said. “We are in charge of the money. … We are requested lots of things by departments all the time and it’s our job to decide whether or not it’s a good use of our money.”

Egger noted that she opposed building a new facility and wanted the town to renovate another site for the department.

During the public comment period earlier in the meeting, local businessman Mike McCool questioned why council would move forward on a building that has increased in cost to about $8 million. McCool suggested council take more time and ask the architect to scale back the design and cost of the headquarters.

Also at the meeting:
• Council voted to affirm on its first reading an ordinance to amend the town code chapter pertaining to the business, professional and occupational license and the chapter on solicitors and vendors to expand the use of food trucks and itinerant merchandising. Craig Laird, president of the Front Royal Independent Business Alliance and local proprietor, spoke during the public hearing held on the ordinance change. The association supports the ordinance but Laird suggested council could streamline the regulation and should look further into how other localities regulate food trucks. Laird said he heard the rules might deter some food-truck operators from coming to the town. George McIntyre, also a business owner, spoke at the hearing and said his family plans to put a food truck on the road. McIntyre said his family is concerned about the negative attitude toward food trucks.

• Voted to postpone action on a proposal to amend the code to replace the deer management plan with an urban archery hunting ordinance. Council decided to do this after hearing more information and some suggestions from an officer with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Mayor Timothy Darr said council will revisit the ordinance amendment March 14 and possibly take action on the first reading. The public also will get a chance to speak, Darr said.

• Approved the removal of 7 years or old of unpaid accounts, or bad debt, on the town’s ledger in the amount of $225,318 from enterprise and general-fund liability accounts. Tewalt said it was a shame the town has to give away the money but it does happen. Connolly said the number continues to fall but some people run up high bills and then leave Front Royal and the town makes every effort to collect the debt.

• Approved funding of $2,300 toward the Battle of Front Royal event scheduled for May 7 on Chester and Main streets

• Approved a resolution of support for a town citizens academy, conducted by staff members in late spring or summer for up to 30 participants

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