Front Royal Town Council at odds over tax rate

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council failed on Monday to agree on a real estate tax rate.

Members were at odds over whether or not the town should increase the tax rate to help cover the cost of building a new police headquarters. A majority of council did not want to increase the rate. But one councilman voiced concern that the town would need more revenue because the cost of the headquarters had increased from $5.5 million to almost $8 million.

Officials did not recommend a rate increase and indicated at recent council meetings that the town likely could cover the cost without raising the levy. No one spoke during the public hearing on a proposal to raise the rate from 13 cents per $100 of assessed value to 14 cents, with the revenue from the additional cent to go toward the construction of the police headquarters on Monroe Avenue. The cent would be rescinded once the town paid off the debt on the headquarters.

Council first voted 3-2 on a motion on first reading to keep the tax rate at 13 cents per $100 of assessed value. Councilman John Connolly made the motion and received support from Councilman Jacob Meza and Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger. Connolly cited the recommendation by town staff to keep the rate unchanged. Egger reiterated her concern that the firm hired to design the headquarters gave council the option that far exceeds the original estimate and said she would not support an $8 million project. Councilman Eugene Tewalt and Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe voted against the motion. Tewalt voiced his concerns that the town wouldn’t have a way to cover the increased price of the project.

Connolly’s motion failed anyway because it required four positive votes. Councilman Bret Hrbek did not attend the meeting.

After more discussion, Tewalt made a motion to increase the tax rate to 14 cents. Tewalt and Tharpe voted for the motion. Egger, Connolly and Meza voted against the motion. The motion failed.

Mayor Timothy Darr said council would need to revisit the matter and decide on a rate likely at a special meeting.

Also at the meeting, council:
• Affirmed on the first reading changes to the town’s floodplain ordinance as recommended by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. No one spoke during the public hearing on the changes.
• Affirmed on the first reading an ordinance to town code pertaining to by-right uses in the I-2 (Industrial) District. The changes allow for certain uses in the district by right rather than require conditional-use permits. No one spoke during the public hearing. Tewalt said he didn’t support the change because it would include schools as a by-right use in an industrial district. Council voted 4-1.
• Approved on second reading an ordinance pertaining to food trucks and itinerant merchandising. The motion also reduces the itinerant merchant license fee from $500 to $250. Earlier in the meeting, businessman Mike McCool said during the public comment portion that the town should do more to educate merchants and the public about the food truck regulations.
• Affirmed on first reading an ordinance to amend town code to replace the deer management plan with urban archery hunting. Tewalt voted against the motion after citing concerns that the ordinance does not define an adequate backstop that would be used for target practice.
• Approved a resolution to proceed with the development and construction of the Solar Project with American Municipal Power and NextEra to include the lease and interconnection agreement
• Approved an amendment to the current budget and accepted an insurance reimbursement from the Virginia Municipal League of $31,415 for a town storage building that collapsed from the weight of snow that fell during the Jan. 22-24 storm.

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