Clarke County bails on sanitary district near Warren County

Clarke County leaders sought advice from Warren County officials in creating Clarke’s first sanitary district last year, but now they want to dissolve the special tax area.

The Clarke County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution last month asking the circuit court to abolish the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District in Clarke County over fears the special tax presents an unfair burden on some property owners.

Most of the Shenandoah Farms subdivision lies in Warren County though a much smaller section exists in Clarke County. Warren County Circuit Court established the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District in 1996 with the intent to collect a special tax assessment from property owners and to use that revenue to improve and maintain the rural neighborhood’s roads. Warren County also uses some of the revenue to bring some roads up to state standards, sharing the cost with the Virginia Department of Transportation and the property owners.

Warren County officials had been in discussion with David Ash, county administrator for Clarke County and members of its board of supervisors about the creation of the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District and to help them through the process, Robert Childress, deputy county administrator for Warren County, said by phone Friday.

“This was the first sanitary district that was established in Clarke County so they had legitimate questions,” Childress said, noting that the discussion went on through the winter and spring. “But we really haven’t had any official contact with them in the last couple of months.”

Childress said he learned recently about the Clarke County Board of Supervisors’ desire to ask the court to abolish the new sanitary district.

Childress pointed out that both sanitary districts remain separate entities.

“The Clarke County board was considering having Warren County’s sanitary district administer the road-maintenance program on the Clarke County side,” Childress recalled. “That’s part of what some of the discussion and meetings were (about) simply based on an economy of scale.”

Warren County’s district includes approximately 2,800 lots and 40-plus miles of roads. Clarke County’s district includes approximately 4 miles of roads and about 200 lots, Childress said. Warren County also has employees assigned to handle maintenance for the sanitary district as well as contracts for snow removal and paving. Neither county finalized an agreement, Childress said.

A judge in Clarke County Circuit Court established the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District on Oct. 21 to encompass all property in the subdivision for the purpose of maintaining and improving private roads, common areas and recreational facilities. The resolution states that the Board of Supervisors studied what the county would need to do to fulfill the purposes of the district, including how much money it would need to generate through the annual tax on the properties.

The resolution states that 77 lots, or 39 percent, in the Clarke County section of Shenandoah Farms, lie on Howellsville Road, Manor Road and Old Oak Lane – public routes maintained by VDOT. The county would not need to spend tax revenue to maintain or improve these public roads, the resolution states.

“Whereas, the 77 lots on public roads would receive little benefit from any Sanitary District taxes assessed on said lots,” the resolution states. “Whereas, an assessment of Sanitary District taxes on all lots in Shenandoah Farms would result in the lots on private roads receiving a disproportionate benefit as compared to lots on public roads.

“Whereas, most of the funds which would be generated by an annual tax on the lots in Shenandoah Farms would need to be expended for the maintenance and improvements of the private roads,” the resolution goes on to state. “Whereas, the Board finds that it would be inequitable to tax properties on the public roads for the primary purpose of maintaining and improving the private roads.”

The board also found that the purposes for which the court created the district are “impractical of accomplishment,” the resolution states.

Online court records show the request to create Clarke County’s Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District was first filed in January 2015. A judge granted a motion to dismiss the request in April. The judge reinstated the request in June. A final order creating the district was entered in January this year.

A circuit court can establish a sanitary district if petitioned by at least 50 registered voters who own property in a given neighborhood. However, to abolish a sanitary district, at least 50 registered voters who own property in that district must receive the backing of the board of supervisors when they petition the circuit court. Dozens of property owners in the Lake Front Royal subdivision of Warren County are seeking to abolish the sanitary district recently created by the circuit court. They have asked the Warren County Board of Supervisors to join their petition. Supervisors scheduled the request for a public hearing July 19.

Warren County Circuit Court set up the boundaries of the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District to include the private streets maintained by the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms as well as parts of several roads in the state system, Childress states in an email. Warren County improved many of the internal subdivisions roads and since turned over those routes to VDOT for maintenance, Childress notes in the email. Lots fronting the newly acquired VDOT roads remain in the sanitary district and the county continues to assess the special tax on those properties, Childress adds.

Warren County Board of Supervisors works with the property-owners association leadership to set the sanitary district budget and tax rate each year. Warren County set the taxes effective Friday at $240 per unimproved lot and $275 for each improved lot. The county charges the same tax if a lot lies on a road maintained by the sanitary district or VDOT.

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