Front Royal Town Council backs flat tax rate

FRONT ROYAL – Town homeowners likely can expect no increase in their next tax bills from Front Royal.

Town Council voted Monday to approve on its first reading a motion to hold the real estate tax rate steady. No one spoke during the public hearing held on the proposed tax rate.

Council considered at its meeting setting the fiscal 2018 real estate tax rate at 15 cents per $100 of the assessed value. The advertised rate represented an increase of 2 cents over the current levy of 13 cents. The town also had advertised a personal property tax rate of 64 cents per $100 of assessed value that represented no increase over the current levy.

Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger made the motion to approve on its first reading an ordinance to keep the real estate tax rate at 13 cents. Staff members had suggested that council increase the levy by a half-cent, Egger said. However, such an increase would generate only about $55,000, an amount Egger said the town could find as officials work on next year’s budget.

Councilman Jacob Meza said he could support maintaining the tax rate at 13 cents. At some point the town must increase it to generate the revenue needed to pay for future projects, Meza warned. The councilman lauded the efforts of interim Town Manager Joseph Waltz and Finance Director B.J. Wilson for bringing a proposed budget that reflects spending cuts. Meza said he didn’t want to see the town need to make higher rate increases in the future because council held back.

Vice Mayor Eugene Tewalt reminded council he wanted a 1-cent increase last year to help cover the cost to build a new police department facility. Even though the town can expect to receive some financial help on the $9.31 million project from People Inc., Tewalt warned that council should set money aside now to help cover the debt payments. Tewalt tried to amend Egger’s motion to increase the tax rate to 14 cents with additional proceeds going to pay for the police headquarters. Councilman William Sealock Jr. seconded Tewalt’s motion.

Council increased the tax rate several years and earmarked the revenue-generated one-third of a penny of that additional money to help pay for the police headquarters. Egger said she understood the reason behind Tewalt’s suggested rate increase but pointed out that council had yet to vote to approve the $9.3 million project. Egger has voiced opposition to the town spending as much as estimated and has criticized the increasing cost.

Tewalt rescinded his motion when Town Attorney Doug Napier advised that council cannot bind future boards to using part of a rate increase for a particular purpose. Council can state its intentions for the use of the funds. Sealock rescinded his second but reiterated his warning about council not looking ahead. Sealock said the town had to increase the tax rate to cover the cost to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant. However, Mayor Hollis Tharpe explained that the recent increases were imposed with the intention to use extra money for other projects but not the wastewater treatment plant.

At least four council members need to vote in favor of a rate for that levy to pass, Napier said, citing the town charter, in response to a question from Tharpe. Additionally, a recent change to state law says that majority can include elected and appointed members.

Tewalt revived his amendment to Egger’s motion to set a tax rate at 14 cents. Sealock seconded the motion. The amendment failed on a 4-2 vote. Sealock and Tewalt voted in favor of the amendment. Egger, Meza, Councilman John Connolly and appointed Councilman Chris Morrison voted against the amendment. All six council members voted in favor of Egger’s motion to keep the tax rate at 13 cents.

Town property owners also pay real estate taxes to Warren County whose elected Board of Supervisors might consider increasing the rate to help cover a projected shortfall in the fiscal 2018 budget.

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