Town balks at county bill for $90,000

FRONT ROYAL – Town officials say they don’t need to pay almost $90,000 in outstanding bills owed to Warren County.

The Warren County Commissioner of the Revenue continues to bill the town for personal property/real estate maintenance and tax books for the years 2007-2016. The town did not include the expense in the current budget.

The commissioner’s office claims the town owes the county a total of approximately $89,572, with bills for each of the years in question ranging between $8,419 and $9,828.

The Town Council appeared to reach a consensus at its recent work session: Don’t pay the bills. Mayor Hollis Tharpe pointed out that the town had never paid the bill but deferred to Town Attorney Doug Napier for his counsel. Napier cited an attorney general’s opinion that states a commissioner of the revenue may not charge a town for services such as preparing a land book.

Napier told the council he recently received an email from County Attorney Dan Whitten asking if town officials would want to seek a compromise on the matter. Napier said he told Whitten that the council would make that call.

The council’s options include:

• Pay the bills with money from the general fund reserves

• Direct staff members to include the expenses in the fiscal 2019 budget

• Tell staff to continue to notify the county that the town has no legal obligation to pay the bills

• Only pay those bills that have not exceeded the statute of limitation

• Discuss the bills at a town-county liaison committee meeting to work out a compromise

The town paid for the maintenance and tax books until the tax year 2007. Front Royal received bills in July 2014 from the county seeking payment for the books for tax years 2007-2013, Finance Director B.J. Wilson said. At that point the town’s legal office sent a letter by email to the county explaining that Front Royal is not legally obligated to pay. The town continues to receive bills.

Tharpe and Vice Mayor Eugene Tewalt said they are willing to take staff’s recommendation not to pay the bill. Tewalt suggested that town officials meet with their counterparts in the county to explain why Front Royal won’t pay the bills. Tewalt said he didn’t want to “blindside” county officials with the council’s decision. Napier said he asked Whitten to provide legal reasons as to why the town should pay the bills.

Councilman John Connolly and Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger questioned why the county didn’t bill the town for years.

“Talk about blindsided,” Egger said.

Connolly recalled the bill received in 2014 caused “quite a bit of a stir” since the county charged the town for years of service without prior notice.

Tewalt said the issue arose after the unexpected death in 2012 of then county Commissioner of the Revenue John Smedley.