By Walter M. Duncan
I have read with interest some of the comments posted following articles in the various Front Royal - Warren County community newspapers about issues discussed at the Front Royal Town Council candidates forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.
At that forum, various candidates referenced the research I have conducted over the past three years about the extensive financial outlays that town taxpayers have made for water and sewer infrastructure as well as the significant future costs needed to maintain and upgrade this capital infrastructure. Some of those posting comments have essentially asked two questions that I’d like to address:
*Question 1: * What’s the big deal about town water and sewer expenditures that has raised the ire of some town taxpayers about the actions of the current town mayor and council, and generated the discussion at the candidates forum?
*Answer: * The big deal about water and sewer expenditures, based on my extensive research of town budget and other council records, is that from 1960 to 2010, taxpayers living or located within the town of Front Royal limits have paid $49,661,798, or 93.1 percent, of the capital infrastructure costs for water and sewer provided in Warren County. Although the town council has extended water and sewer service to allow major new industrial and commercial businesses and jobs to be located in the county, Warren County taxpayers outside the town boundaries have only paid $3,695,374.95, or 6.9 percent, of the capital costs. The monthly fees paid by users funds the operating costs of the system, not the major capital infrastructure costs such as for the water treatment plant, sewer treatment plant, construction of major trunk lines, and bonding costs.
While a small portion of sewer and water connection fees are used to support capital infrastructure expenses, monthly water and sewer service use fees do not.
The town council has long been a good partner in working with the county to attract new business and industry to the county, both within the limits of the town and outside the limits of town. However, when new businesses or residents get added outside the town limits, Warren County’s tax base benefits but not the townas. Therefore, when the town pays for infrastructure that serves businesses outside the town, there is no offsetting revenue that comes back to the town.
Question 2: The county does so much for the people in town, why are some townspeople complaining?
Answer: I believe that people and businesses living or located within the town greatly appreciate the services that the Warren County board and its employees provide to all county residents and businesses, such as schools, fire and rescue, parks, libraries, and economic development. Front Royal residents and businesses are citizens of both Warren County and the town of Front Royal. The issue that many townspeople have is that while Warren County taxpayers within town limits pay the exact same tax rate to Warren County as Warren County taxpayers outside the town limits to support county services, town taxpayers continue to be asked to pay a “town council” share (and the current council has been agreeing to provide this extra share) for library and economic development services, even though town taxpayers have already paid their share as Warren County taxpayers and no higher level of service is being provided to Warren County citizens within the town boundaries verses those outside the town boundaries.
In years past when the town council and county board split the cost of many services and the town population was about half of the county population, this meant that town taxpayers picked up 75 percent of the cost of these services (100 percent of the town “share” plus 50 percent of the county “share”) while those in the county only paid 25 percent. While the percentages no longer disadvantage town taxpayers as greatly as in the past, the question remains, since everyone pays the same tax rate to the county, why should town taxpayers have to pitch in a “town council” share too for the same level of services?
I, for one, am very concerned that the incumbent mayor and council members have failed in their time in office to discontinue the practices leading to these inequities despite the advice from their paid professional staff and despite the results of my research on the costs of providing water and sewer capital infrastructure within the county. Anyone wanting a copy of the memo containing my research and discussion of these issues may request one via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Walter M. Duncan, a resident of Front Royal, is a former Front Royal councilman, town manager and planning commissioner. *