Members of the Front Royal Town Council decided Monday evening to move forward with plans to have the town part ways from the joint Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority to create its own EDA. The General Assembly passed a bill during its last session authorizing the town to establish its own EDA.
While the civil and criminal proceedings surrounding the current EDA continue to swirl, council members have seen reasons to split from the joint venture pile up in recent months. Separating the town from the joint EDA gives the town space from the cloud hanging over the current authority’s reputation, and create an avenue of drawing business to the town specifically rather than the county generally, Councilman Gary Gillispie said Monday.
“We need this for the town of Front Royal for economic development,” Gillispie said. “More so now with this COVID-19 [pandemic]. Nobody knows where the chips are going to fall when all this is said and done. we may have empty storefronts downtown and … this EDA would go a long way as to helping us.”
“The Front Royal-Warren County EDA brand is hugely damaged right now. Beyond repair,” Gillispie continued. “They’ll have a hard time going forward attracting businesses to our area.”
Councilman Jacob Meza said the town started considering creating an EDA for “almost this exact reason.” Because towns are not allowed to provide funding for private interests, EDAs are tools that localities use to help support local businesses as well as attract new ones.
As the town wrestles with how to allocate the federal money it will receive from the county as part of the CARES act distributions — town officials estimate that sum will be between $1 million and $1.5 million — the EDA would be allowed to function as a third party board to distribute those funds.
After the success of the legislation in the General Assembly, Town Attorney Doug Napier moved forward with drafting an ordinance to establish a town EDA. The draft includes provisions and guidelines laying out the number of directors (seven, which is required by state code) and their tenures; rules keeping town and county employees from serving as a director and establishing clear rules about auditing and bookkeeping duties.
Before amending the town code with an ordinance, the Town Council must advertise the ordinance and allow time and opportunity for public comment. Council members agreed to begin advertising the ordinance today so they can execute the first reading at their meeting on June 22 and a second reading at a special meeting on June 29.
The goal is to expedite the process and have an EDA staffed and ready to begin working as early as July 1 — the first day it would be allowed to exist.