FRONT ROYAL – The Town Council during a Monday work session debated whether its water and sewer tap fees — costs for connecting to the town’s system — are too high.
Robert Boyer, the town’s public works director, explained that builders are responsible for installing water and sewer taps with connection fees based on the tap’s size.
He said the connection fee is generally $15,068 in town and $30,136 in the county, which does not include a fee of about $8,000 that developers must pay for installation from a private contractor. He said this compares to: $16,500 in Culpepper; $21,489 in Frederick County; $13,000 in Strasburg; $7,900 in Woodstock; $12,500 in Winchester; and $7,000 in Harrisonburg.
Interim Mayor Matt Tederick said fees should decrease.
He noted that the town is failing in its goals of constructing workforce housing and asked: “You wonder why we don’t have any projects going on in the town limits?”
“On one hand, we cry about not having enough economic development, enough commercial development, enough affordable housing but we need to look at our policies and procedures...I’m really not certain that we’re as business-friendly as we want to pretend we are,” Tederick said.
He said over the phone Tuesday that he has no personal interest in lowering fees and this is an issue that has bothered him for years.
“I do no real estate business in Warren County, none, zero. So there’s nothing in it for Matt Tederick. My family doesn’t do any real estate in Warren County. Nothing in it for the Tederick family,” he said.
He said that while the town now has a council that wants economic growth, past councils “have been controlled by people who want to stop any growth in our community and create an image in Front Royal and Warren County like Mayberry back in the 1950s.”
Tederick added that the fees are a way for the town to “gouge businesses” and were created by past councils to prevent growth.
Councilman William Sealock agreed that tap fees are too high. He said when meeting with the builder’s association upon election, “the first thing out of the Cracker Jack Box” was complaints regarding the high tap fees.
He noted that tap fees on a $200,000 house could make up between 7 and 12% of costs.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt said the council must realize that tap fees help pay for the $50 million sewer treatment plant. Town Manager B.J. Wilson Wilson added that while a portion of tap fees pay the plant’s debt service, some is for maintenance.
“The day that you change this, it means that the coffers go down...if you take it away here, it’s going to be added over here somewhere,” Tewalt said.
Tedrick responded that while he respects Tewalt’s opinion, “I can’t let you get away with that.”
He elaborated over the phone, noting that a portion of the tap fees goes into an unrestricted enterprise fund containing around $2 million in reserves.
“I’m tired of the town building its slush funds on the backs of citizens,” he said.
Tederick added that “it is pure economics” that if tap fees were lower, more houses would be built and more money would come into the town.
Planning Director Jeremy Camp said about 20 houses were built in town limits in the last year.
Councilman Jacob Meza agreed that lower tap fees could potentially result in more houses being built, resulting in more revenue.
“If you incentivize it on the front end, you allow for easy development with lower tap fees. Could you not make more money off of it because there’s more development?” he said.
Tederick said he would be ready to lower the connection fees by $5,000 at the council’s next meeting and “that’s what I want to do, just pick a number.”
Town Manager Joe Waltz cautioned against changing tap fees until a cost of service study is performed, which may take about three months. Tederick’s term, however, expires Nov. 7.
“That’s not going to work for me,” Tederick said.
Sealock said he would rather the council gather more information before making a decision.
While Tederick noted that he only votes to serve as a tiebreaker, he said: “I’m here to tell you I’m ready for a vote on this when you guys are ready.”
“I’ll be glad to break a tie,” he said.
If the vote does not occur by the time his interim mayoral role expires, Tederick said he hopes to return as a private citizen during a meeting and “beg you guys to fix this.”