Not even upgraded property maintenance standards – on Feb. 12 council voted down a revised property maintenance code. Photos/Roger BianchiniFRONT ROYAL – Somewhat surprisingly on Monday, February 12, the Front Royal Town Council voted down revisions to its Property Maintenance Code by a 4-0 vote. Councilmen Meza and Morrison were absent.
Work session discussion since a January 8, 6-0 vote defeating the first-reading vote of a new Property Maintenance Code with a Rental Inspection District attached, seemed to indicate a majority intent to move forward with changes to the property maintenance code without the rental inspection district. An estimated cost of $150,000 for a code official to handle the joint property maintenance and rental inspections was made as far back as July 2017. That cost had appeared to be a deterrent for a council majority as far as creating the joint property maintenance-rental district code revisions.
Work session discussion on February 5 indicated no apparent hard opposition to the stand-alone property maintenance revisions. In fact, the intention of approaching the Town of Strasburg about joint funding of a code official to handle property maintenance inspections in both municipalities was put on the table. At that work session staff noted that Strasburg had passed a similar code to the revised Town proposal two or three years ago, but had yet to enforce its code because the Strasburg council had yet to budget a staff position as the enforcement arm.
No cost estimate with or without Strasburg’s involvement was included in the agenda packet summary of the proposal presented on February 12. The staff recommendation presented at the February 5 work session was “adoption of the draft amendment when Town Council has the funding to administer it.”
There were no public hearing speakers and no council discussion pro or con after Gary Gillespie’s motion, seconded by John Connolly, to affirm the ordinance amendment. The motion was then voted down on the 4-0 voice vote.
Having gotten an early draft budget from Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson on February 5, a clear council majority has expressed a desire to approve a balanced Fiscal Year 2019 budget with NO tax increases attached.
“We’ll see if our council will belly up with a tax increase,” Mayor Tharpe said during a July 2017 work session discussion of the joint property maintenance-rental inspection district proposal. At the time, Connolly pointed out that revenue from one-cent of a past real estate tax hike had already been committed to fund a position that could handle enforcement duties, leaving only a half-cent hike necessary to fully fund a position to enforce the joint code revision at the $150,000 estimate.
But even with the estimated $105,000 annual revenue from that previous tax hike available for an enforcement position, council has chosen at this point to abort the proposed upgrades to the existing code.
The absent Councilman Morrison has been council’s leading proponent of including a rental inspection district with property maintenance code revisions. However, after making the motion to approve the joint revisions to the town code on January 8, he voted against his own motion. Morrison’s January 8 “no” vote was a tactical move that will allow him to reintroduce the renter protections code at a future date when passage would seem more likely.
But until such a time arrives, renters with serious complaints about the condition and circumstance imposed by some landlords had hoped the revised property maintenance code alone could assure some basic living standards are provided to town renters. That had been Morrison’s hope in the short term.
Now it appears even that hope has been dashed in the coming FY 2019 budget cycle.