Archive for: March 12th, 2018

Local Government
Town approves $90,000 contingency transfer for town hall power backup
March 12, 2018

On March 5, Environmental Services Director David Jenkins traced the need and logistics of adding a generator for electrical service backup for town hall. Photos/Roger Bianchini


FRONT ROYAL – Front Royal’s Town Hall will be refitted to accommodate a back-up power generator in the wake of a budget transfer authorized Monday night, March 12. The vote to approve the $90,000 transfer from General Fund contingencies was 4-1, Morrison dissenting, Connolly absent, on a motion by Eugene Tewalt, seconded by William Sealock.

The approval of an unanticipated expenditure came in the wake of a March 5 work session presentation by Environmental Services Director David Jenkins following a power outage at town hall during the late February wind storm that moved through the region and a good portion of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States. Jenkins and Town Manager Joe Waltz explained that because all town government communications are funneled through the town hall system, when the power goes out there, not only are administrative communications cut off, but also all town police communications, including fiber optic transmissions related to body cameras and intra-departmental communications.

“All phone lines come in here – this is our connectivity to the world … when we lose power to this building, all (town) communications go out,” Waltz said in response to a question from Councilman Jacob Meza about the necessity of the expenditure. Meza had noted one line item in construction of the new town police headquarters was about $300,000 for a generator there.

Noting what he called an oversight when the town government moved into the old bank building converted into town hall, Waltz observed that five years had gone by before that oversight had caught up with town governmental functions. But he added that, that oversight had taught a valuable lesson – that the town didn’t want to have all its communications “eggs in one basket and put all connectivity in one location.”

With the double backup system in place were there to be the type of emergency that could knock one location’s power and backup system out, as long as the other location had at least generator power the town and its police would maintain communications capabilities internally and with the outside world.

Consequently, as Waltz and Jenkins explained to council, having explored all options it was decided that “a one location solution was not feasible.”

That explanation of the two location solution, re-stated by the town manager prior to the Monday vote, worked for all but one of the councilmen present.

At the work session Jenkins traced the logistics of installation. While there was some council concern expressed about losing parking space in the lot behind town hall, staff and Mayor Tharpe indicated a space used for a town vehicle should suffice; and that an alternate space for that vehicle could easily be found.

On March 5, Jacob Meza sought and got answers on the necessity for backup generators at both town hall and the new police headquarters.

Local Government
Despite 3-2 majority, council fails to approve 1-cent tax hike in budget
March 12, 2018

To paraphrase the old baseball movie Field of Dreams – ‘Build it and they will pay for it’ – though exactly how is yet to be seen. File Photo/Courtesy Town of FR

FRONT ROYAL – Despite two tries and a 3-2 majority on Monday night, March 12, the Front Royal Town Council failed to include a first reading approval of a one-cent real estate tax hike as part of the Fiscal Year-2019 budget. While Eugene Tewalt, William Sealock and Jacob Meza outnumbered no-tax-hike voters Chris Morrison and Gary Gillispie, a 4-2 supermajority is required for approval of such high-dollar or tax-related budget items.

It was unclear to several of his colleagues polled after the meeting, Meza and Sealock, how the absent John Connolly’s vote might have gone had he been present. While a supporter of the new police station, Connolly has been generally conservative on tax increases, though measured in addressing the need to provide funding for approved projects.

The $110,000 of revenue a one-cent real estate hike would provide would have been committed to debt service payment on one or several capital improvement projects either underway or on the table for approval. At the top of that list is the $10-million-plus new Front Royal Police headquarters under construction on Kendrick Lane across from the Royal Phoenix Business Park site. Also up for consideration of a portion of that initially-voted down tax revenue are the West Main Street connector road through the Royal Phoenix Business Park and Phase 2 of Happy Creek Road improvement project.

The Town’s current real estate tax rate is 13.5-cents per $100 of assessed value.

Only one person, Joe Andrews, addressed council during the public hearing on the proposal. Andrews opposed any tax increase, calling any budget shortfall he cited at an estimated $80,000, a product of “frivolous spending” rather than an issue of revenue shortfall.

In addition to raising the real estate tax from 13.5 cents to 14.5 cents, other portions of the tax proposal voted down Monday included keeping personal property taxes flat at 64-cents per $100 of value; setting a personal property tax relief rate of 60-percent of value on the first $20,000 of assessed value on qualifying vehicles assessed at over $1,000 of value; and a corresponding tax relief rate of 100-percent for qualifying vehicles assessed at $1,000 or less; and adjustment of town codes to accommodate any changes.

Sealock made the initial motion to approve the tax rates as presented, Tewalt seconded the motion. After the failure due to the super-majority requirement, Meza asked the two councilmen who voted against the tax increase for their reasoning so that he could attempt to adjust the motion to gain at least one of their votes.

With debt services on the horizon, Gillispie said he saw no need for a tax increase this year. Morrison indicated he believed the countywide real estate reassessments now underway would eventually provide enough of a revenue increase to cover what was being sought by the one-cent hike this year. Later queried on his confidence assessments would increase values, Morrison said he based that on a continued rising of the value of his home property. Asked about the necessity of municipalities to equalize the tax rate so that higher assessments do not automatically increase municipal tax revenue above what has been approved, Morrison indicated that it would be easier to achieve a tax increase following such an equalization reduction in the tax rate.

Meza took another shot, adding a “sunset clause” to Sealock’s original motion, stating that once the police station debt service was paid off, this one-cent added to the town real estate tax rate would come off. However, Meza’s motion failed by the same 3-2 for margin as Sealock’s, again failing to net the required supermajority.

The matter was set of council’s work session next week, prior to a second attempt to reach a compromise.

Councilman Tewalt was the most scathing in criticizing his colleagues voting against the tax hike. After reminding them he had been against the $9-million to $11-million price tag eventually put on the police headquarters, he noted they had supported the project. And once the majority had approved that capital improvement project, Tewalt noted that he had supported incremental tax increases to provide the revenue to pay off the debt service.

He estimated that debt service initially, if financed through the New Market Tax Credit program that would see the first nine years in interest only payments, at $275,000. When the full debt service kicks in Tewalt said the annual payments would be in the $700,000 to $800,000 range.

“We can’t keep pulling money out of our reserves … if we add one cent tonight we won’t have to add four or five cents all at once in the future. You can’t just wait until the money is needed – if you vote for a project and not to pay for it,” Tewalt hesitated in frustration before adding, “I don’t know how some people on this council run their homes.”

Morrison said rejecting what he called an “old way of doing things” as far as financing “will force us to be more creative” in coming up with funding solutions.

We’ll see what creative financing idea Councilman Morrison has up his sleeve at council’s March 19 work session.

Local News
UPDATE: 10 children transported to hospital following Monday Warren County school bus accident
March 12, 2018

This Warren County Public School bus was struck by a car  Monday morning as it traveled along Royal Avenue. /Photos by Mike McCool


This 2017 Subaru struck the bus after failing to stop at a stop sign at the intersection of 2nd Street and Royal Avenue.

FRONT ROYAL – A Linden man, Donald G. Muterspaugh, has been charged with reckless driving after failing to stop at a stop sign and striking a Warren County school bus Monday morning as it traveled along Royal Avenue.

Front Royal Police Department spokesperson Captain Crystal Cline said Muterspaugh, of 200 Freezeland Manor Rd., Linden, was traveling west on 2nd St. around 10:43 a.m. and did not stop at the stop sign at its intersection with Royal Avenue. The front end of Muterspaugh’s 2017 Subaru struck the rear driver’s side of the 2002 school bus, just forward of the wheelbase.

25 students were on the bus. Cline said 10 children were transported to the Emergency Department of Warren Memorial Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Sherry Pugh, of Linden, was the driver of the school bus; she was not injured. Muterspaugh refused to be examined by Warren County Fire and Rescue EMTs.

McDonald defends work of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA
March 12, 2018


To the Editor:

Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress and working together is success.”  It seems that whenever there is progress – there is dissention.

Despite the millions of dollars of net revenue the Town and County have realized from the work of the EDA there still remains that dissention and suspicion. It brings to question why local officials would question the work of the EDA when in fact the work performed by the EDA is at the direction of both the Town Council and Board of Supervisors. They have direct oversight and supervision of the EDA through budgeting, monthly and/or bi-monthly meetings by the Executive Director, EDA annual reports, EDA Strategic Plans, Liaison meetings, attendance at our EDA Board meetings (including closed sessions), and projects they have assigned to us to handle on their behalf.

There are some that believe the EDA is funded 100% through local funds and that is not the case. The County funds 25% of our operating budget (approximately $100,000) and the portion of our debt service that is funded by the locality is only on those projects we have been asked to participate in by the locality. Currently the County contributes $372,681 or 61% of the debt service, Town pays $141,390 or 23%, and EDA funds $100,600 or 16%. Projects include Leach Run Parkway, industrial parks, Ressie Jeffries upgrades, West Main Street extension, among others.

I’d like to remind the Front Royal-Warren County community of where we were 30 years ago.   Our community was reeling from the shutdown of one of its largest employers, Avtex, due to environmental abuses.  The shutdown left the Town of Front Royal with 500 acres of deteriorating manufacturing structures and basins full of chemical waste.  The site was fenced in and padlocked to keep the citizens away from the unidentified and uncatalogued toxins.

Our industrial tax base was at a low of 8.5%, rendering the community unable to effectively maintain its infrastructure (roadways, water systems, sewage systems, police and fire protection, schools, parks, etc.).  There were few commercial centers for shopping, dining or entertainment in the community.

Unemployment was at a staggering 12%, and there were few jobs to be had locally.  Most citizens commuted long distances for work, leaving them away from their families and unable to participate in their community.  Truth be told:  this community was dying.

A group of citizens assembled and determined the need for aggressive economic development to:  recruit businesses and jobs to Warren County; to build the commercial and industrial tax base to a sustainable 20%; to bring our commuting labor force back home to their families and community.

I have been fortunate enough to have been a part of the Economic Development Authority through my last years in college as an intern, and in the intervening years as Property/Project Manager and now Executive Director. Over those years I have witnessed the success that the hard work of those citizens along with the cooperation of the locality has brought to this community.

Since 1999, the EDA has:  taken legal ownership of the 500-acre Avtex site; worked in concert with Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the community and many others to clean and remediate the site for development.  In 2014, 147 acres of the Avtex site was officially released by the EPA for redevelopment, and the remaining acreage is slated for a riverside conservancy park and walking trail.  In 2015, we identified our first business to locate there and ground prep work has been underway since October of 2017.  We are working with the Town to engineer a pump station that will serve the first developable portion of the site as well as a roadway that will connect Kendrick Lane to the downtown commercial district via a Main Street connector road.

Since 1994, EDA and County have recruited:  Family Dollar Services, Ferguson Enterprises, SYSCO Corporation, Interbake, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Toray Plastics, Dominion Virginia Power plant, IT Federal among others.  That has accounted for 2,600 new jobs and a $1.8 billion in investment. Dominion alone generates $4 million in tax revenue to this community.

The taxes from these recruitments has allowed us to build new schools and renovate others for our growing population.   Our school system is now one of the most technologically advanced in the Commonwealth and our national academic standing is on the rise.

Our industrial tax base has grown to 30% — exceeding our 20% goal and supporting a stable local economy and the ability to provide infrastructure and services for its citizens.

This community is now home to a state-of-the-art Public Safety Facility under the direction of the Warren County Sheriff, construction is underway for a state-of-the-art police department headquarters on a portion of the former Avtex property.  We have built new roadways and bridges and improved our gateways into the Town.  We have beautiful soccer fields and a state-of-the-art skateboard park – that people come from all over the nation to experience.

We have two large commercial centers located at the intersection of Interstate 66 and Route 340/522N, providing shopping, dining, banking and entertainment while keeping those sales and meals taxes in our local coffers. Twenty years ago when we crossed the bridges it was not to shop in our community, it was to take us to Winchester where we spent tax revenue dollars to help build their schools and infrastructure.

The boost in our local economy has encouraged private development along our historic Main Street where buildings are being renovated and small businesses are emerging in creation of a vibrant downtown experience for both locals and tourists.

So – although there are those naysayers and certain ones who would denigrate the work of the EDA or the County leadership – there is much good happening in our Town and our County which relates directly to solid and principled economic development and planning practices.  I look forward to the day when we will all appreciate our success.


Jennifer McDonald

Executive Director

FR-WC Economic Development Authority

Local News
Loaded Warren County school bus struck by car Monday morning
March 12, 2018

This Warren County Public School bus was struck by a car (below) Monday morning as it traveled along Royal Avenue. Below: ./Photos by Mike McCool


FRONT ROYAL – A Warren County school bus was involved in a crash with a passenger vehicle  Monday morning at the intersection of Second Street and Royal Avenue.  The bus was carrying about 20 students, according to a first responder at the scene.

None of the students appeared to be injured in the incident and the car’s driver, whose identity has not been confirmed, refused treatment at the scene.

A witness who saw the accident occur, who asked not to be identified, said the car that struck the bus failed to stop at the stop sign on Second Street and “t-boned” the bus as it  traveled south on Royal Avenue.

Warren County Public School Transportation Director Aaron Mitchell, who was on the scene of the accident, said a statement would be forthcoming from Superintendent Greg Drescher.