FRONT ROYAL – One thing not on the Monday, November 26 Front Royal Town Council agenda was a request for a utility bill consideration from Front Royal Company One of the County Fire & Rescue service. That request brought to council at a November 19 work session was for some relief, at council’s discretion, on what Company One Chief Harry “Junior” Kisner estimated at an average $2300-plus monthly utility bill, over $1,900 of that to electricity.
It was noted that the Town does not currently charge Company One or Company 10 on Rockland Road for water and sewer service. So the bill at issue for Company One is strictly for electric and garbage collection service.
Kisner told the council that company operating costs invariably left the station short on cash at the end of the month. He estimated a 100 percent increase in calls run by Company One compared to 10 years ago. While a town-based station located at 221 North Commerce Avenue across from the Warren County Government Center, with its complement of full-time staff Company One runs many calls as backup outside the town limits.
Vice-Mayor Eugene Tewalt asked Kisner if he had approached the county government about additional funding. Kisner said yes, but that they had not yet gotten a response.
Warren County took over full funding of countywide fire & rescue services, including in-town Company One in 1998 as part of the Route 340/522 North Corridor Agreement. That agreement was designed to compensate the Town financially for its extension of central water-sewer utility service into the county’s north corridor to facilitate commercial and industrial development to the commercial tax base benefit of the entire community.
At the November 19 work session, Tewalt noted that town taxpayers already contribute 50 percent to the County’s support of fire and rescue services through the County taxes town residents pay. Despite being its own municipal entity, the Town of Front Royal is also part of Warren County. That “double-jeopardy” tax responsibility for town citizens for countywide services the Town also funds has been a long-festering sore point with town officials.
So whether the County’s assumption of full operational financial support for things that are utilized countywide – like fire and rescue, the library and EDA – is a viable corridor agreement compensation plan or just financial slight-of-hand county officials utilized to make town officials’ double-tax-burden complaint disappear, remains a matter of contention for some on the town side of the argument with longer institutional memories.
Tewalt said he felt the Town should continue to hold the County to that full operational financial responsibility for services it has taken on – “I’m not in favor of it at this point – but if it gets to the point you need it to function I think we would consider it,” Tewalt told Kisner of added utility forgiveness.
That “point” the vice mayor referenced for reconsideration is likely a negative response from the county supervisors to Company One’s request for additional funding. Mayor Hollis Tharpe noted a consensus to hold off on a final decision pending a County response to Company One’s request for additional operational funding that would help cover its utility bill.
Town Council wrestles with new property maintenance authority
FRONT ROYAL – It’s rough having the power – especially when you’ve pursued it for so long, then finally achieve it.
That is the situation the Front Royal Town Council wrestled with at a December 3 work session – how to approach enforcement of a property maintenance code that allows it the same powers as cities and counties to enforce building maintenance standards within its boundaries.
As Royal Examiner readers may recall from tracking the issue over the course of the last year and a half, the dilemma is that while the town’s elected officials want the ability to enforce standards that will improve the overall look, livability and property values of Front Royal, how much is it going to cost the town government and its citizens to achieve these things?
The one dissenting vote to both readings of the new property maintenance code, Vice-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, has continued to predict unexpectedly high costs, even for what has been described as a lower-cost, middle ground option adopted by council nearly two months ago. Tewalt has also been critical of his younger council colleagues for continuing to approve capital improvements, and now additional code enforcement, without creating revenue streams to pay for either long-term debt service or required staff additions.
However, undiscussed thus far has been the potential return on investment from more aggressive enforcement if a corresponding rise in property values leads to increased real estate tax-base revenue.
After months of debate dating to at least July of 2017 for this council, on October 22, 2018 council approved the second reading of a new property maintenance code that took the above-described middle ground approach of five options presented by staff. That option, formerly known as Option C, enforcement-wise “addresses all structures in the Town”; “addresses maintenance issues” and “can be enforced on a complaint basis or proactive enforcement”.
At the December 3 work session Chris Morrison pushed for immediate implementation of that option – “I think things can be implemented now – tell me if I’m wrong,” Morrison challenged his colleagues.
He also suggested council give citizens some clarity on the parameters of what has been approved – that citizens can initiate action through complaints to the town government.
Morrison has been the chief council proponent of a new property maintenance code and a rental inspection program, the latter eliminated from consideration by a council majority as definitely too expensive to implement. And on the back end of his council tenure having failed to hold his seat in the November election, Morrison seemed driven to see a commitment to forward movement on what has been adopted by his colleagues before the end of his council tenure come January.
Morrison suggested outsourcing the role of a building inspector to make legal judgments on mandated repairs or demolition in the absence of council agreeing to fund creation of its own building inspection department. Morrison noted that council had set aside funds toward some kind of implementation of a building inspection operation. While he cited $40,000 available, staff appeared to put the amount as high as $75,000 in past work session discussion.
“So why can’t we outsource now … why can’t we do it immediately?” Morrison asked his colleagues.
“If we do it under those conditions I have no problem starting with blighted buildings,” Tewalt replied of a proactive approach with outsourcing as necessary when town mandates on corrective action are challenged by property owners.
Councilman William Sealock suggested bypassing use of Warren County’s Building Inspection Department and utilization of town staff for initial phases up to the point where a state-certified official whose opinion would have legal standing in court was needed. Morrison agreed.
Town Manager Joe Waltz suggested revisiting the option of partnering with the Town of Strasburg in enforcing a property maintenance code. Like Front Royal now, Strasburg has taken the first step of approval of a property maintenance code but has yet to begin enforcement due to cost parameters.
“We can put it out there and see what kind of prices are set,” Waltz suggested.
“We can start slow – there’s nothing wrong with doing it right,” Mayor Hollis Tharpe suggested of a measured, slow and inexpensive approach to implementation.
“We’ll let Joe get behind the wheel,” the mayor said of having the town manager explore enforcement and outsourcing options.
“We need time so the town manager can put a plan together,” Sealock observed.
“I will move as fast as I can,” Waltz replied.
Morrison said he felt some good had come out of the discussion that will allow the Town to move on complaints forwarded by citizens, as well as initiate proactive movement against derelict structures. However Morrison worried at the lack of “closure” on a process as council’s final meeting of 2018 approached on December 10.
Downtown parking: Mayor breaks tie vote on Virginia Beer Museum parking exemption request
There were two issues on Downtown parking at the December 10th Town Council meeting. The first dealt with designating and authorizing the Town Manager regarding the installation and placement of traffic signs and parking regulations and to remove all references to the On-Street Parking Policy in the Town Code by rescinding the 1993 Resolution authorizing approval of the On-Street Parking Policy. Download the this agenda item and background information here.
The second was a public hearing on exempting off street parking for the Virginia Beer Museum. Mayor Tharpe broke the tie vote on the first reading. Download the this agenda item and background information here.
These issues will be back on the agenda for the second reading.
BOS: Public Hearing Jan 22nd to adopt new rules for public presentations
At the December 11th Meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, County Attorney Dan Whitten ask for authorization to advertise for a public hearing on January 22, 2019 to amend the Warren County Code Section 56-3 re: rules for Address to the Board of Supervisors by Nonmembers During Public Comment Period.
Watch the discussion.
Ordinance Amendment to Town Code Chapter 72 (Special Events)
During a recent Business Forum several business owners discussed concerns with parking during Special Events held in the Gazebo Area located at Main and Chester Streets in Downtown Front Royal. Town Staff has proposed amendments to Chapter 72 to help alleviate this concerns and has also changed other areas of Chapter 72 to make the Chapter more user friendly.
Town Council honors departing Connolly and Morrison
At the December 10th Town Council meeting, Mayor Hollis Tharpe presented each departing Councilman plaques in recognition of their service to the Town of Front Royal.
WATCH: BMW Real Estate LLC has submitted a request to Town Council revise the proffers on property
has submitted a request to revise the proffers for their vacant piece of commercial property located on John Marshall Highway. The attached Staff report provides more general information about the property, legal requirements, and the specifics of the applicant’s request. In general, the Applicant is requesting the changes so they may better market the property for a new commercial use.
Watch the discussion: