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Is Town Council ready to take action on bad debts?

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At the June 3rd work session the Town Council continued the discussion from the March 4, 2019 work session were Town Council had discussed additional options for collection of bad debt on utility accounts. The items Town Council requested to pursue were:

  1. Judgments for bad debt on utility accounts
  2. Raising the minimum deposit amount from $125.00 to $150.00
  3. Personal guaranty on business utility accounts
  4. Proof of Income

Town Staff is currently processing the first round of utility accounts to obtain judgments and continues to work to streamline the process. Town Staff will report back to Town Council with an update once judgments have been put in place or additional information is obtained.

Town Staff has recommended several options to include:

  • Requiring a personal guaranty and/or furnishing proof of income should help reduce the Town’s bad debt expense, but will make the utility application process more cumbersome for applicants.There are approximately 2,000 new utility accounts opened each year and approximately 240 are subject to bad debt expense after 5 years. The amount written off during FY2018 was roughly 1% of the dollar value billed.
  • Staff recommends raising the minimum amount of deposit on utility accounts, allowing staff to continue pursuing judgments, and possibly review additional collection options such as the personal guaranty & proof of income after one year.

As you can see in these related stories, the Town Council has been discussing this bad debt issue for some time. Is it now time for action? The proposed code (with changes) is below.

Town of Front Royal to write off more bad debt & update policy

$53,364.65 written off; new policy needed to handle bad debt on utility accounts

Town writes off bad debts

Town Council approved a revision to the Bad Debt Policy in March 2019 and requested to review/approve write-off of bad debt quarterly. Town Council is requested to approve the removal of 5 years or older of outstanding accounts receivable (bad debts) on the Town’s ledger for the second quarter of 2019 totaling $27,755.98 which is comprised of 59 utility accounts. All possible recourse of attempting to collect these amounts has been completed and the accounts have no activity for at least 5 years.

HISTORY: The Town of Front Royal had a large dollar value of uncollectible “bad debt” recorded yearly on the Town’s ledger, due to non-payment of utility bills which had not been addressed for over 30 years until 2012. The Town’s auditing firm, Mitchell & Company, requested that Town Council approve a policy that would allow the Department of Finance to review outstanding uncollectable debt annually, and abate the bad debt from ledgers after all avenues for collection had been exhausted. Town Council adopted a bad debt policy on November 13, 2012 that deemed an uncollectible account as having no activity for a period of 7 years. Town Council adopted a revision to the bad debt policy on March 11, 2019 that deemed an uncollectible account as having no activity for a period of 5 years to coincide with the Code of Virginia.

Code of Virginia § 8.01-246 allows action to be taken to collect on written contracts for a period of 5 (five) years. Written agreements are used for Town of Front Royal Utility Accounts. Based on the Code of Virginia, a Town of Front Royal Utility Account would be deemed uncollectible after there has been no activity from the account holder for a period of 5 (five) consecutive years.

Based on the utilities billed & bad debt written off during FY2018, the Town of Front Royal Department of Finance collected approximately 99% of the amounts billed annually before accounts were deemed uncollectible and written off.

Town Staff has determined that the accounts presented meet the criteria for uncollectible as determined by the Town’s bad debt write off policy:

  1. No activity on closed account for at least 5 years
  2. All other methods of collection have been exhausted

The amount of bad debt approved to be removed by Council is as follows:

  • Dec 2013 – $848,191 – approved for removal
  • Dec 2014 – $144,049 – approved for removal
  • Feb 2016 – $225,318 – approved for removal
  • Feb 2017 – $203,808 – approved for removal
  • Nov 2017 – $175,999 – approved for removal
  • Oct 2018 – $166,191- approved for removal
  • Mar 2019 – $277,974.34 – approved for removal along with revision to policy
  • June 2019 – $27,755.98

The FY19 budgeted revenue for the sales of electric, water, sewer, & refuse totals approximately $30.8 million. The amount of $27,755.98 represents approximately 0.09% of the budgeted sales.

Here is a list of the Utility Account Bad Debt
Balance – Service Address – Final Bill Due Date
680.88 84  – E STRASBURG RD #4 –  3/31/2014
205.63  – 604 EARL CT – 3/13/2014
415.08 – 112 W 16TH ST – 5/31/2014
312.82 – 1318 DIXIE AVE – 5/30/2014
171.26 – 1122 N SHENANDOAH AVE #6 – 5/23/2014
400.34 – 111 W 12TH ST #1 – 3/20/2014
216.37 – 706 W 14TH ST – 4/2/2014
422.72 – 842 W 11TH ST – 4/17/2014
207.44 – 708 W 11TH ST #3 – 3/31/2014
246.19 – 708 W 11TH ST #4 – 3/7/2014
318.61 – 650 E W 11TH ST – 3/21/2014
509.49 – 343 KENDRICK LN #20 – 5/31/2014
214.27 – 1400 MASSANUTTEN AVE #2 – 5/23/2014
301.63 – 122-B N ROYAL AVE – 4/17/2014
240.14 – 21-D W 6TH ST  – 3/7/2014
763.28 – 717 VILLA AVE – 4/22/2014
180.38 – 15 MASSIE ST – 3/7/2014
551.07 – 144 CHESTER ST #1 – 4/17/2014
44.71 – 8-A CHESTER ST – 4/17/2014
670.05 – 190 COMMERCE AVE – 5/23/2014
249.70 – 110 E 4TH ST – 4/17/2014
374.21 – 718 WARREN AVE #3 – 3/21/2014
1504.30 216-B E MAIN ST 4/24/2014
219.18 – 615-A VISCOSE AVE – 7/31/2013
418.60 – 518 W MAIN ST #3 – 4/24/2014
52.77 – 117 E MAIN ST #3 – 8/5/2013
403.30 – 413-A E MAIN ST – 3/7/2014
422.50 – 23 S ROYAL AVE – 3RD FLOOR – 4/30/2014
50.87 – 215 S ROYAL AVE #3 – 9/10/2013
120.72 – 124 W JACKSON ST #6 – 3/24/2014
63.61 – 405 E CRISER RD #204 – 3/20/2014
346.70 – 1084 FOX DR – 5/7/2014
326.83 – 19 SHENANDOAH COMMONS WAY #103 – 4/24/2014
139.26 – 17 SHENANDOAH COMMONS WAY #201 – 9/27/2013
224.74 – 13 SHENANDOAH COMMONS WAY #103 – 3/31/2014
586.40 – 634 BEL AIR AVE – 5/23/2014
492.39 – 425 BEL AIR AVE – 4/30/2014
1173.34 – 519 BEL AIR AVE – 5/23/2014
604.67 – 1433 HAPPY CREEK RD – 3/31/2014
84.19 – 541 S ROYAL AVE POOL/OFFICE – 11/28/2013
529.27 – 227 CHURCH ST #3 – 4/30/2014
247.06 – 315 PINE ST – 5/1/2013
4466.22 – 226 CHURCH ST – 2/13/2014
755.37 – 219 CLOUD ST #2 – 3/31/2014
1054.78 – 219 CLOUD ST #4 – 4/24/2014
72.49  – 320 CLOUD ST #3 – 4/14/2014
1024.16 – 320 CLOUD ST #5 – 3/17/2014
202.07 – 10 HIGH ST #1 – 4/14/2014
423.26 – 212 FLETCHER ST – 5/28/2014
152.05 – 322 RITENOUR ST – 3/7/2014
531.84 – 337 RITENOUR ST – 4/22/2014
854.11 – 101 PINECREST ST – 5/10/2013
178.54 – 27 ROYAL LN #3 – 4/2/2014
86.69 – 61 ROYAL LN #1 – 5/16/2014
338.63 – 125 BIGGS DR #8 – 5/23/2014
511.77 – 1443 JOHN MARSHALL HWY #5 – 4/2/2014
863.22 – 2 LAKE AVE – 4/30/2014
82.24 – 205 POLK AVE – 3/13/2014
451.57 – 209 POLK AVE – 3/13/2014
TOTAL $27755.98

This is the proposed code to Town of Front Royal Municipal Code 134-71 related to the remaining four items listed above.

134-71 UTILITY ACCOUNTS-PAYMENTS/TERMINATION OF SERVICE

A. DEPOSIT:
1. Amount: For an existing residential service location, the deposit required for Town utility services shall be an amount equal to the highest monthly bill for that location during the preceding twelve months or one hundred and  fifty dollars ($150.00), whichever is greater.

For an existing commercial service location, the deposit required for Town utility services shall be an amount equal to the highest monthly bill for that location during the preceding twelve months or two hundred dollars ($200.00), whichever is greater.

To calculate the amount of the deposit for newly established residential or commercial service locations, the Front Royal Department of Finance shall establish the deposit at an amount equal to the customer’s anticipated monthly usage of water and electric service, as may be the case.

If, at any time, the customer’s deposit is waived or returned, as set forth below, but the customer’s service subsequently is terminated for nonpayment or the customer has made four late payments during any twelve month period, a deposit, in an amount as set forth above, shall be required.

2. Deposit Waiver: Notwithstanding the foregoing, no deposit shall be required hen an acceptable credit history is furnished by the customer from a previous utility provider. Acceptable credit history is defined as a customer who can demonstrate that during the previous twelve months his bills were paid with no more than four (4) late payments on a monthly billing system or no more than two (2) late payments on a bimonthly system.

3. Payment of Deposit: Payment of the deposit is due upon execution of the service work order. In lieu of the foregoing, when the required deposit for a residential customer exceeds one hundred dollars ($100.00) but is less than two hundred dollars ($200.00), the customer may elect to pay one hundred dollars ($100.00) at the time the work order is executed and pay the balance of the deposit along with payment for the first month’s service. When the required deposit exceeds two hundred dollars ($200.00), the deposit may be paid in two equal installments with one half due when the work order is signed and pay the remaining half along with the payment for the first month’s service.

4. Interest and Refunds: Deposits shall be held in an interest-bearing account. Deposit plus interest shall be refunded either: (1) upon termination of the service account in an amount equal to the deposit and accrued interest minus any amount deducted to satisfy customer arrearages or other debts owing to the Town; or (2) upon the customer’s request after a period of twelve months of service during which there were no more than four delinquent payments. Upon request of a refund, the Director of Finance shall first ensure that customer does not have any debts owing to the Town. If the customer is indebted to the Town, the Director of Finance will apply any refund toward satisfaction of these debts prior to the refund of any money to the customer.

B. PAYMENTS:
1. Due Date – Fines and Charges: All payments for water, sewer, electric, and garbage collection services shall be due within 20 days of the date of billing. Accounts, for which full payment is  not received within 20 days, are delinquent. A late charge of 2% of the delinquent bill immediately shall be charged to the delinquent account. If the account remains delinquent for 10 days after  the original notice, an additional service charge of $10.00 shall be charged. Finally, a service charge will be required to reconnect service that has been discontinued due to non-payment. If the reconnection occurs during normal business hours, the reconnection fee shall be $20.00-first reconnection fee; $30.00-second reconnection fee; $40.00-third reconnection fee; $50.00- reconnection fee for all other times.

2. Allocation of Payments: During a delinquency in the payment for any service (electric, water, sewerage, or garbage collection) any subsequent payment received for services will be applied first against the most delinquent account which is not subject to a defense of any applicable statute of limitations.

3. Budget Billing: Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Director of Finance, in his discretion, may enter into agreements with customers for alternative billing and payment schedules with persons on fixed or limited incomes.

C. TERMINATION OF SERVICES:
1. Notice: The Director of Finance shall notify the customer in writing of all 20 day delinquencies, imminent service termination, and right to contest as set forth below. Notice also shall be posted on the door of the premise with the delinquent account.

2. Protest: The customer may contest the bill by contacting the Director of Finance for the Town of Front Royal who will immediately schedule a hearing on the customer’s claim that his account is not delinquent.

3. Disconnection of Service: If the matter is not successfully contested by the customer and arrearages remain 10 days after the date of the aforementioned notices, water service shall be disconnected. If the account remains delinquent after another 2 days, electric service shall be disconnected. If, however, the customer has not secured water service, electric service (rather than water) will be disconnected after 10 days. Notwithstanding the foregoing, no services shall be disconnected prior to a requested hearing.

4. Persons in Poor Health: Customer may seek an additional 30 days before water and electric services are disconnected if the Director of the Warren County Health Department certifies in writing to the Town of Front Royal Director of Finance that the customer has a serious medical condition or the customer resides with a family member with a serious medical condition. Upon providing certification the service termination may be delayed twice within a 12-month period, but may not be consecutive, certification shall be valid for period of 365 days.

5. Conditions for Reconnection of Service: Once disconnected, services shall not be restored to that customer until the outstanding balance (service fee(s), penalty, and reconnection fee(s))  for that service location is paid in full, unless the Director of Finance has approved other arrangements for payment in full.

D. RETURNED CHECK POLICY: If a check is returned to the Town for any reason, the Director of Finance shall notify, in the same manner as provided above, the Customer. If payment, in full, plus a $35.00 service charge is not received by the close of business three days after the date on the notice, all utility services to the customer’s service location shall be disconnected. If the customer presents the Town with more than two bad checks during any twelve month payment, payment by check will no longer be accepted.

E. BUSINESS ACCOUNTS. The Town shall require any entity not a natural person requesting a utility account to either: (1) provide the written personal guaranty of payment from a natural
person holding an ownership interest in the entity or, (2) pay an additional deposit amount equal to the greater of: (a) twice the average monthly utility bill during the preceding twelve (12) month period for utilities provided at the service location or, (b) $375.00. Any additional deposit paid pursuant to (2), above, after applying same to any past due balances, shall be refunded to the entity within a reasonable time after the utility account is closed.

F. PROOF OF INCOME. Customer shall furnish Town with documentation necessary to verify source of income to prove ability to pay average monthly utility bill for that location for the preceding 12 month period; such proof may include, pay stub, bank statement, copy of last year’s federal tax return, wages and tax statement (W-2 and/or 1099’s), pension payment, social security payment, child/spousal support agreement, and/or other documentation deemed acceptable.

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Doug Stanley reflects on 25-years in Warren County government

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In a statement emailed to the media at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, Stanley reflected on his time and career in Warren County.

“I have spent the past 25 years or half of my life serving the Front Royal-Warren County community, the last 20 as County Administrator. During that time, I have worked at the pleasure of the Warren County Board of Supervisors and appreciated the Board’s confidence, trust, and support over the years …

“I have been fortunate and blessed to work with an outstanding and professional staff of talented individuals who work hard to improve the quality of life of our citizens on a daily basis.

Above, the county supervisors and their administrator at distance as the meeting began. Below, Stanley acknowledged the board members following their action regarding his departure at the end of the month.

“Without a doubt, the past year has been the most difficult and challenging in my career. That said I believe we have made strides in bringing those responsible for the EDA embezzlement to justice and to recover what has been stolen as well as supporting the current EDA Board and staff to clean up the mess.

“To the community, I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to serve you over the past 25-plus years. Warren County has been able to strike a balance between economic growth and protecting the rural character, scenic vistas, and special places that we as a community treasure. I know in my heart that I leave Warren County a better community, a stronger more resilient community that is poised to continue to flourish in the coming years,” he concluded.

During that lengthy professional tenure here Stanley noted the challenges faced by the community regarding economic redevelopment after the closing of what was for decades beginning with World War II, one of, if not the county’s largest private-sector employer.

The north corridor commercial development overseen by County and EDA helped community bounce back from 1989 closure of the largest private-sector employer, Avtex.

“Over this period I have had the fortune and honor to be part of significant improvements to this community in replacing the lost jobs and tax base of the former Avtex facility with over $500 million in industrial development and the creation of over 2,000 jobs in the Route 340/522 corridor. This does not include the $1 billion invested by Dominion in the new power plant. The County has been able to attract significant retail development to the corridor which provides our residents with shopping and dining opportunities while generating revenue to reduce the County’s reliance on real estate taxes.”

And he noted the variety of capital improvement projects taken on, of particular note with the county’s public school system.

“We have also made tremendous strides in addressing the capital facility needs of our community thanks to the vision and support of the various members of the Board of Supervisors through the construction of numerous school, community, parks and recreation, and public safety facilities.

“I am proud that we have been able to make all of these improvements and additions to our community while still maintaining one of the lowest real estate tax rates in the region.”

EDA Board Chair Ed Daley will replace Doug Stanley on interim basis at month’s end

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EDA Board Chair Ed Daley will replace Doug Stanley on interim basis at month’s end

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Following a 2-1/2 hour closed session convened three minutes after opening Wednesday morning’s Special Meeting, the Warren County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a “Separation Agreement” with County Administrator Doug Stanley and the appointment of current Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Ed Daley as interim county administrator effective August 3rd.

Daley, now retired, has 35 years’ experience in the municipal/city management field, including in Winchester; Dodge City, Kansas; Fairmont, West Virginia; Hopewell and Emporia, Virginia. He will be paid at a $70 per hour rate. Daley confirmed that he will resign his EDA board position at the end of the month with the hope of returning to it upon the end of his tenure as interim county administrator.

Following adjournment of the special meeting North River Supervisor Delores Oates, who made the motion on the Separation Agreement, explained that Stanley’s final day on the job he has held since April 1, 2000, will be July 31, 2020.

Doug Stanley, right, greets Ed Daley and leads him to the closed session discussion of the shakeup in county administration. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mark Williams

Board Chairman Walt Mabe said that a press release on the departure of the only county administrator Warren County has had this century would be forthcoming, along with a copy of the “Separation Agreement” about an hour-and-a-half following the 1:36 p.m. adjournment of the July 8 special meeting. The board was in open session for a total of six minutes, three on each side of the 150-minute closed session.

In the County press release Mabe states, “We appreciate Mr. Stanley’s service to the Warren County community over the past 25 years. He has many wonderful accomplishments that have helped make Warren County a great place to live, work, and visit. We wish him the best as he continues with the next step in his career.”

Over the past year and a half Stanley has been a target of criticism on social media and by a few citizens at county board meetings as a symbol of the “business as usual” governmental scenario some hold as a causal factor in the EDA financial scandal. Whether such criticism is factually based or largely opinion rooted in the length of Stanley’s tenure with the county government or interpersonal issues remains to be seen.

As the 11 a.m. meeting time approached at the Warren County Government Center, 14 county staffers from seven county departments with no business on the one-topic meeting agenda filled a number of seats in the back rows of the public seating area. One, past and Interim Social Services Director (as of July 9) Beth Reavis held an “I Support Doug Stanley” sign.

Retired and soon-to-be Interim County Social Services Director Beth Reavis holds sign indicating staff support of the departing county administrator.

Perhaps that county staff presence led Board Chairman Mabe to open the meeting with a notice that any “outbursts or cheers or tears” would not be tolerated and that he would have the room cleared by the two Sheriff’s Office deputies present if such behavior occurred. As the motion was made to approve Stanley’s “separation” from County employment over 2-1/2 hours later those staffers all remained, observing silently.

Resigned or shown the door?

The press release from County Human Resources Director Jodi Saffelle issued at 2:53 p.m. is titled “Doug Stanley Has Resigned as County Administrator”

The press release begins stating, “Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Walt Mabe announced today that Douglas P. Stanley has tendered his resignation effective July 31, 2020. Mr. Stanley has been employed with the County since December 19, 1994, and has served as the County Administrator since April 1, 2000.”

However, in the Separation Agreement added to the release, it is noted in Points 1 and 2 that:

1 – Mr. Stanley, at the request of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, agrees to resign as County Administrator effective July 31, 2020.

2 – The County Agrees that Mr. Stanley’s resignation shall be considered an involuntary separation as that term is defined in Section 51.1-155.2 of the Code of Virginia.

That Virginia Code Section states that, “Such member may retire without the reduction in retirement allowance required by subdivisions A 2 and A 3 of § 51.1-155.2 upon attaining age 50”.

During the lengthy closed session, Stanley informed the media that his 51st birthday was the previous day, July 7, 2020. – Well happy birthday a day late, Doug, looks like you won’t lose any accumulated retirement from this “involuntary separation” resignation.

Stanley began his employment with the County as Zoning Administrator in December 1994. He became both planning director and county administrator on April 1, 1996, and 2000, respectively; serving in the dual role of county administrator/planning director until June 30, 2008, when Taryn Logan was named planning director.

Above, Stanley kills time as the 2-1/2 hour closed session discussion of his ‘Separation Agreement’ from his quarter-century place of employment progresses. Below, flanked by Planning Director Taryn Logan, Stanley chats with county staff present at Wednesday’s meeting.

Logan was one of the 14 employees, including several other department heads, present to hear Wednesday’s announcement without the need of a law enforcement escort out of the building. Other department heads spotted, masked and unmasked, were Fire Chief Richard Mabie, Parks & Recreation Director Dan Lenz, Building Code Official David Beahm, and Reavis on an interim basis at DSS, along with other staff including Deputy Emergency Management Director Rick Farrall, Joe Petty, Mike Berry, semi-retired Finance Director Carolyn Stimmel, among others, including Administrative Assistant Shelley Hayes filling in as deputy board clerk.

See events unfold in this Royal Examiner video:

Doug Stanley reflects on 25-years in Warren County government

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Supervisors majority poised to fire County Administrator Doug Stanley

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County Administrator Doug Stanley / Royal Examiner file photo

According to a Warren County Board of Supervisors Special Meeting Agenda circulated at 9:18 a.m. Wednesday morning, less than two hours before the meeting’s 11 a.m. starting time, County Administrator Doug Stanley will be terminated following a closed session this morning.

Following immediate adjournment to closed session, the first action item is “Employment of the County Administrator – Action Requested”.

That is followed by “Employment of Interim County Administrator and Interim Clerk”.

The county administrator also serves as board clerk. Emily Ciarrocchi is deputy clerk.

Following his mid, late-1990’s hiring as county planning director, Stanley was appointed county administrator, initially serving in both positions before the hiring of Taryn Logan to fill the planning director’s role. Stanley has served as county administrator for 20 years.

Stay tuned for a report on this morning’s board action as it unfolds in front of the Royal Examiner camera.

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Future look of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown prime work session topic

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In the wake of work session discussion Monday evening, July 6, the Front Royal Town Council reached a five-member consensus, Meza absent, to commit necessary funds from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program to proceed with construction of a Pavilion building in the Village Commons area anchored by the Town Gazebo and Visitors Center.

At issue is exactly where the money to fill what the staff summary update on the status of the CDBG Downtown revitalization project cited as a $150,000 funding gap will come from. It was noted that the existing CDBG budget has $130,000 committed to the pavilion/indoor restroom project.

The Council discusses the CDBG budget at the July 6th work session. Councilman Jake Meza was absent. Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The balance is likely to come from a combination of a minimally discussed “Streetscape” portion of the CDBG project, with additional funding coming out of unused portions of the Façade Grant program. Exactly how much surplus will be left out of the Façade Grant’s $325,000 remains a somewhat unknown variable.

While it was noted that only $13,395 has thus far been spent of that $325,000 façade grant total, staff and project consultants indicated that number is likely to start rising quickly as the 14 active downtown business participants begin submitting bid proposals for their façade improvements. One remotely connected consultant noted that some of those participating businesses have dual façades up for improvement. That variable is likely to bring the number of façade improvement applications close to the 21 or 22 businesses originally participating when funds were being allocated on the federal, state-enabled local economic revitalization grant funding.

Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick told the council that he thought the move to materials only bidding process from the original materials and labor, had saved that aspect of the project. Original bids including labor had come in unexpectedly high, threatening to tank that portion of the project.

Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock reminded his colleagues that a downtown pavilion catering to both tourists and local downtown visitors had been on the Town’s radar for 20 years – “I think we should make that our focus,” Sealock told his colleagues.

Mayor Gene Tewalt agreed, adding that the necessary funds should be located from somewhere within the project or Town assets “to show we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Also discussed was a downtown “Mural” aspect of the CDBG revitalization tied to the “Façade” Program. Individual murals were estimated at individual costs of $25,000 to $40,000. Artistic themes, general standards, and qualifications of applicants were discussed.

Christopher Brock, Town Zoning Officer explains the process for applying for a mural/sign permit.

Vice-Mayor Sealock recalled the downtown mural work of the late artist Patricia Windrow as a very positive, if now largely abandoned and painted over, part of downtown’s visual history.

While the future look of downtown and the Historic Downtown Center was a prime topic of Monday’s work session, there was no mention of the future of the Visitors Center operations and staff under the announced Tourism Marketing management of the recently contracted Norfolk LLC “Strategic Solutions by Tricia”. Currently, the Visitors Center continues to be open into FY-2021 with existing staff and management, though for how long no one involved directly seems to know. An online search of “Strategic Solutions by Tricia” indicated a past focus of the newly hired consultant in non-profits fundraising activities – but that is a topic for another day.

Watch the discussion of progress toward the revitalization of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District, as well as other topics including debt service variables on the cost of the I&I (Infiltration & Inflow) Abatement infrastructure improvement to the Town’s stormwater and sewer system mandated by the state; upgrades and replacement of Front Royal Police Department equipment such as body-worn and in-car cameras, the 911 radio system and radio consoles; the coming Town-County Liaison Committee agenda; FRIBA’s (Front Royal Independent Business Alliance) request for the placement of the “LOVE” letters downtown; and an expiring planning commission term in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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Tederick contract extended through council’s town manager search

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At its special meeting of June 30th the Front Royal Town Council approved a new contract extending the service of Matt Tederick beyond his previous contract’s end of the fiscal year termination date. The new contract commencing July 1 is on a month to month basis and differs from Tederick’s previous contract in that it is with him as a person, rather than a business entity.

That adjustment led Councilman Jacob Meza to comment prior to the unanimous vote of approval. Meza observed that the previous contract’s structure which did not deduct taxes or include benefits “saved” the Town what he estimated at $50,000. The new contract is at the same monthly rate of $12,500 as Tederick’s previous contract, but notes that the $12,500 “shall be paid net of any applicable withholding or deductions required by Applicable laws and Authorities.”

Without deductions Tederick’s contract equated to $150,000 take-home pay annually. Despite the lost “savings” Meza said he would support the new contractual arrangement.

The new contract observes that Tederick’s tenure will continue “until such time as a new Town Manager is appointed” and the “new Town Manager assumes his/her duties … following a suitable and appropriate transition period for the new Town Manager to familiarize himself/herself with the position …”

Matt Tederick presides as interim mayor during October 2019 meeting. Royal Examiner File Photo

As previously reported, council adjourned to closed session Tuesday evening for a “personnel” matter believed to be the first of two interviews of town manager candidates scheduled this week.

Tederick’s initial interim town manager appointment was approved by a 5-1 vote, Tewalt dissenting, in October 2019, effective November 9, the day after Joe Waltz’s resignation took effect. The October majority council vote to transition Tederick from interim mayor to interim town manager coincided with its vote, also 5-1 Tewalt dissenting, to hire the Damiani & Damiani law firm that shares an Alexandria business address with Tederick, to handle the Town’s civil litigation against the Town-County Economic Development Authority (EDA).

Perhaps ironically, Tuesday’s extension of Tederick’s contract coincided with council’s unanimous approval of a “Reservation of Rights Agreement” concerning its EDA litigation and claim of no liability to compensate the existing EDA for its financing of the Town’s new $9-million police headquarters.

Legal questions surround Town offer of one-time, recoverable FRPD payment

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EDA in Focus

Legal questions surround Town offer of one-time, recoverable FRPD payment

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Without accepting any responsibility for the nearly $9-million cost of its new police headquarters building, at a hastily called Tuesday evening Special Meeting to accommodate the turn of the fiscal year today, Wednesday, July 1st, the Front Royal Town Council unanimously approved a “Reservation of Rights Agreement” allowing the Town to pay a portion of the first debt service payment of Fiscal Year 2021 on that Town/EDA capital improvement project. The project was completed in October 2018 and the Town has yet to compensate the EDA for any of its costs in financing the project as will be elaborated on below.

Also approved during the eight-minute meeting prior to an adjournment to closed session for personnel matters believed to be the first of two town managers interviews scheduled this week, was an extension past June 30, and alteration to the contract payment terms of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick. That will be covered in a separate Royal Examiner story.

Councilman Jake Meza says the Town saved about $50,000 by hiring Matt Tederick as a contractor, but as of July 1 that arrangement no longer exists. Royal Examiner photos and video by Mark Williams.

As to the Reservation of Rights Agreement with Warren County, the authorized one-time payment of $10,528.95 covers half of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s interest-only payment of approximately $21,102 due at the July 1st start of FY-2021.

Contacted Wednesday morning, EDA Executive Director Doug Parson explained the EDA’s loan to facilitate construction of the Town Police headquarters have thus far been interest-only payments based on a 30-day month. That will change on November 1, when the United Bank loan moves to principal and interest payments. Parsons estimated that would take the monthly payments to about $50,000 from the $21,000 interest-only range.

The United Bank’s interest rate on the loan is 3%. However, the town council has taken the legal stance that it should only have to pay a 30-year, 1.5% interest rate it asserts was verbally promised to it by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. As previously reported by Royal Examiner, that 1.5% rate was tied to the construction project qualifying for a 30-year New Market Tax Credit Program (NMTC) loan with a nine-year waiver of interest payments. However, the NMTC program loans are for municipal capital improvement projects that create new jobs, which the FRPD project did not.

Councilwoman Lori Athey Cockrell took the opportunity of council’s passage of the agreement facilitating a one-time, half monthly payment on the FRPD debt service as an indicator that the council and its staff are working proactively with the Warren County government to resolve outstanding legal and financial issues surrounding the EDA.

Prominent among those Town-County/EDA issues is what EDA officials have called “an undisputed” $8.4 million Town “moral obligation” debt on principal to the EDA on the police headquarters construction project. With interest, the balance on that debt is $8.8 million, EDA Director Parsons told Royal Examiner Wednesday.

EDA Board of Directors Chairman Ed Daley was present to watch Tuesday’s council action unfold. Asked for a reaction prior to having a chance to read the Reservation of Rights Agreement, Daley said, “Anything that moves it forward is positive.”

However, after a closer read, exactly how far forward Tuesday’s council action takes the Town-County-EDA discussion, remains a question.

$440,000 invoice – $10,500 (recoverable) payment

The opening paragraph of the Reservation of Rights Agreement notes that the Town had received a June 2 invoice “ostensibly setting out all costs incurred by the EDA in constructing and financing the construction of the Town of Front Royal Police Department (‘Costs’), including the costs and expenses associated with the loan from United Bank obtained to finance construction (‘Loan’)” and continues to note those costs and loan “are currently the subject of dispute” in the Town’s civil action against the EDA.

It is a civil action in which the Town’s contracted Damiani & Damiani law firm appears to have mirrored much of the language in the EDA’s initial civil litigation against Jennifer McDonald and 14 civil co-defendants and which seeks essentially all ($20 million-plus) of the $21.3 million the EDA alleges was misdirected by its former executive director and her first group of co-defendants. In April the EDA filed a second civil action, adding nine defendants and “not less than” $4.45 million in recoverable assets to its litigation.

But as to that June 2 invoice from the EDA, an invoice implying a request for payment on a debt, according to numbers in that invoice what the EDA presented to the Town was a bill for slightly over $441,300 spent thus far on the $8.8 million FRPD headquarters construction loan balance.

What the County and EDA got in response was the above-cited agreement facilitating a recoverable $10,529 payment that on a closer examination appears to try and legally tie the County and EDA’s hands in future court proceedings.

Legal ties that bind?

That agreement references ongoing “discussions” between the Town and County “which may result in amending the Town’s claims in the Litigation (against the EDA)”.

Contacted Wednesday, County Administrator Doug Stanley said county staff had not been involved in those discussions. Attempts to reach Board of Supervisors Chairman Walt Mabe, Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, and County Attorney Jason Ham for information on the referenced discussions and council proposal were unsuccessful prior to publication.

Reservation of Rights Agreement, Condition 1 states – “The Town denies that it owes any moral or legal obligation to repay the Loan”

So, referencing the “Reservation of Rights Agreement” passed 6-0 by council Monday, it states:

“WHEREAS, to facilitate the discussions, the County has asked the Town to make the disputed July 1, 2020, payment on the Loan and the Town has agreed, subject to the terms and conditions stated herein.” – As noted above, what was agreed to was a payment of $10,528.95, or half of the interest-only payment due for July, under the following conditions:

Condition 1 – “The Town denies that it owes any moral or legal obligation to repay the Loan” followed by Condition 2, noting that its payment is calculated on the unrealized New Market Tax Credit interest rate of 1.5%, rather than the actual 3% bank loan interest rate.

Condition 3 – “The County and the EDA acknowledge that this payment shall not be construed as, considered to be, or argued to be, in any forum, admission for any purpose, including but not limited to of liability of the Town for the Loan or the Costs.

Condition 4 – “The County and the EDA acknowledge that the Town’s payment is for a disputed debt, under a reservation of rights, and the Town reserves the right to continue to deny liability for the Loan or Costs and to recoup this payment should the discussions prove ultimately unsuccessful.

And drum roll, please, Condition 5 – “All parties agree that payment hereunder shall be inadmissible for any purpose except by the Town to recover this payment as damages in the Litigation.”

So, while Councilwoman Cockrell called the agreement a sign of good faith negotiations in the public interest by the Town, adding that news reports the Town is acting other than in good faith concerning the EDA as creating “a false narrative”, is she right?

Perhaps the EDA’s and County’s attorneys would be the best judge of that – hopefully prior to the signing of the “Reservation of Rights Agreement” by County and EDA officials. For at issue appears to be whose rights are being reserved, and in exactly what legal context regarding the Town’s civil litigation against the EDA and any related litigation over the Town’s responsibility to pay for its $9-million police station.

Because according to the document approved unanimously Tuesday night by the Front Royal Town Council, the Town has no “moral or legal” obligation to pay the EDA-undertaken $8.8-million loan that financed the construction of the Front Royal Police headquarters.

Is that something EDA and Warren County officials really want to sign off on in exchange for a one-time, recoverable, half monthly debt service payment?

Let’s see, a total of $20 million or more at stake versus a “recoverable” $10,500 payment – what do you think?

Ed Daley – File Photo.

We asked EDA Board Chairman Daley his opinion on Wednesday after he had a chance to review the Reservation of Rights documents more closely.

“The first the EDA heard of this was last night, which seems odd in that we are asked to sign off on it. But we’ll need to consult with our attorney first,” Daley reasoned.

Of the contention on a lack of Town liability to pay for its police station included in the document, Daley observed, “The EDA was happy to facilitate a project like that. But it was their (the Town’s) contract, their design, we just helped finance it. I think they need to get their financing together and pay for their police station.”

After we read the conditions in the agreement to her over the phone, EDA Attorney Sharon Pandak lauded the opportunity for further communications on Town-EDA/County issues but was skeptical as to a recommendation on the EDA signing off on the Reservation of Rights Agreement as worded.

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