Front Royal Council declines tax hikes

The no-taxes, no-rezoning, no-matter-what turnout was small, and apparently bad spellers as well.

The no-taxes, no-rezoning, no-matter-what turnout was small, and apparently bad spellers as well.

FRLP rezoning hurdles veritable Sayre filibuster

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

In an unexpected development Monday night – or should we say Tuesday morning – the Front Royal Town Council failed to authorize real estate and personal property tax increases as a means to make up a projected $1.2 million revenue shortfall for flat funding of the town’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget.

An anticipated replay of a Feb. 22, 4-3 first reading vote of approval was aborted when tax opponent Shae Parker abstained, leading to what initially appeared to be a 3-2 vote of approval of the proposed tax hikes.

However, Town Attorney Tom Robinett informed an initially surprised Mayor Eugene Tewalt that Parker’s abstention blocked the mayor’s required 4th vote of approval – or a “super majority” of the full council membership – on the tax increases. Robinett, who has found his own position mentioned for potential staff cuts to balance the coming town budget, said that by state code and the town charter the mayor could only cast the required 4th vote of approval to break a 3-3 tie.

Perhaps ironically as explained to us, Parker, who was appointed to assume Tewalt’s council seat when the latter was elected mayor two years ago, cannot legally cast a deciding vote in the affirmative on budgetary appropriations of over $500. However, Robinett said the issue at hand Monday night was a different statute than the one that resulted in a 2009 attorney general’s opinion that appointed municipal board members cannot vote on major budgetary appropriations.

Though not quite of voting age, Nina Richards and Morgan Evans urged council not to cut Samuels Public Library funding.

During public comments at the meeting’s outset, 33 of 41 speakers urged council to do what it must to maintain exiting levels of service – particularly regarding law enforcement and the town’s share of public library funding – even if it took raising taxes on their homes and cars. – “I don’t want you raising my taxes either, but services aren’t free,” Meredith Evans told council of the public consensus expressed to council the evening of March 8th. Even a planned Tea Party tax protest evaporated with nary a whimper when movement leader Tim Ratigan urged citizen volunteerism to help make ends meet, rather than a blanket condemnation of taxes in the wake of a budget discussion with Town Manager Michael Graham. However, council’s vote at about 1:10 a.m. occurred in front of far less than the standing room only full house majority out in support of maintaining town staff and services.

The rejected increases would have been from 7 to 10 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value and from 60 to 74 cents per $100 of assessed personal property value. Neither rate has been raised in a decade.

“Thank you, Mr. Parker,” Chris Holloway, who was joined by Tom Sayre in voting against the increases, said after the motion to approves, defeat was explained.

The pre-meeting Tea Party attracted only three, organizer Tim Ratigan, Seton Home School's Mary Kay Clark and "boxed in" Ed Joslin, as well as one "non-member" supporter, Danny Campbell, who is not pictured.

The pre-meeting Tea Party attracted only three, organizer Tim Ratigan, Seton Home School's Mary Kay Clark and "boxed in" Ed Joslin, as well as one "non-member" supporter, Danny Campbell, who is not pictured.

Parker’s abstention appeared to be a legislative end run of the council majority’s will – Tewalt had sided with Vice Mayor Bret Hrbek, Tom Conkey and Carson Lauder in seeing the proposed hikes as preferable to a suggested dependence on luxury taxes, including meals, lodging and cigarettes – or cuts to town services and staff or pay rates.

In arguing against reliance on such luxury taxes, Conkey worried over their potential impact on already struggling town businesses trying to compete with national chains in the county’s 522 north corridor. Conkey also pointed out the full 3-cent hike in the real estate tax would equal about $7.33 per month – or $90 per year – on an assessed $300,000 home.

Hrbek worried that further raids on the already depleted town General Fund surplus would end up costing the town its Triple-A financial rating on a pending bond issue on federally-mandated wastewater treatment plant improvements. The difference between Triple-A interest rates of around 4.5 percent, compared to 7 or 8 percent on a $40 million bond issue could cost town citizens a lot more than the proposed tax hikes, Hrbek said.

Tom Sayre may be calculating the number of votes - his - council opposition to the FRLP rezoning had prior to what was a 5-1 vote of approval of the long-negotiated rezoning - or maybe he was just saying "high" to his favorite photographer.

Tom Sayre may be calculating the number of votes - his - council opposition to the FRLP rezoning had prior to what was a 5-1 vote of approval of the long-negotiated rezoning - or maybe he was just saying "high" to his favorite photographer.

But not to worry – Holloway, Sayre and Parker, the latter two up for reelection this spring, insisted the necessary cuts could be found in town services to couple with luxury taxes to balance the budget with minimal financial harm to the town and its citizens.

FRLP approved

With all the budget turmoil, it was a somewhat anti-climactic 5-1 vote of approval after nearly two years of negotiations for the Front Royal Limited Partnership rezoning proposal on the town’s east side off Happy Creek and Shenandoah Shores Road. Only Tom Sayre voted against the rezoning to allow 320-residential units on 149 acres previously zoned for 99 units on one-acre lots.

Applicant David Vazzana’s proffer package totaled $7.36 million, including much sought after transportation infrastructure improvements for an already failing east side road system. Replying to a question from Sayre, Interim Planning Director Bruce Drummond pointed out there were 3,000 buildable lots in the county further east that would eventually dump traffic into town with or without the proffered road improvements.

Perhaps Tea Party supporter Ed Joslin should have taken his own advice not to get "boxed in" prior to attempting to get seated at Monday's Front Royal Town Council meeting.

Perhaps Tea Party supporter Ed Joslin should have taken his own advice not to get "boxed in" prior to attempting to get seated at Monday's Front Royal Town Council meeting.

Vazzana has offered to construct 4 of 5 phases of an East-West Connector Road from Shenandoah Shores Road to the Manassas Avenue Junction to Eighth Street. The town would be responsible for constructing the balance from the Manassas Junction Railroad tracks to Commerce Avenue. If it elected not to fund that final stretch of road, the transportation proffers would divert to Leach’s Run Parkway, a North-South Connector Road between Happy Creek and Shenandoah Shores to John Marshall Highway.

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Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Dear Roger:

    I am surprised at your unusual somber state regarding reporting of the events of Mon-Tues town’s meeting. Maybe you were just exhausted from being there the whole time. I did leave at 11:00 pm having no interest in the FRLP zoning issue. What seemed to me to be an easy decision, based on what the people of Front Royal wanted, (isn’t that what elected officials are most interested in?) was to do what was necessary to maintain the status of our present services and amenities provided to the Town’s residents. Why Shae Parker got off easy for his abstaining (cop out)is a mystery to me. Was he awake and listening during the proceedings? No mention was made concerning the petty squabbling between Tom Sayre and Brett Hrbek, who appeared to be carrying a grudge from High School where both were courting the same girl. What an embarassment to the political process. No mention was made of the question, Who would be willing to help? How many people stood up? What a message that sent to anyone who didn’t already know what the real problems are in this Town. People are going to lose their homes over a $3.00/week increase in their tax bills? Please! Most of the whiners would only be impacted less than $2.00 and those that have $500,000 plus homes, I’d rather not here about their problems anymore than the guy driving an SUV when gas prices go up again. No mention of why Mike Graham is in this predicament in the first place due to no fault of his own. You can’t find enough nickels and dimes left in squeezing out any additional savings from various services and departments to make up a $1 million plus deficit. The tax increase was necessary and it was time to pay the piper. Why should everyone expect to get the same and better services and amenities the past 10 years without paying additional for them? That’s unrealistic. This was clearly a question of TRUST in our local government. Clearly, our elected officials don’t trust Mike Graham and his ability to effectively run the Town. I heard the facts and the people seemed to have heard them and agreed that the choice was to raise taxes. I know who was hard of hearing after the vote was taken, and I also know who played dumb. Always enjoy your take on things, but this time you seemed to surrender to the inevitable political shannigans.

    Jerry

  2. FRLP approval is, without question, in the best interest of the community. I can say with complete conviction that David Vazzana and the FRLP have the interest of the people and more importantly, the community, at the forefront of every move they make. I have never seen a more community-minded endeavor in all my years of legal, developmental, and environmental work.


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