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Port Royal officials plead with supervisors for boundary change

Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 4:55 pm

MILFORD – The Port Royal Town Council pleaded with the Caroline County Board of Supervisors to extend the town’s boundaries or else the town might cease to exist.

The two governing bodies met jointly during the regular Board of Supervisors session on Tuesday, and they discussed the request submitted by the town council via a letter in December.

Supervisor Floyd Thomas, chairman of the board, indicated the request would be placed on the agenda for the March 12 regular meeting to make a decision.

During the discussion this week, Supervisor Calvin Thomas, who represents the Port Royal District, pushed the other members of the board to come to the town’s aid. However, Thomas shunted aside those attempts.

If the Board of Supervisors approves the boundary change, it would shift $70,000 in annual revenue from the county to the town.

The town needs additional revenue. Without enlarging its boundary it is in danger of not being able to remain solvent, provide services to its citizens, or maintain its charter, the town council said in its letter to the board. The town council proposed extending the town limits to include businesses on U.S. 301 to the boundary of Fort A.P. Hill.

The proposed boundary change would grow the town’s area from 78 acres to 2,124 acres, much of it farm land, and from 126 residents to 160. More importantly, the town’s annual revenues would increase from about $17,000 to $87,000.

The town’s request was prompted by Union First Market Bank’s decision to close its Port Royal branch in May 2012. The bank accounted for about 30 percent of the town’s annual revenue. To  compensate for the loss of revenue, the town turned off half its street lights, increased water rates, and hired a new water operator at a lower cost.

The town also must make improvements to its water system, which is danger of being condemned, and is seeking grant funds for the project. Estimates range from $330,000 to replace the water tower to $1 million for a complete overhaul of the water system.

The town only has enough revenue to exist “month to month,” Mayor Nancy Long told the supervisors during their joint session.

“We have never come to the county for help,” said Councilor Jim Heimbach. “With the loss of the bank, our approach was to handle the problem ourselves. We try hard not to be a burden on the county. We are not asking the county for a bailout.”

The town contains only a few businesses, and many of its residents are renters who live in mobile homes, he noted. “A town can’t survive just as a residential district,” said Heimbach said. “It must have a business district. We are just asking that the town boundaries be where they already should have been to allow us to be a viable community.”

Thomas pointed out that the town has no real estate tax and no personal property tax. The town gets revenue from utility taxes, vehicle decals, business licenses, sales taxes, and food/beverage taxes, said Long.

If the county does not approve the boundary change, the town will be unable to provide water or other services to residents, said Long. The town pays for street lights, she noted, and maintains the town hall, which contains a library branch.

“I’ve read your town charter,” said Thomas. “There’s nothing in your charter that says you would cease to exist. You have to realize that this would be a revenue adjustment to the county.”

Heimbach quoted passages from state law, saying the town could surrender its charter and revert to unincorporated status, transferring to the county its revenues, services, property, and other assets. The county also would assume any town indebtedness.

“We don’t want to put them in that position,” said Taylor.

“We’re not asking for a huge amount,” said Long. “We’re just asking for a little from the businesses there.”

Taylor said the supervisors should support the boundary change because it would give the town a better chance of securing federal aid to upgrade its water system. “Look as this as an investment in an area that will grow,” he said. “I hope this board will not look at this as a loss to the county but an investment.”

Supervisor Reggie Underwood asked if the town has any other options besides a boundary change. It is the only option, said Long.

“I want the board to show support for the boundary adjustment,” Taylor said. “Without those businesses, the town will not survive. Let’s say we will support the boundary adjustment.”

Thomas, however, quashed Taylor’s attempts to approve the town’s request. “It’s not in anyone’s best interest to say we will make a decision tonight,” he said. Besides, Supervisor Wayne Acors was absent from the meeting, he noted.

A few minutes later, Taylor looked around the table at his fellow supervisors, Underwood, Jeff Black and Jeff Sili, and asked, “Is this something you would consider? I just want to hear from the other board members.”

Thomas stopped in again, saying, “I am the chairman, and we are not going to do that now. I understand your interest and enthusiasm.”