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October 1, 2019

Warrenton serious about expanding its boundaries

Photo/Google Earth
Annexation — or “boundary adjustment” — possibilities include “The Panhandle,” a commercial strip along Routes 15/29 north of Warrenton, and largely vacant land along Meetze Road to the east.
There’s not as much opportunity to be aggressive in economic development (within existing Warrenton boundaries).
— Town Manager Brandie Schaeffer
Town Council Priorities
1. Boundary adjustment

2. Branding

3. Recreation

4. Historic district and gateways

5. Housing inventory and affordability

The Warrenton Town Council developed these in August 2018, reviewed them in March and formally adopted its strategic plan in May.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Contributing Journalist
The Town of Warrenton soon could seek to expand its size through annexation.

After a year of county and town staff discussions, Warrenton’s council spent an hour in closed session Saturday reviewing a consultant’s financial analysis of property under consideration and discussing potential negotiations with Fauquier’s board of supervisors.

During its 5-1/2-hour retreat at Fauquier Hospital, the council also:

• Reviewed Warrenton’s financial position, including potential tax increases to fund capital projects over the next four years.

• Met in closed session for an hour to discuss updated information on the planned purchase of the BB&T building at 21 Main St. for a new Town Hall. That project would cost an estimated $4 million, including the $2.3-million real estate purchase and remodeling.

• Discussed affordable housing, “branding,” recreation and the historic district and gateways — which, along with boundary adjustment/annexation, the council last year identified as its strategic priorities.

Most of the annexation discussion focuses on the largely-commercial “Panhandle” along Routes 15/29 north of town and on property — much of it vacant — between the Routes 15/17/29 Bypass and Meetze Road to the east.

Incorporating The Panhandle — with three new vehicle dealerships and restaurants that include Outback Steakhouse, Denny’s, Five Guys and IHOP — would boost the town’s business and meals tax collections. The meals tax provides Warrenton’s largest single source of revenue.

The property east of town, perhaps including Lord Fairfax Community College, could expand economic development opportunities, according to Warrenton officials.

Town Manager Brandie Schaeffer told the council that expanding Warrenton could help “control your own destiny” in land-use planning and decision-making.

Within the town’s existing boundaries, “there’s not as much opportunity to be aggressive in economic development,” Ms. Schaeffer added.

But, the council and its staff also need clear understanding of potential annexation’s costs, she said. “It’s not just police calls. It’s not just ambulance calls. It’s not just trash collection.”

Tougher stormwater management regulations, which soon could cost the town almost $1 million a year, need particular scrutiny, as does Warrenton’s capacity to provide water and sewer service, according to municipal officials.

Warrenton Lakes, a 400-home subdivision just north of town and across Routes 15/29 from “The Panhandle,” could come into play.

Generally, municipal officials have said no thanks to potential annexation of Warrenton Lakes, where residents pay significantly higher out-of-town water and sewer rates.

With a real estate tax rate of 5 cents (per $100 assessed value), Warrenton would get less revenue while providing more services to that neighborhood if it became part of town.

Over the decades, Warrenton has expanded its boundaries as adjacent property has developed, including:

• The property along Walker Drive for housing and commercial developments, including the Lineweaver Technology Park.

• Construction of Walmart and then Home Depot at the town’s southern edge.

In December, the town hired RKG Associates Inc. of Alexandria to analyze the two areas identified for potential annexation, including use of “the fiscal impact model being developed for (Warrenton’s) Comprehensive Plan effort.”

The town, which already had RKG under contract for other work, would pay a maximum of $4,575 for the new analysis.

Strong balance sheet

“You are in very good financial shape,” David P. Rose, a senior vice president with Richmond-based Davenport & Co. told the council. “Make no mistake, this town’s well run.”

Warrenton has an $11-million “rainy-day fund,” equaling about 75 percent of its $13.7-million general fund budget, Mr. Rose noted.

The council’s policy calls for a 50-percent fund balance.

That means the council could use $3 million at any time for capital projects and maintain a healthy reserve.

Mr. Rose’s firm ran four different scenarios for funding a new Town Hall and up to $10 million in other capital projects over the next four years.

Those scenarios range from no tax increase up to a 5.75-percent meals tax and an 11.5-cent real estate tax rate.

The meals tax stands at 4 percent and produces $2.76 million.

The real estate tax stands at 5 cents and produces $850,000.

Davenport’s analysis of comparable and nearby communities indicates Warrenton’s tax rates rank lower than most. Other communities — including Chesterfield and Henrico counties in suburban Richmond — that recently raised meals tax rates experienced no affect on consumer habits, Mr. Rose said.

“Right or wrong, most people don’t really factor in the meals tax” in deciding where to eat, he added. “They don’t seem to change their habits.”

New Town Hall

Mr. Rose recommended the council consider debt financing for the new Town Hall project.

“A lot of banks are gonna be interested” in loaning money for Town Hall, perhaps at an annual interest rate as low as 3 percent, he added. “You have modest debt. You are in a very good position.”

The town’s study period for the building purchase expires Oct. 17.

After the closed session, the council authorized Ms. Schaeffer and Town Attorney Whit Robinson to continue final negotiations with completion of the purchase possible in November, when the council could vote to proceed.

Contact Editor “Lou” Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.

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Rnorden · October 1, 2019 at 5:34 pm
One of the biggest issue for me is the cost of expansion. Our sewer treatment plant with the current town lines is at capacity. The price tag for expanding the treatment facility, if it can be expanded where it is, is astronomical. Extra meals taxes are not going to be able to cover the cost.
Cammie Rodgers · October 1, 2019 at 4:58 pm
I'm all for better food at the restaurants that have to charge the meal tax. We have stopped going to many restaurants in the area due to poor quality of food for higher prices (except for OutBack and FiveGuys, maybe that's why they want to annex that area??). Better off shopping and preparing meals at home most of the time.
Dhmccaukey · October 1, 2019 at 3:28 pm
Bad idea Fauquier county supervisors the town has proven it can’t handle what they control now for example broad view ave
Traffic concerns along with public safety should not be able to move boundaries for sake of more revenue from meal tax which is over the top now unless you can improve services that are in place now
cmecamp · October 1, 2019 at 1:00 pm
It figures it's all about taxes , how about me get something for our return ? Warrenton is only 1 town in Fauquier county , it vote out things in the town that would bring in tax base revenue , but now its greedy and want to extend their reach .
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