New Clarke businesses may get subsidy

Posted: June 20, 2013

The Winchester Star

BERRYVILLE — The cost of starting or expanding a business in the Waterloo section of Clarke County has been lowered.

The county Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on Tuesday to approve a subsidy program for water connection fees.

The county Sanitation Authority (CCSA) and county Industrial Development Authority (IDA) are partners in the program.

“We wanted economic development in the community,” board Chairman Michael Hobert said, “and we identified an obstacle. Hopefully, this will be an effective way to bring business to the county. I’m optimistic it will be successful.”

The action comes 53 weeks after the board sent a letter to the CCSA encouraging the creation of a program to spark economic activity around the intersection of Lord Fairfax Highway (U.S. 340) and John Mosby Highway (U.S. 17/50).

Operating a small wastewater treatment plant as the CCSA does costs more proportionally than a large one, so the authority’s water connection fees are out of line locally.

The onetime hookup fee was about $45,000 in Clarke County, compared to $23,500 in Frederick County, $15,000 in Winchester and $12,600 in Shenandoah County, the IDA was told last July. Clarke County’s connection fee could exceed $60,000 for a business that used a large amount of water.

Planning Director Brandon Stidham said a property or business owner who wanted to take advantage of the subsidy could have his hookup-fee payments spread over three years. All or part of that fee could be subsidized, depending on the owner’s needs and the amount of tax revenue the business is projected to generate.

The IDA will review and approve subsidies, pay them to the CCSA and be reimbursed by the county government. The county’s money would come from new tax revenues generated by the business and, in some cases, a payment by the owner.

“The program was made to be flexible,” Stidham said on Wednesday. “You might have a small connection fee, but it could be something a small business just starting can’t afford.”

The owner receiving the subsidy would be expected to achieve certain tax-payment benchmarks so the county government can recoup its investment. If those targets were not reached, the IDA could sue the owner to take back all or part of the subsidy.

If the IDA did not have enough money to provide a subsidy, it could approach the supervisors to determine if they were willing to use county funds to help the business.

Stidham said Zoning Administrator Jesse Russell, who works on economic development for Clarke County, is contacting property owners in the area to let them know about the subsidy program.

Supervisor David Weiss said he thinks the Town of Berryville could benefit from a similar program.

The first few applications will be reviewed by all three partners “to see how it works,” Stidham said. “Hopefully, it will become popular and we’ll have the system down pat and be able to expand it to other areas of the county.”

Attending the meeting in the Joint Government Center were Chairman Michael Hobert and Supervisors Barbara Byrd, Beverly McKay, John Staelin and David Weiss.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw