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New boundaries, new vision in Port Royal

Tuesday marked an important chapter in Port Royal’s history.

New boundaries, making the tiny town on the Rappahannock River five times the size it used to be, officially went into effect.

Port Royal was just 78 acres until this week, when it expanded to approximately 481 acres.

A circuit court judge approved the new boundaries on June 25.

The new town limits are now about 500 feet west of U.S. 301, and fold in the intersection of U.S. 301 and U.S. 17.

The occasion was celebrated without much fanfare from the fewer than 200 residents of the town in the northeastern part of Caroline County, but many are excited about the town’s future.

“We are very happy,” said newly appointed Town Manager Bill Wick.

Town Mayor Nancy Long said the county helping the town is a good thing.

“The boundary line adjustment means the county and the town realize it’s the best thing for everybody,” she said.

Over the past few years, the town has been struggling to survive.

Port Royal doesn’t collect real estate or personal property taxes—those go to the county.

Instead, it generates revenue from other sources: grants, parking decal fees, local sales taxes, a business license tax, a utility tax it receives from Dominion Virginia Power and a communications tax from Verizon.

The town’s economy suffered a blow when Union First Market Bank left in May 2012, taking with it about $8,000 in revenue—roughly one-third of the town’s income.

The new boundaries will generate another $60,000 annually for the town.

It will mainly come from the businesses that will be folded into the town.

With a more solid financial base, the town will be able to apply for grants to help its crumbling infrastructure.

The town is in need of a new water system and is facing decisions about whether the system should be town-run or privatized.

With more land and more money, the town has plans for the future.

“Nothing’s going to change in the blink of an eye,” Long said.

The town will be able to create a “rainy-day fund” for projects and future improvements.

The most immediate plans include updating and revising the town’s Comprehensive Plan and its zoning and subdivision ordinances.

“A lot of the first year or two will be paperwork-type stuff,” Long said.

There are also plans to make the historic town more of a tourist attraction.

The building where the bank used to be was turned into a history museum.

There are plans to open another small museum, a historic doctor’s office and a welcome center.

Long said they want more tourism, local jobs, events and town pride.

A new tradition started last fall—the Charter Day Festival, celebrating the signing of the town’s charter in 1744.

A pier on the Rappahannock River, off King Street, is in the works, as well.

It could be constructed as soon as mid-July.

Recently, the town learned that it is in danger of losing its post office.

Long said it would be a great loss to the town because it’s not only a post office, but a community gathering place. The closest ones are miles away and not convenient for town residents.

The town gained nearly 40 new residents with the change.

“It’s not a lot of extra feet, but when you’re as small as we are, it makes a difference,” Long said.

Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413