Candland Advocates for County Priorities, Low Taxes, during Tele-Town Hall

| February 18, 2014 | 0 Comments | News

Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland (Photo Courtesy of Board of County Supervisors)

Gainesville District Supervisor Pete Candland held a tele-town hall meeting Feb. 15 to guage his constituents’ priorities during budget season.

During the town hall, Candland expressed that he is partial to keeping property taxes low; however, he told listeners that he is also a strong advocate that county revenue be spent on priorities such as education, transportation and public safety.

The County Executive’s Budget Proposal

The Gainesville District town hall was timely, since today County Executive Melissa Peacor will be presenting, as per the supervisor’s request, the FY15 budget at a 2.5 percent increase over last year’s bill.

Candland started his telephone meeting Monday evening by announcing that due to an error in anticipating revenues, the Board of County Supervisors realized that it would be $15 million short for FY (fiscal year) 2015 should the 2.5 percent increased tax bill be adopted without changes.

“Tomorrow, we’re going to get the County Executive’s budget, and she is going to provide the budget based on a 2.5 percent increase. Because of the $15 million budget shortfall, we would need, not to have a 2.5 percent increase, but a 4.5 percent increase, or some other number,” Candland said. “I think a lot of those discussions are going to start tomorrow when we see the county executive’s budget.”

According to county staff, the 2.5 percent increase is consistent with an increase in commercial tax assessments and not with home values, which rose more significantly. However, supervisors remain aware that the county felt the sting of federal sequestration and furloughs this year.

Candland polled his participating constituents to get their input on the various decision he would face as a supervisor during budget talks.

Should the county raise taxes or cut government?

Residents polled were asked to decide if the revenue shortfall should be remedied through tax increases, cuts to government spending or both. Cuts to government won with 62 percent of the votes. Thirty-two percent of listeners voted to both raise taxes and make cuts and only eight percent voted to only raise taxes.

One caller named Lewis, who was able to speak with Candland, told him that government spending needs to be kept in check.

“Cut back five or ten percent, and let them live with their budget,” said Lewis, who has experience working in government. “If you don’t do that, they will find a place to spend the money.”

Lewis advised Candland that government agencies and departments would find a way to work with less, but tend to ask for more than they really need.

“You’ll have to raise more and more taxes, it never ends,” he said.

Budget Shortfalls and Rollover Funds

Candland agreed that  there is room within the budget for cutbacks to be made. He gave as an example the extra $30 million found at the end of 2013 that was then applied to projects such as burying the power lines on Route 1 at a cost of $11 million and new ball fields at a cost of $3.5 million.Candland requested back in autumn that the money be held until his board learned more about their new budget, but his request was denied. Had the money been held longer, it could have plugged budget shortfalls and been spent on county priorities.

“I’ve really been pushing for the board to push policies to eliminate these great expenditures that happen outside the budget process,” Candland said.

Recovering from the Recession

Candland also sympathized with residents who are struggling to pay their bills.

“People are still struggling, still looking for fulltime work, getting out of the great recession we just lived through,” Candland said.

One caller echoed those sentiments. She asked Candland what help there was for people in the county whom the recession has almost left homeless.

Candland said that there are some countywide programs to help those people, but he also believes that high taxes could unfortunately push some people over the edge from just making it on their own to requiring public assistance.

What are the county priorities?

Candland asked his electorate what they thought the county’s number one spending priority was. He gave them five options: education, transportation, parks and recreation, public safety, or other.

A two-thirds majority, or 66 percent of listeners, named education as the number one county priority. Transportation came in second with 21 percent of the votes; nine percent was other; three percent was parks and recreation; and one percent voted for public safety.

Priorities in education: class sizes above amenities

Candland agreed that education is a priority for the county. He shared that he has four children attending Prince William County Public Schools; his wife is a former elementary school teacher. He also said he wants to make sure reducing class sizes and paying teachers a competitive salary for the area becomes a priority.

However, Candland also agreed with a caller, Michael, who said he didn’t approve of the way the School Board was spending its share of the county money in building expensive school buildings, especially the 12th high school that includes an aquatic center, and will be the most expensive to ever be built in Virginia to date.

“They just spend money like there is no tomorrow,” Michael said. “I don’t know why we don’t build high schools like the Freedom or Battlefield High School (rather than using more expensive designs). If we had money coming in hand over fist, but everything I hear from you, and what I hear from the School Board, we don’t.”

Candland said he thinks the School Board needs to prioritize reducing class sizes and paying teachers over paying for expensive new schools.

“My confidence in the School Board has waned a bit,” Candland said.

He said he would advocated for funding of schools, but he always wants to hold the school division responsible for how money is being spent. “I am a little bit nervous that we’re not spending our money the correct way,” he said.

Candland said the priorities should be reducing class sizes and paying teachers a competitive salary.

“I think it’s unacceptable that we have the highest class sizes in Virginia. I think it’s unacceptable that teachers have to make decisions over the supplies they buy. I think it’s unacceptable that teachers make less (than teachers in neighboring districts,)” he said.

Transportation: alleviating choke points

Candland also spoke with citizens about transportation.

Citizens brought up the need to alleviate choke points of morning and evening commutes within the county. Specifically addressed was Route 28/Centreville Road leading into Fairfax County and Route 29 and Sudley Road/234 intersection at the Battlefield.

Candland said that the Bi-County Parkway was not the solution. Although he said the plan had some merit, he would prefer VDOT spend its money on improving I-66, as people take Route 29 as an alternate route. He said that elected officials have difficulty getting permission to adjust the road adjacent to the Battlefield due to federal control over the Battlefield. Again, he said that if I-66 were to be significantly widened, there would be less of a need to take Route 29. As for Route 28, he said it is something they are looking to alleviate.

Historical significance of the region

Candland spoke with one caller, named Bill, who asked that the BOCS help to preserve significant civil war graves in the county. The caller also praised the supervisors for doing so much in the past decade to help preserve history and recognize the area for its history and heritage.

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