Citizen Divided on Question of Prince William Tax Rate

| April 9, 2014 | 0 Comments | News

Citizens who spoke at a public hearing about the tax rate before the Prince William Board of County Supervisors Tuesday evening were divided as to whether the county should adopt the advertised tax rate of 1.158, or approve a lower tax rate. Since assessments have risen, adopting the advertised tax rate could mean as much as a five percent tax increase for the majority of county residents.

The great majority of citizens who spoke said they felt the county needed to fund its unmet needs that supervisors had put on hold during recession years such as public safety and class sizes, cost of living adjustments and 401A program for county employees. Citizens also spoke out for community partners, such as the Prince William Free Clinic, pediatric services for Northern Virginia Family Services, OmniLink and OmniRide.

However, most of the speakers said they either worked as county staff, with county staff as  community partners, or directly benefited from their services.

Prince William Free Clinic 

Several citizens spoke out about the Prince William Free Clinic, saying it helps citizens without healthcare insurance and without other means to get the care they need. Sometimes it treats “chronic medical conditions,” said one woman, who works at the clinic. Without the clinic to fill that need, patients would go without prognosis and their condition would worsen, she said.

One man said the free clinic was a lifesaver to him when he was unemployed without health insurance and had to manage his diabetes. Another woman said it provided her with seizure medicine and allowed her to stay monitored by a neurologist.

Potomac and Gainesville Libraries

Citizens especially came out in droves to support the Potomac district library, otherwise known as the “Montclair Community Library.” These were  citizens of the Potomac district who felt strongly that their community ought to have a library, and thus the Board should honor their 2006 bond referendum to fund the Potomac and Gainesville libraries.

“I expect that the library promised in the bond issue will be implemented,” one Potomac woman said, noting that ongoing costs to maintain staff should not be used as an excuse to delay the libraries any longer.

“I expect that the staffing and maintenance of these libraries can be funded, and I believe this can be done within the advertised tax rate,” she said.

A man from the Potomac district echoed her sentiment, saying, “It’s a done deal. You’ve already done it.” He said in his industry, he would be fired if he delayed a project that had been approved for years.

“It was 2006; it’s 2014,” he said emphatically.

Police/Public Safety 

However, many citizens who spoke were  in favor of the increasing the number of police officers for public safety reasons. The BOCS still do not have a budget from the state, but Chairman Corey Stewart (R) had said that public safety is a priority before the libraries should he have to choose between them.

Before the recession, the Board routinely hired 25 new officers a year, but since 2008, that number has fallen between five and ten officers annually. As a result, Prince William does not meet the recommended two officers for every 1,000 citizens.

Pitting Partner against Partner

But Potomac district residents by and large rejected the idea that building libraries would mean sacrificing public safety. Another Potomac woman put the budget concerns back on the supervisors.

“It’s your budget to figure out,” she said. “Why is it a case of either or? Necessities that resonate deeply with residents are being pitted against each other. When I hear that, that doesn’t sit well with me.”

President of the Prince William Education Association, Jim Livingston agreed that the supervisors should not  pit one county necessity against another, which is why he advocated that they adopt the advertised tax rate and fully fund the five-year plan.

Reducing Class Sizes, Teacher Salary Increases

“If you do nothing else, hear the citizens of this county,” he said.

Livingston said he also supported funding community partners that “affect every corner of this county,” as well as providing the required school funding for new and existing teachers.

“Are you listening?” to the citizens concerns, he asked the supervisors.

Bill Hosp, President of the Prince William Federation of Teachers, also advocated that the BOCS “fully fund the school system’s budget request to begin to reduce class sizes, enhance school safety and fully fund teachers and staff.”

Fire Fighters/EMTs/Public Safety 

One fire fighter asked to fund the new fire units, saying that stations have already been built and paid for, and they now only have to fund the staff. With new staff, they will better be able to respond to emergency calls. Another fire fighter said that a second battalion chief is necessary because crisis incidents do happen, whether they be large scale emergencies or terrorism attempts in which “seconds, not minutes” matter.

Public Transit 

Other issues that community members advocated for is funding the Rappahannock Potomac Transportation Commission to fund OmniRide and OmniLink buses, so seniors and young people could get around the county without driving.

Lowering the Tax Rate Low/Fixed Income

However, not all citizens were on board for adopting the advertised tax rate. A few citizens spoke out against it, saying they are on a fixed income and could not afford the  tax rate coupled with higher assessment values this year.

One disabled veteran said he initially moved to Virginia because he thought he could afford a home and property taxes on his disability benefits. However, in recent years, he said he had to return to the work force. Should taxes continue to rise, he said he would have to decide between continuing to work or moving out of the region.

“We elect to you take care of us, and make good decisions, and to make hard decisions. I think you’re losing the confidence of the people in the county,” he told the supervisors.

He also questions why rural residents pay the same high taxes as suburban and urban residents. He said he does not even have a sidewalk which, as evidenced by his neighbor’s death, can be a safety hazard.

Making Tough Choices

A woman from the Gainesville district said that if the supervisors listen to everyone, it would appear that “everything was important.” She asked: “what is not important?”

“I think people also have to step back and say, ‘we can’t go fund everything.’ There is just not enough money in the world for us to continue doing that. It doesn’t work in the county; it doesn’t work in the state and it doesn’t work in the country,” she said.

To her, the priorities are simply public safety, then schools, and decreasing prison populations.

Staying an Affordable County 

A Woodbridge man noted his dissatisfaction with his own supervisor, a Democrat, and six Republicans on the Board, who ran on being conservative.

“Money’s been spent on crazy things like logos,” he said.

He also noted, “You’re running off the elderly folks,” explaining that people cannot afford to retire and still live in the county.

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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