Hundreds of Citizens Ask BOCS to Advertise Higher Tax Rate

| February 25, 2014 | 0 Comments | News

Teachers and other citizens intently watch citizen's time as broadcasted over the lobby television.

Hundreds of citizens of Prince William County rallied the Board of County Supervisors at their late night Feb. 25 meeting to support the advertised county tax rate as it was in FY14 ($1.181 for every $100 value of assessed value) even though that could translate into higher taxes. 

The advertised tax rate is not the adopted tax rate, and the supervisors have until April to adopt the actual tax rate for FY15. In the meantime, they have the opportunity, as Chairman At-Large Corey Stewart said, to gather more information on the funds that will be allotted by the state, as well as have further time to study the budget.

However, many of the speakers Tuesday evening not only asked for a higher advertised tax rate, but also for higher adopted tax rates to fund county priorities. As county assessments have increased 7.5 percent, this could lead to a large tax increase, but it would also allow the county the opportunity to finally fund the crucial programs and facilities that have been dramatically scaled back during recession years.

Young ball players from the Gainesville Haymarket Baseball League attended to tell supervisors to fund field and lights.

The citizens who spoke presented a united message, “Our Prince William County.” To signify that message, the Coalition for Prince William Human Services provided large stickers with the slogan for citizens to wear. In addition, the Prince William Education Association organized its teachers, many of whom wore bright blue t-shirts that read, “Class Size Matters.”

Frances Harris, who is the chair of the Prince William Human Services Coalition, said, “It was a group of us in the nonprofits who got together, because government members of the coalition cannot advocate.”

The nonprofit members presented a united message to the supervisors, which is that Prince William is one community and each aspect of human services, education, public safety and transportation are “interconnected.”

“We choose an image we could really demonstrate. People could relate to a knitting garment, and if you take a thread out, it all unravels,” Harris said. “We’re all threads in that fabric.”

Over the past few weeks, Harris said her coalition has made a concerted effort to educate people on the issues.

Betty Dean of Occoquan, who also works closely with the coalition, told the supervisors during Citizens Time that, “It is my Prince William; it is our Prince William. Communities are not built by those who draw boundaries on a map, but by the people who draw together.”

Dean told Bristow Beat that the message is really that the supervisors cannot continue to make cuts and not feel the impact.

“When we have budgets that don’t look at that whole picture, there is a tendency to say, ‘we can cut over here,’ and ‘it won’t effect over here,” Dean said.

Additionally, she said that for too many years the only conversation on the board has been, “what can we cut,” and she thinks it’s time to start having a different kind of conversation for the county.

Educators echoed a similar sentiment. While there has long been a concern about higher class sizes, this year teachers have become more vocal in articulating the effect of large numbers of students in classes. They told supervisors that it has increased incidents of misbehaving in classes, wait times for students, and that class sizes up to 37 or 38 students have even hurt students’ grades.

Jeanie Ingram said if the supervisors cannot properly fund the schools, “then we might as well post a sign on 66 and 95 that says, “mediocrity lives here.”

One science teacher explained that she no longer conducts some of the more interesting lab experiments in her classes, as it would be a safety hazard to the 38 students in her class. A kindergarten teacher also explained how frustrating it is for six-year-olds to wait for help in class.

One parent lamented that this generation has received a disservice since the nation had placed standardized assessment above creative skills, which have driven our economy in the technology and information age.

A graduate of the CFPA (Center for the Fine and Performing Arts) program said that he learned much better in his smaller creative arts and humanities classes at Woodbridge Senior High School than he did in his regular curriculum classes that were overcrowded.

Speaking on behalf of Prince William police department, one retired officer explained how the department is underfunded, which results in lower than national average numbers of officers per 1,000 citizens. He explained that when the homicide suspect was on the loose in the county, 70-75 officers were utilized on just that one case.

Many citizens came out to speak for county funded transportation amenities such as OmniLink. Seniors, disabled individual said they especially depend upon publicly funded transportation. Other people talked about the need for support for victims of domestic violence and how some of the programs can rebuild families through counseling services keeping people out of prison.

Some adults with some special needs explained how local government assistance allows them to live independently.

Others talked about how the arts and leisure activities Prince William County provides makes it a desirable place to work, play and live, but much there must still be improvement.

Sheyna Burt, chairwoman of the Prince William Arts Council explained that it is now time to invest in a better county.

“We’ve done the austerity thing. We believe we’ve done it better than most. But now it is time to advertise the current rate. Give us a chance to explore the issues, give yourself a chance to get better educated and informed,” Burt told supervisors.

Young members of the Gainesville Haymarket Baseball League spoke about the need for new lights at Catharpin Park, “behind the fence” so that they could hold night games and practices. Another person spoke for better upkeep for fields in Nokesville.

The first speaker at citizen’s time was highly critical of supervisor Pete Candland, comparing him to a “school yard bully.” She accused him of bullying people who have different priorities than he does for the county and focusing only on class sizes, when there are many unmet needs in the country.

One man asked that the supervisors raise his taxes by 10 percent. “Please raise the rate, not just hold the rate but raise the rate.”

“I’ll make a contribution by check as long as I live,” he said. “I’m 68, so I’m not sure how long that’s going to be.” He criticized the previous approach of the board, which often pitted government agencies against each other.

“We play the fire department, against the police department, against the school system, against the nonprofits. We do have enough wealth for all the needs people have been pleading for tonight,” he said.

A Prince William professional firefighter agreed, saying he came out not only to support his department, but police, transportation and other agencies.

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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