The Choices Are Hard, But We Need to Act

January 6, 2014

With 10 children to raise, my family didn’t have the luxury of carefree spending.  Like most families, we lived by a strict budget.  My parents routinely had to make the hard choices between the necessities of life and the “nice to haves.” Our county is currently facing many of those same types of choices.

As the Board of County Supervisors begins the process of developing the FY 2015 budget, one of the biggest challenges we will face is how to solve the infrastructure deficits that have been created through a decade of neglect during the population explosion in the county.

One of the paramount issues we must confront now is the overcrowding of our classrooms that deprives our kids from receiving the highest quality education.  We currently pack students into classroom facilities that are too small to accommodate the number of students, and we put teachers into an impossible teaching environment where they have to manage huge numbers of kids.

Prince William County currently has the largest class sizes in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is not a distinction of which we should be proud, and it is not a problem that has just happened overnight. The issue of overcrowded classrooms reflects over a decade of neglect, and it’s time we begin the work necessary to correct this. I will continue to push both the Board of County Supervisors and School Board to make certain that our tax dollars are going directly to addressing these issues.

We also face a serious problem with the funding of our public safety organizations, specifically, our Fire & Rescue and Police Departments. The national standard for emergency incident response time is four minutes or less for 90% of calls received. In Prince William County, our understaffed public safety personnel are able to meet that standard only 48% of the time.  We owe it to our brave emergency personnel to give them the resources they need to better protect and serve the people of the county.

These aren’t the only issues we face.  As a Board we have to weigh these critical issues with the challenges we face in providing an effective system to manage the many sports leagues. Kids should not be turned away from playing sports in Prince William County, but to address this issue, we can’t simply throw money at the problem. We have to reform the system so it works more effectively and provides sustainable solutions.

The main source of all of these problems is not difficult to identify.  We grew too fast, didn’t prioritize our schools and public safety highly enough, and didn’t take measures to offset the explosion of new residents.  We could have urged developers to invest a little more in the infrastructure of the county; we could have spent taxpayer dollars more wisely in the past; and we could have exercised our proper oversight over the finances of the schools to ensure that money gets spent in the classroom.

The problems we face are difficult, and unfortunately the solutions will be much more difficult.

During this budget season, we have to make sure we are prioritizing our tax dollars to reducing class sizes, paying our teachers a competitive wage, addressing the needs of our public safety personnel, and reforming the county’s policies towards sports leagues.

With one of the highest tax rates in Virginia, people still struggling to keep employment, and the cost of goods continuing to rise, we can’t simply raise taxes.  As a Board, we were elected to make the hard choices.  All too often, politicians keep on raising taxes so they never have to make those types of decisions.

My Dad would always say that “anyone can spend money; the key is making sure you’re spending money on the right things.” The challenges we face in the county won’t be solved overnight, but the path to the right solutions needs to start with the Board of County Supervisors making those tough choices.