Reaction to FY 2016 Budget

April 23, 2015

Presidential candidate Governor Ronald Reagan made the phrase “there they go again” popular during the 1980 presidential debate against incumbent President Jimmy Carter, and it has been firmly embedded in the political lexicon to describe misplaced and repetitive behaviors on important policy issues by politicians.

That is exactly what happened when the Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted on the FY 2016 budget and, by a 6 – 2 margin, increased taxes on homeowners by 3.88% this year, and by more than 23% over the Five-Year Plan (when compounded).

Four years ago, I made a firm promise to each of you that I would work hard to keep taxes as low as possible, and I was proud to keep that commitment by being one of two members of the Board of County Supervisors to vote “no” on this huge tax increase that triggers an unsustainable level of spending by the County over the next several years.

My colleague, Supervisor Jeanine Lawson of the Brentsville District, joined me in standing up for the taxpayers and for responsible spending.

A 3.88% tax increase this year, followed by a 23% tax increase over the next five years, is an unfair burden to be placing on hard-working families in our County. This tax increase ignores the economic reality that the Northern Virginia region is struggling mightily to come out of the Great Recession and the impacts of Sequestration.

I firmly believe that the majority of citizens in Prince William County, including those of us who live in the Gainesville District, are willing to pay our fair share of taxes to fund government that delivers core services needed by our citizens. But the 3.88% tax increase funds a level of government that actually increases new revenue to be spent by Prince William County by more than $33 million in FY 2016, and more than $164 million over the next five years.

Supervisor Lawson and I, after listening carefully to the recommendations of our citizens’ budget committee, identified over $14 million in budget savings that would help reduce the tax burden. Unfortunately, the Board refused to adopt any of those reductions and kept the tax increase at 3.88%.

While that news is very disappointing, I’m very glad to have the opportunity to report to you that we have made progress over the last three years in promoting important policy changes in Prince William County government, including some significant policy changes that were adopted by the Board last night.

Supervisor Lawson and I worked over the last several months to identify Five Key Priorities that we believe would improve the quality of life in Prince William County and that should be implemented by the Board of County Supervisors.

Each of those Five Key Priorities was approved by the Board. I am grateful to my fellow supervisors for their willingness to support these needed reforms and programs.

Class Size Reduction Plan:

Supervisor Lawson and I proposed a revolutionary program to reform how we fund education in Prince William County, specifically class size reduction. I believe that our overcrowded classrooms have created a crisis within our school system. Bold action is needed to address this crisis.

Our plan works outside the current Revenue Share Agreement and puts $1 million toward class size reduction. The plan also incorporates elements from my Education Challenge Grant that requires the School Board to match dollar for dollar the $1 million toward reducing class sizes.

If fully funded, this program will dedicate $10 million toward class size reduction over the next five years. Although we were seeking more funding for this program, what the Board passed is a fantastic step in the right direction.

Long Park Water Project:

For years, the County has struggled to provide clean drinking water at Long Park and the Gainesville Library. All too often, the County has had to shut down the water due to either high levels of coliform or traces of ecoli. This is simply unacceptable for a park that services tens of thousands of people.

Last night, we were able to obtain funding for this much need project that will bring clean, safe drinking water to our facilities. The project should start soon and is planned to be completed in the Fall of this year.

401(a) Program for County Employees:

We felt strongly that our county employees, including our firefighters and police officers needed to have their 401(a) program re-instated. During the height of the Great Recession, county employees gave up their 401(a) retirement program and Supervisor Lawson and I felt it was time to show our commitment to those folks who work so hard serving our community.

Although our proposal to re-instate this program failed during the Budget Markup meeting, we continued to talk with our fellow Board members and the program won the support of the Board last night.

BPOL Tax:

For well over decade, the Board of County Supervisors has continued to put pressure on local businesses by charging a Business Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax. This tax discourages businesses from moving to the County and restrains small and medium-size businesses from growing. Supervisor Lawson and I proposed to raise the trigger level of the tax from $250,000 to $300,000 and it passed. This small move will help hundreds of small businesses in the County and will allow them to reinvest in creating more jobs.

Since taking office four years ago, this is the second time we have been able to raise the trigger. My hope is that over time, we can continue to phase this program out and provide relief to local business owners and attract new companies to move to Prince William County.

Body Cameras for Police:

Several months ago, I asked County staff to research the opportunity to equip our officers with body cameras that will not only protect our officers, but also protect the people of Prince William County. We heard loud and clear from our Police Chief that this new technology would be a valuable tool in their efforts in keeping our streets and neighborhoods safe.

Supervisor Lawson and I were able to identify one-time money to use to implement this program. We are happy the Board supported our proposal that will equip our officers.

I would like to thank again, Supervisor Lawson for her efforts in working on this budget. While we were not successful in reducing the tax increase to a more reasonable level, we were able to implement many reforms that I believe will greatly benefit the people of Prince William County.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as the Gainesville District Supervisor. You have my commitment to continue to fight for more efficient government, one that prioritizes education, public safety, and a high quality of life.

Sincerely,

Pete