Below is a letter that Congressman Wolf sent today to Governor McDonnell regarding the Tri-County Parkway. I’d like to thank Congressman Wolf for his leadership on this issue and for his steadfast representation of Western Prince William County.
After months of budget committee meetings, town halls, and negotiations with fellow Supervisors, I took a stand in yesterday’s Board meeting, voting to support a significantly reduced tax rate from the initially planned 4% tax increase. The tax rate adopted yesterday is nearly half the originally planned increase, and more importantly we were able to reduce the projected tax increases in the Five Year Plan – down to only 2.5% as the baseline starting point in each of those out years.
The significant reduction of taxes in the Five Year Plan, going from 4% increases down to 2.5% – closer to the rate of inflation – allows the Board to have a more meaningful discussion about reducing county spending. As a result of this action, we have moved the starting point for any future budget discussions much closer to the Flat Tax Bill that I would like to see.
Equally important, the new budget shifts needed funding to higher priority programs that will measurably improve the quality of life for families in Prince William County. The budget funds more police officers, an increased presence of resource officers in our schools to add to the protection of our children, and it provides for increased funding for parks, libraries, and services that truly do benefit all of us.
My clear preference going back to last year was to enact a Flat Tax Bill, but it was important to work with the other Supervisors to make sure the needs of the entire county were being met.
I fought hard to increase the share the school system will receive from the Revenue Share Agreement. Many said the Board would not touch that issue, but in the end there was a clear recognition that the issues of overcrowded classrooms and underpaid teachers needed to be addressed.
We need to do much more in the next few years to increase funding to the schools. This was just the first step as we try to get more money into our classrooms. I absolutely believe the School Board needs to do much more to identify lower priority programs that can be reduced in order to increase funding for class size reduction and keeping our best and brightest teachers from being hired away from us by surrounding counties. My hope is that the School Board will adopt a zero-based budget approach and make the hard choices to use this money to reduce classroom sizes and pay our teachers a more competitive wage
Additionally, we will now begin to set the parameters for future budgets based on actual agency spending rather than continually increasing off of the previously approved budget. In the past, steep increases to government agencies would be based on what was budgeted in the previous year, not what was actually spent. Moving forward, we will examine each budget based on the need and performance of each agency in the prior year. This significant reform has the potential to save us tens of millions of dollars in future budgets.
I’ll admit that I’m not 100% in agreement with everything in this budget, and there are many parts that I have serious concerns about. But the first step towards fiscal responsibility is to cut the rate of increase. Change doesn’t come easy, but you have my commitment that I will continue to fight to further reduce our tax burden, while ensuring that we are spending tax dollars on core government services. My hope is that as I continue to make the case for responsible spending we can get to the point where we can talk about actually cutting taxes. While I would like to see changes in this budget, I feel that this as an important starting point toward real budget reform that is respectful of Prince William County taxpayers.
During this budget season, both the Supervisors and county staff worked in good faith and, in the end, we were able to work together and fund the necessary projects that will continue to make Prince William County a wonderful place to live and raise a family.
At the April 16 Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting, I made a presentation to the Board where I analyzed the county budget in terms of budgeted expenditures versus what is actually spent by individual agencies. What I found in many instances is that the budgets for certain agencies increase every year even when they haven’t shown a need for more money. The outcome is that the county is frequently over-budgeting, and as a result, over-taxing our citizens. I believe that there are tens of millions of dollars in additional budget savings if we begin to analyze the budget based on past actual expenditures instead of past budgeted expenditures.
Below is a link to the presentation that I made at the Board meeting.
Two things are clear after Tuesday night’s Board meeting – first, it is obvious that each Supervisor in Prince William County is extremely concerned about properly funding our educational system. We participated in an in-depth, honest discussion that resulted in significant progress toward addressing our educational issues. Second, Prince William County classrooms are overcrowded and our classroom teachers are underpaid.
The heart of the problem is that we are underfunding classroom education, and the current Revenue Sharing Agreement (RSA) is not living up to its full obligation. At our meeting, School Board Chairman Milt Johns agreed with me that the current RSA share of 56.75% of county revenue simply does not cover the cost of new students entering the school system every year. He also admitted that under the current RSA, we wouldn’t be able to reduce classroom sizes by even one child over the next 5 years.
Over the years, too many new housing developments were built too quickly which put a tremendous burden on the costs of schools, police and fire protection, and other core county services.
Those new homes attract young families to Prince William County, and new families with lots of kids increases the burden on the school system. I speak from experience – my wife and I moved to Prince William County as a young family because of the lower taxes and lower home prices.
I believe we have a moral obligation to provide the best education we can for our kids.
Make no mistake, I believe the School Board can do much more to rein in spending on lower priority programs to apply more funding towards reducing class sizes and increasing teacher pay. I also believe that the School Board must look at ways to reduce their operating budget and find cost savings in CIP projects. During this time of lean budgets, should the School Board be spending money on electronic signs in front of schools or a new swimming pool at the high school? These are the questions that need to be asked if we are to be truly serious about reducing classroom sizes.
I was encouraged when Chairman Johns declared that the School Board is committing that any additional revenue they receive, above the 56.75%, will go directly toward reducing classroom sizes and paying our teachers a competitive wage.
As a father of three kids currently attending Prince William County Schools and a husband of a former PWC school teacher, I know that we have some of the best teachers in Virginia in our county school system. They do a fantastic job and I wouldn’t think of educating my children anywhere else.
Unfortunately, our teachers work in conditions that are not optimal to teaching our children. Prince William County Schools currently have the highest classroom sizes in the Commonwealth and we struggle to pay our teachers a competitive wage. It is clear that the RSA is not properly meeting the needs of our students, and I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that our county is among the only jurisdictions in the Commonwealth that funds their schools through an RSA, and we likewise have the largest classroom sizes.
After Chairman Johns’ presentation, I was even more convinced than I was before that we need more funding to our schools to reduce classroom sizes and pay our in-classroom teachers a competitive wage. Prince William County has implemented a Revenue Share Agreement (RSA) with the School Board that was developed in 1998, and gives the school district 56.75% of the county revenues. In my opinion, this funding percentage has become outdated.
Over the past several months, I have been working with my colleagues on the Board of County Supervisors to determine the best way to increase funding to the schools. It is my strong belief that during these extraordinary times of growth within our county, we need to take bold action. I recognize that increasing funding to the schools will require a significant re-ordering of the spending priorities by this Board and the School Board. It will require both of us to exercise substantial discipline and sacrifice to make the very tough choices between funding lower priority programs, against the priority of educating our children.
In the end, I believe this is the challenge we have to take on as a Board. Whether we decide to increase the school share to 62%, 60%, or 58%, we have to take action to better fund our school system.
Below is a letter that I sent to the County Executive asking for information on the budget impacts of increasing funding to Prince William County schools by altering the Revenue Share Agreement.
Growing up as a teenager in a family of ten kids, an early lesson I learned was that there was not a lot extra spending money readily available. With so many mouths to feed, my parents spent their hard-earned money on the essentials needed in raising a family of that size. We didn’t go on many vacations, our cars were almost always older than I was, but through my parents’ hard work and determination, we never wanted for the basics of life.
One day, when I was complaining to my parents about how our family didn’t have the latest gadgets, my father told me something that has stuck with me and helped guide me through the good and the tough times. He said, in his always plain-spoken, blunt way, “Any fool can spend money. But my job is to make sure we cover all the basics before we spend a dime on anything else.”
Our county government is essential to the quality of life we have here in Prince William. The taxes that are collected are critical in funding core services that help protect our families, educate our kids, and help us live our lives. But money is not infinite and, in the end, we have to balance government spending with the tax burden we place on citizens.
I believe that the core responsibilities of government include education, public safety, and critical infrastructure to protect the quality of life for our families. We must properly fund these core services and do so in a reasonable, responsible way. Any dollar the County spends beyond these basic services needs to be heavily scrutinized, debated, and justified as a reasonable expense for our local government.
With the reality of sequestration, an economy that is still struggling, and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, we have to reduce the growth of our government bureaucracy and examine all our agency budgets.
Families are struggling in this economy. Seniors are seeing their retirement savings depleted; workers are making do with no pay increases; and the spending power of families is declining because of federal monetary policies are eroding the strength of the economy. Robyn and I have sat at the kitchen table many nights working on stretching our budget, juggling our money to provide for our kids, and doing everything we can to “cover the basics before we spend a dime on anything else.”
My Dad taught me well, and it is a lesson that is very useful today in our family.
During this budget season, you have my commitment that I will continue to push to responsibly fund the core priorities of government – education, public safety, and critical infrastructure.
However, with every dime we spend beyond that, the words of my father will continue to ring in my ears and be a constant reminder of what our priorities truly need to be in government.
There is an old management trick we use in the private sector when it comes to budget season. If we see a department that has grown their budget consistently over several years, we will freeze their budget for the upcoming year.
This time-tested budget strategy forces that department to prioritize their spending and examine each position, program, and objective. More often than not, department heads realize that they don’t need those increases they have grown accustomed to requesting each year and can actually live within their current budget.
Over the last 12 months as the Gainesville Supervisor, I have advocated the position that we should freeze the growth of our spending to our current levels. This would not only allow families some breathing room to recover from the effects of the “Great Recession” but also allow them to adjust to the tax increases brought on by the Feds. While this relief is the primary reason I’ve chosen to fight so hard for taxpayer relief, it is not the only reason.
By freezing government spending to current levels, this will force our government agencies to examine their budgets and prioritize their spending. They will have to justify each program and weigh the pros and cons of each initiative.
As many people have figured out, I am a fiscal conservative. But being a fiscal conservative is more than just opposing tax increases; it’s about ensuring that taxpayer money is spent efficiently on those core government responsibilities – transportation, public safety, and education.
After having met with hundreds of people this past year from government agencies to school teachers, I understand that we need to actually increase spending in certain areas. We need to provide more funding to our schools, we need to increase the number of firefighters and police officers, we need to expand our adult detention center, we need to fund more road projects, and we need to build and complete our parks.
I’ve also realized over this past year, there are many areas within the county budget where we can reduce spending to offset these worthwhile projects. Let me repeat this, spending increases can be offset by spending cuts. Some would have you believe that taxes have to be raised consistently over the next five years or our county government will fall apart, but this is simply not true.
Within the coming weeks, I will offer up a new budget proposal that will look to further invest in the core responsibilities of government, while making sure our government is spending taxpayer money as efficiently as possible. This is the Republican philosophy on government and one that I will continue to stand up for and passionately advocate.
It’s about more than just not raising taxes; it’s about being responsible.
I recently sent out an email reviewing my first year as Gainesville District Supervisor. I’m proud of everything that has been accomplished for the Gainesville District over the past year, and you have my committment that I’ll continue to work hard and represent my constituents with honesty and integrity.
Over the holidays, the Gainesville District lost a beloved member of the community and husband of one of our Gainesville Hero award recipients. Sadly, Tom Meeks, husband of Jacquie Meeks and friend to all who had the privilege of meeting him, passed away.
The Meeks have long been devoted to improving their community, wherever they lived. Tom, a decorated Navy veteran and loving father of three boys, served his country with honor and distinction. I am grateful to have known Tom, and I am thankful for his selfless service to his community and our country. We will keep the Meeks family in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.
See information below from the Prince William County Department of Parks and Recreation regarding the stream mitigation project at James Long Park that begins on January 13.
James Long Park Stream Restoration – Construction Info
Angler Environmental, in partnership with Prince William County, will be implementing a stream restoration project at James Long Park in 2013. The restoration will be completed in three phases. Construction of Phase I, which is located in the northern portion of the park along the unnamed tributary to Catharpin Creek, is scheduled to commence in late January 2013. Phase II (located downstream of Phase I) will follow in early February to late March. Phase III, located on Catharpin Creek east of Battlefield High School, is scheduled to start in late April or early May with completion of all construction by July 2013. Please note that this construction schedule is subject to changes due to constraints such as weather. Replanting of forested areas will occur during late fall of 2013, which is the optimum time to plant.
All of Phase I and II will be accessed from within the park utilizing existing open space areas. Currently, access to Phase III is proposed from Graduation Drive through an undeveloped parcel currently owned by Prince William County. Approval of this offsite access is currently in process. All construction access routes and equipment/material staging areas has been located so as to minimize impacts to existing environmental features, as well as disruption of park activities. Access routes will be kept to a maximum of 20 feet in width and in forested areas, impact to existing trees will be minimized to the greatest extent practicable. Access and staging areas within the active areas of the park will be enclosed by orange safety fencing and/or silt fence.
Construction activities will occur on weekdays, generally between 7am and 5pm. Work on Saturdays will be limited as much as possible. It is not anticipated that construction activities will impact the use of park facilities such as ball fields, playgrounds, picnic areas, or their associated parking lots. During daily construction activities, some trails may be closed to traffic but reopened after 5pm. In some cases, trail detours may be utilized to minimize impact to trail users. All staging and access areas will be returned to existing conditions once construction is completed for each phase of the project.