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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

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.

 

Tele-Townhall Results

October 21, 2013

Thank you to everyone who was able to join my tele-townhall on October 9, 2013. And for those who were not able to make the call, I’d like to provide an update on what we discussed.

This was my second tele-townhall and let me tell you, I really enjoy this method of communicating with constituents. From my first day in office, it has been my goal to keep everyone updated on what is happening in the County. You elected me as your representative and I will continue to do all that I can to keep you informed and fight for your interests.

For the tele-townhall, I was able to call approximately 10,000 households to participate with over 2,000 people joining. Towards the end, I was able to answer 15 questions ranging from education to transportation.

Additionally, one of the benefits of this method of communication is the ability to take an instant pulse on the community through a few polling questions.

• On the Bi-County Parkway, 74% of those who have an opinion about the project are opposed, and 26% of those who have an opinion support the project.

• When it comes to the highest priorities for our school system, 53% of you said reducing classroom sizes, 29% said increasing teacher pay, 4% said building more amenities, and 14% of you said that something else should be the highest priority for our schools.

• 31% of the residents on the call support building a Western community center if it meant increased taxes, while 51% were opposed.

• 67% of the callers were in favor of expanding the VRE out to Haymarket.

My hope is to continue to hold these tele-townhalls, in addition to our regular townhall meetings that we’ve been able to hold in almost every part of the district. On a similar note, I want to encourage you to stay up-to-date on Prince William County government and Gainesville District news by visiting and liking my Facebook page. As always feel free to call my office or email me at Gainesville@pwcgov.org.

Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to join my tele-townhall. It is a privilege to serve you and I’m honored to represent the people of the Gainesville District.

Statement on Supervisor Covington’s Proposed Resolution

October 11, 2013

A few days ago, Supervisor Wally Covington (R-Brentsville), proposed a resolution that would extend the deadline for Prince William County personal property taxes due to the severe economic impacts on families as a result of the Federal Government shutdown.

I whole-heartily support Supervisor Covington’s resolution and will push to have this adopted immediately. At a recent Board meeting, I committed that, unless there was an emergency, I wouldn’t support a resolution without the requisite waiting period for the Board and public to review. However, I believe this is an emergency.

We need to act now to extend the personal property tax deadline to allow Prince William County families affected by the government shutdown to get through these tough times. As a Board, we need to show our commitment and understanding to those impacted by the shutdown.

Process Transparency

August 24, 2013

Over the last couple of months, we’ve had a lively debate regarding a new logo that had begun to pop up all around the county.

Personally, I had first seen this logo back in December when our Communications Director, Jason Grant, approached me after one of our Board meetings and showed me a picture of the new logo.  He explained that the logo was to be used only for economic development purposes (i.e. marketing materials, tradeshows, and so forth).

Several months later, Supervisor Jenkins was the first one to sound the alarm bells that this logo was being implemented at a much broader scale than any of us ever imagined.  He was absolutely correct to be concerned.  As Supervisor Jenkins and I began to investigate this issue further, we were deeply concerned about the process that was used.  This discussion went from logo to process.

The actual logo itself is only a small part of the overall issue.  There are two very important policy questions that need to be addressed.

First, did members of our County staff adhere to the long-standing rule that major policy issues must be presented for review and approval by the BOCS, and permit public input; and second, was the information presented by County staff about the logo development and deployment complete and accurate?

I felt it was our obligation as your elected officials to get to the bottom of these questions and find out the truth.  So I asked for documents to determine if the information provided to the BOCS by County staff was accurate and complete.

I am posting several documents on my website, and you can access them through the links listed below.  I want this process to be as transparent as possible and to allow for public input.  I welcome any comments or suggestions on these materials.

The documents and information I received from my FOIA request (later turned into a directive) indicate that the information given to the BOCS by County staff was clearly inaccurate, incomplete, and lacking in complete transparency.

The County staff initially reported the cost of the development of a new logo was only $750.

Based on information provided to me by a constituent, I asked Mr. Grant whether payments made to a Maryland vendor, Rogue Shard Design, LLC, were for logo development.

Mr. Grant responded that the Rogue Shard contract was mainly for animation of the introduction for the video that plays before each Board meeting.  Mr. Grant indicated that animation had to be redone since I was elected to the Board replacing former Gainesville Supervisor John Stirrup.

Supervisor Frank Principi also asked specifically how much had been spent on marketing and other costs associated with the use of the new logo.

County Executive Melissa Peacor responded with the statement that only the Department of Economic Development was using the logo, and she had personally had new business cards printed using the new logo, but only because she needed new business cards at that time.  Ms. Peacor assured the Board that nothing else was being done with the logo, and no other funds were being spent to deploy the proposed new logo.

In total, the Board was led to believe that the outlays for the new logo deployment, limited to the Department of Economic Development and Ms. Peacor’s new business cards, were significantly less than $10,000.The fact is that the claim that the Rogue Shard payment of $12,500 was for an animation is clearly inaccurate.  According to invoices from Rogue Shard, that $12,500 was specifically for a set of logos that were produced and then rejected by County staff.

There was a separate invoice from Rogue Shard for $2,000 that paid for the animation video.

The fact is that the logo was being actively deployed throughout the County, and not just being used exclusively by the Department of Economic Development.  Its deployment was well down the road to being used throughout the County.

The documents show significant expenditures for materials using the new logo by County Agencies other than Economic Development, including uniforms, shirts, printed brochures, signs, lapel pins, letterhead, tablecloths, etc.

Astoundingly, there was an order for temporary tattoos of the new logo in the amount of $ 244.60

Cleary, the implementation of this logo went well beyond Economic Development and shows how the BOCS and the general public were bypassed in making this critical decision.

My goal is to continue efforts to reform areas of County government that are not working as efficiently as they should.  My personal view is that the size of government should match the needs of the citizens, and the delivery of needed services should be provided as cost-effectively as possible.

In the past eighteen months since I was elected to the BOCS, I have worked to eliminate Supervisor’s discretionary fund accounts; to make financial disclosures of Supervisors more accessible to the public and have disclosures where potential conflicts may exist with official actions taken by the Board; to reform the budgetary process by requiring budgets be based on actual expenditures rather than on the prior year’s approved budget; and to make County government more transparent and more accountable to taxpayers.  I will continue on that quest.

I welcome your input, comments, and suggestions.  I am honored to represent the people of the Gainesville District, and I will continue to work hard to honor the trust you have placed in me.

Rogue Shard Contract

Rogue Shard Invoice for $12,500

Rogue Shard Invoice for $2,000

Rogue Shard Purchase Order for $12,500

Rogue Shard Purchase Order for $2,000

Rogue Shard Round One Logos

Rogue Shard Round Two Logos

Rogue Shard Round Three Logos

List of items ordered with the new logo

Temporary Tattoo order

The excerpts provided below were from discussions on the proposed implementation of the new County logo. I attempted to accurately depict, to the best of my ability, the statements made by each of the individuals who spoke during the discussion on this topic.  I prepared these documents without any professional equipment – only by listening to the recording of the meeting.  You can watch the video by visiting this link.

Let me be clear that these documents are not intended to be a legal transcript that would portray every nuance of language spoken by each speaker, including connecting phrases or non-decipherable sounds that are not actual words, but it is my best effort to accurately record the statements made during these meetings.

Notes from the May 21, 2013 Board of County Supervisors Meeting

Notes from the June 4, 2013 Board of County Supervisors Meeting

If you would like any further information, please contact our office.

A Crisis of Trust

July 24, 2013

Any parent who has taken their child out trick-or-treating has seen it before.  The lone bowl of candy left on the front porch of a house with a little sign that says “please take one”.  Children fight the urge to grab a handful and fill up their bags.  These are the opportunities we take as parents to teach our kids about restraint, trust, and honesty.

These lessons not only apply to the choices made on Halloween, but can be applied across our lives.  Our government (county, state, and federal) should only take from the citizens through taxes what it needs to run the core services of government, but not a penny more.  We see all too often politicians who grab more and more money without any thought about the sacrifices families have made to pay their taxes.

Since becoming Supervisor, I have learned one truth over and over again – trust in our elected officials and those running our County government is absolutely critical.  Without trust in those who manage our government and spend our tax money, the system weakens and fails to truly represent the will of the people.

Unfortunately, I have heard from many constituents that there is a real crisis of trust that has developed about our county government.  This is a real shame.  The vast majority of county employees and elected officials within Prince William County are honorable, hard-working men and women who take pride in the work they perform.

A few weeks ago, we learned that there had been a $25 million dollar budgeting mistake made in the FY 2013 budget, resulting in an immediate $5 million shortfall in the FY 2014 budget which multiplies itself over the next five years.  This mistake was simply human error and we are working as a Board to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

This past week, Chairman Stewart proposed a plan on how we can bridge the budget mistake.  While I agree with his plan and appreciate his efforts to correct the budget error without cutting government services or capital projects, a troubling practice came to light that raised several red flags.

In Chairman Stewart’s proposal, we will draw on almost $2.1 million from our Revenue Stabilization Fund.  Prince William County has several very large contingency funds – each of which allows us to cover emergencies and helps us maintain our AAA Bond Rating.  Certain levels of contingency funds are desired by rating agencies and I fully support properly funding these reserves.

What surprised me, however, was the size of the Revenue Stabilization Fund.  During the two budget reviews I have participated in, I directly and repeatedly asked the County staff if the funding levels for the Revenue Stabilization Fund were beyond the minimum levels required to maintain our AAA Bond Ratings.

The answer was always that the funding levels were absolutely needed to maintain that important AAA Bond Rating.  What we found out at the July 16 Board Meeting tends to contradict that information.  Our county staff revealed that we have been saving well beyond what was required.  In fact, the funding levels for the Revenue Stabilization Fund are at least $25 million higher than the levels required to maintain the AAA Bond Rating.

That disclosure was troubling in that it appears that we are overtaxing citizens beyond what the county government absolutely needs.  Remember, we have several contingency funds which allow us to cover any emergency and maintain our AAA Bond Rating – this money, however, is above and beyond what is needed.

During the FY 2014 budget review, the Board debated at length on important spending priorities, and the question of funding County services for programs like the $600,000 drug rehabilitation program in the County Jail, $30,000 for the Blue Bird Bus Tour Program, and adequately funding a new Fire & Rescue team to protect public safety, were all examples of tough decisions made by the Board on the false premise that the revenue from the proposed tax rate had no flexibility in it.

What we were not told is that the FY 2014 budget had a padded Revenue Stabilization Fund with an extra $25,000,000 tucked away.  In effect, another discretionary fund that has been hidden from the taxpayers.  Our government must be more transparent with our money.

I will continue to fight for taxpayers being protected from unnecessary and wasteful spending in County government.  I will strongly support a fiscally responsible budget plan, including contingency funds that maintain the funding levels to achieve legitimate budget objectives, so that government remains good stewards of taxpayer funds.

New Commuter Lot on I-66

July 16, 2013

I just wanted to inform you that as of Monday, July 8th, VDOT opened a new commuter lot at Cushing Road and I-66 near the Prince William Parkway. The new 433-space park-and-ride lot can be accessed from Balls Ford Road via Cushing Road

The new lot features a bus loop, a shelter for pick-ups and drop-offs, a new sidewalk from Cushing Road to access the lot, and a new traffic light at Balls Ford Road and Cushing Road. It also includes lighting, crosswalks, benches, bicycle racks and lockers.

The lot will allow commuters to easily access eastbound I-66 with a direct on-ramp. It is only open from the hours of 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and is restricted to buses and vehicles with two or more people.

In addition, OmniRide is providing bus service to the lot on its Linton Hall Metro Direct route to the West Falls Church Metro station. Direct service between the lot and Washington, D.C. is scheduled to begin this fall.

 

County Road Closings

July 12, 2013

Due to recent storms, many roads in Western Prince William County have been closed or have limited access.

As of 10:30 this morning, here are the roads in and near the Gainesville District that have been affected by high water:

– Lee/Groveton

– Lee/Sudley Rd

– Featherbed/Lee

– Gum Springs/Sudley

– 5310 Featherbed

– Pageland/Groveton

 

Hilda Barg Homeless Prevention Center Veterans Outreach

July 11, 2013

The Hilda Barg Homeless Prevention Center is a great nonprofit based in Prince William County that helps some of the most needy people in our community.  I was privileged to visit with them on my Walk for Prince William.

Here is a flyer for a Veterans Outreach program on the last Thursday of each month.  Please take a look at the flyer and feel free to pass it on to others in the community who may be interested in the Veterans Outreach program.

Hilda Barg Center Veterans Services Flyer

 

PWC Logo and FOIA Request

June 21, 2013

Over the last few weeks, there has been a substantial amount of media attention devoted to the issue about the new county logo and the process that was used to obtain and implement the logo.

The understanding of the majority of the Board was that this logo would be used solely by the Economic Development Department.  However, we quickly realized that this logo had been implemented in a much broader way, mostly without the approval or knowledge of the majority of the Board.

A few weeks ago at a Board meeting, Supervisor Jenkins led the way, questioning the process the County Executive and her staff had used in obtaining and implementing the new logo.  From the very beginning, Mr. Jenkins correctly identified that somewhere along the line, the process broke down.

When looking at the grand scheme of the county budget, the cost of a logo is relatively small.  We spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year in county services and for the most part, everything runs extremely well.   It would be easy to just ignore when problems arise in our government and just bury our heads in the sand.  But that is not what I was elected to do.

My colleague Supervisor Jenkins was absolutely right when he pointed out that the logo and its costs were secondary to the far more important issues of (1) was there accountability in the spending of county funds, and (2) whether the decision about the deployment of the new logo was properly handled by county employees.

At a recent Board meeting, we discussed these issues more in-depth.  I was very concerned as the responses we received as a Board from the county staff and County Executive were sometimes inconsistent with previous statements.

When the Board asked about the development of a new logo, and how much the total costs were, the answer was that it cost only $750.

But a couple of weeks later, when presented with information provided by a citizen showing that other work had been done, the County Executive’s staff informed us there was a second firm retained to develop another set of logos at a cost of over $12,000.  Two firms hired to develop logos – why wasn’t this information disclosed to the Board from the very beginning?

As troubling as that was, I was even more alarmed to learn that both firms used in the development of these logos were based outside of Prince William County and that with one of the contracts, no Prince William County firm was even invited to bid.

This is concerning to me due to the mere fact that the mission of the Prince William County Office of Economic Development consists of two elements:

  1. To attract new businesses and grow the commercial tax base in the county; and
  2. To support existing businesses and promote their goods and services.

As a county government, we should be doing all we legally can to promote and build the economy here in Prince William County.  It sends a poor message to potential businesses who are considering moving to the county that once they are here, we are not fully behind them.

In the end, the questions raised from these discussions were serious enough that the Board agreed to hold a “work session” on July 16 to explore the topics further.

In preparation for that meeting, I prepared a set of questions and requests for documents that would help the Board members get a better understanding of the facts with the contracts and clear up the contradictions made by county staffers.  My request provided county staff with over two weeks to obtain the information for the Board.

What happened next stunned me.

Two Supervisors objected to having the staff provide this information.

This procedural objection led the County Attorney to advise me that I could either present a resolution to the Board to approve the release of the requested information, or I could convert my request for information into a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

If I waited to bring my request before the Board, valuable time would be wasted that could be spent examining the documents and asking any additional follow-up questions.

So I was left with the only viable option – I had to convert my inquiry into a FOIA request.

The County Attorney informed me that I would have to pay for the FOIA costs, costs that I now know would be between $350 and $500.  That information was equally stunning to me given that I needed this information to fulfill my duties as Supervisor.

As I saw it, the policy of requiring an elected official to file a FOIA request in order to perform their duties sets a very dangerous precedent – one that could have a chilling effect over our whole form of county government.  Restricting access to information from any duly elected Supervisor and preventing the proper exercise of oversight is unacceptable.

Fortunately, during our last meeting, the majority of my colleagues agreed with me and I am extremely grateful for their support.

Now that I’m receiving the information without a FOIA, I believe it will help resolve those lingering questions about the logo controversy, and help us to reform the procurement process moving forward.

I take the responsibility the people of the Gainesville District have entrusted in me very seriously.   Over the last 18 months, I have worked diligently to ensure that every taxpayer dollar is spent appropriately, that your taxes are as low as possible, and that we continue to reduce the footprint of government in all of our lives.

I want Prince William County businesses to grow and thrive.  That starts with the county making a concentrated effort to allow local businesses the opportunity to compete for all contracts.

I am grateful for your overwhelming support and I will continue to fight for responsible, accountable government.