Blog

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.

A Walk to Remember

June 15, 2013

With my knees finally recovering from my 33 mile walk across Prince William County, I thought I would take a moment to share some experiences I had while participating in the 2013 Walk for Prince William event.

As you may have heard, I walked from Woodbridge to Haymarket to raise money for six local non-profit groups that help every day to make Prince William County a wonderful place to live.  These non-profits included the Hilda Barg Homeless Prevention Center, ACTS, SERVE, Youth Apostles Don Bosco Center, the Office Chris Yung Memorial Fund, and the Marine Lance Corporal Nick Thom Housing Fund.  Over the 33 miles, I had the opportunity to visit with many volunteers who give of their time and effort to support these organizations, all without fanfare.

Before I go on any further, let me thank all of you who made a donation during this event to help these non-profits.  When I began this effort, the goal was set of raising $30,000, and we are very close to reaching that goal.  But all of these wonderful non-profits still need more help from each one of us.  I would encourage everyone to visit the donation page at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/walkforprincewilliam, and show your appreciation for the great work that is done by the hundreds of volunteers who serve less fortunate families in our community – and to recognize the sacrifices of Officer Chris Yung and Marine Lance Cpl. Nick Thom.

At 6:00 am on Memorial Day, a small group of us gathered at the Hilda M. Barg Homeless Prevention Center to kick off the Walk for Prince William, and to thank the staff at the Center.  For the first leg of the walk, I was joined by my good friend Supervisor Mike May (Occoquan) and Prince William County Police Officer Greg Pass – who volunteered to walk the whole 33 miles with me in remembrance of his friend and colleague, Office Chris Yung, who died in the line of duty a few months ago.

The weather was perfect and the company was even better.  Along the way, we were joined by a couple of residents who heard about the walk and wanted to join in.  It was a great experience to visit with the folks who came out and to see the county from the street view.  As we were walking past the Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center and the office buildings and shops along Smoketown Rd., it struck me how much business growth there has been in the county over the past several years.  While there is still much more we can do, Prince William County is a business friendly area that welcomes small and large companies with pro-business policies.

It also struck me how effective our networks of sidewalks are in the County.  Although more needs to be done, I was impressed that one could walk as far as I did, staying on safe sidewalks most of the way.

At our first stop after seven miles, we visited with volunteers from ACTS at the McCoart building.   This organization does so much to help and support those who find themselves in need of assistance.  I was touched to hear of their dedication to their work and some of the serious situations they help people through.  At this point, we parted ways with Supervisor May and made our long haul down the Prince William County Parkway.  Mike had family obligations for the day, but I know in his heart he wanted to stay with the entire Walk.  I am very grateful for his support and friendship.  This next eight-mile hike was long, but gave me a great opportunity to take in the beauty of our county.

After a few hours, we arrived in Manassas and walked over to the Youth Apostles Don Bosco Center.  This group helps predominately Hispanic middle school-aged kids in the community with a safe place to play and learn.  After meeting Father Ramon and visiting with volunteers, I was able to participate in an impromptu game of soccer.  With over 15 miles under my belt by that point, I admit I wasn’t at my best, but it was a lot of fun getting to know a few of the kids and seeing the great work being done there.

From the Don Bosco Center, Officer Pass and I walked a couple of miles over to the SERVE complex.  This organization helps individuals and families with a place to live, help with food, and assistance with job placement.  We took a tour of the buildings and learned of all the services they provide.

While walking along the road to SERVE, I had the privilege of meeting Charlie Pickens, a fourth generation resident of Prince William County.  It was truly an honor to visit with Charlie and hear about his time in the County, his families’ history, and his time in the Service.  In the end, Prince William is a great place to live because of the wonderful people that make up its population.  People like Charlie live their lives every day raising a family, going to work, and volunteering in the community.

When we were finished visiting with the good folks at SERVE, we walked over to the Western District Police Station.  Here, we were able to visit with those officers who knew Officer Yung and express our appreciation for the work they do in keeping all of us safe.  As the Gainesville Supervisor, I am reminded often of the wonderful men and women of our Police Department.  We truly have one of the best police departments in the country.

From the police station, we started our final leg of the trip – almost seven miles to the finish line in Haymarket.  By this point, my knees were in considerable pain, but I was able to pass the time by hearing the incredible stories of sacrifice and courage from Officer Pass.  He told me of his experiences as a Prince William County Police Officer and his appreciation for the opportunity to serve.

After 33 miles, 12.5 hours, and over 64,000 steps, we made our way into the town square in Haymarket.  We were overwhelmed to see almost a hundred people who had gathered to welcome us at the finish line.  We were able to have a small ceremony thanking our sponsors, and I was able to present Officer Greg Pass with our latest Gainesville Hero Award.

I won’t ever forget Memorial Day 2013, where I was able to participate in the Walk for Prince William and see the sites of the county and meet the wonderful people who help to make our community a great place to live and raise a family.  I’m looking forward to the Walk next year…hope to see you out there.

 

Letter to County Attorney Regarding Tri/Bi-County Parkway

June 8, 2013

On May 30, 2013, I sent a letter to the County Attorney, Angela Horan, with several questions regarding the proposed Tri/Bi-County Parkway.  I’m trying to gain a better understanding of the Board’s role in determining the future of this road.  Click below to read the letter.

Letter to County Attorney Regarding Bi/Tri-County Parkway

 

Letter from Congressman Wolf Regarding the Tri-County Parkway

May 15, 2013

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.

Congressman Wolf Letter, 5.14.13

Prince William County Budget

April 25, 2013

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.

Budget Presentation at 4/16/13 Board Meeting

April 18, 2013

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.

Candland Budget Presentation, 4/16/13

Education Spending in PWC

April 5, 2013

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.

Letter Regarding Increasing Funding to PWC Schools

March 25, 2013

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.

Candland Letter to CXO, 3.25.13

 

 

My Motivation

February 8, 2013

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.