Prince William County Policy Issues
Pete has spent his time on the Board fighting for the citizens of Prince William County and Standing Up for What is Right
The Rural Crescent is one of the most important issues affecting the Gainesville District, and every one of us has an important stake in the policy decisions impacting the quality of life for the residents of both the Gainesville District and all of Prince William County.
As we’ve seen too many times, the attacks on the Rural Crescent are constant and persistent, but our strength lies in our ability to stand together. We need to be united in our common cause to protect our natural resources, our history, and our quality of life.
Since taking office in 2012, it has been my honor to represent the people of the Gainesville District and fight to protect the Rural Crescent. This was a commitment I made to the voters of Prince William County and one that I will continue to maintain.
Let me be clear, I am a supporter of the Rural Crescent and will always fight to protect it.
Over the years, this commitment to the Rural Crescent has put me at odds with several of my colleagues on the Board of County Supervisor, the Prince William Chamber of Commerce leadership, VDOT, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), Dominion Power, residential developers, and even a governor or two. But my loyalties are, and will always be, with the people of Prince William County.
From standing against the Bi-County Parkway and having it removed from the County’s Comprehensive Plan to fighting against every above ground option from Dominion Power, to opposing opening up this area to Data Centers, we have all stood together in our common goal to protect our quality of life. e all have shown our dedication and willingness to fight against organizations with tremendous resources. It’s clear, however, that the threats will not cease and that we have much work ahead of us.
It's critical we all continue to stand together – a united front against the enemies of the Rural Crescent.
The Bi-County Parkway has been one of the most controversial issues we’ve faced in western Prince William County in the last twenty years. This controversial road would have established a truck/cargo North-South corridor linking I-95 to Dulles Airport and would have destroyed our rural areas. In addition, the process for developing the route plan not only excluded local residents and elected officials in the impacted areas, it also highlighted a deeply entrenched insular approach to planning for the road that ignited a significant grass-roots campaign to defeat the roadway.
As a community, we banded together and fought VDOT, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) and the development community to stop this road. Once we stopped the road from moving forward, I introduced and passed a resolution to remove the Bi-County Parkway from the Prince William County Comprehensive Plan.
We must continue to stand against those that wish to re-introduce the Bi-County Parkway. Make no mistake, special interest groups are poised and ready to push for this road again. I will continue to stand with the people of Prince William County.
It is abundantly clear that the housing policy in Prince William County is one of the major factors that has led to the overcrowding of our roads and schools. Over the years, I have fought against those that have looked to bust the Rural Crescent and have worked hard to hold developers more accountable.
To help address this issue, I introduced and passed the first proffer increase (what we ask developers to pay for the impacts of their proposed houses) in almost ten years.
Even with the new proffer amounts, we see proposals for hundreds of new houses that will bring more cars pouring onto already gridlocked roads, more kids into already overcrowded and packed classrooms, and stretching our police and fire departments to the breaking point.
Prince William County's housing policy, and the Comprehensive Plan that drives it, are a disaster.
It is the definition of insanity, but to hear the special interest housing developers tell it when they step to the podium at Board of Supervisors meetings, everything is just fine.
The truth is, Prince William County's housing policy is broken.
The Board of County Supervisors needs to listen to the citizens of Prince William County – not the special interest developers who put profits above the quality of life here in Prince William County.
I'm talking about the Prince William County citizens who are punished every day in impossibly long commutes to get to their jobs – robbing them of valuable time and diminishing the quality of life for their families.
I'm talking about the Prince William County parents who send their children off to school to overcrowded classrooms and underpaid teachers in a system that deprives those kids of the quality of education they need and deserve.
And I'm talking about the homeowners who see the safety of their homes and communities threatened by an understaffed and under-equipped police and fire department.
Prince William County's housing policy is badly, badly broken, and we have to take strong measures to fix it now.
I sit in Board meetings and hear the county staff and my colleagues on the Board talk about how we have to increase taxes year-after-year to help catch up with infrastructure needs.
But with our current housing policy, catching up is nearing impossible!
I believe that the Board of County Supervisors needs to STOP the overdevelopment in our community and protect our quality of life.
Education & School Funding
From the very first day that I took my seat on the Board of County Supervisors, I have fought to increase funding for the Prince William County schools. I believed then, and I continue to believe five years later, that the housing development policy of the Board has overcrowded our schools and our roads. In addition, I believe that many of the spending decisions made by the School Board over the years have been highly questionable and should have been focused on reducing class sizes.
More than two decades ago, the Board of County Supervisors and the School Board struck a bargain called the Revenue Sharing Agreement (RSA). For the Board of County Supervisors, it removed the political headache of dealing with impassioned parents, teachers, and other school groups, and for the School Board, it provided a fixed percentage of annual tax revenues. a rigid system removes all flexibility for the county in being able to allocate funds where they are needed the most and ends up being more expensive for tax payers to fund the schools.
The RSA’s fatal flaw was exposed during the Great Recession when it became clear that the significantly shrinking tax revenue base did not allow the school administration to hire the number of teachers needed to educate a growing student population, nor did it allow for building the school buildings needed to house these students.
Now, more than a decade later, we are paying the piper with overcrowded classrooms, trailers in all parts of the County and underpaid teachers.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that the RSA is actually hindering the performance of our schools, the majority of both the Board of County Supervisors and the School Board cling to this agreement for political expediency. The Revenue Sharing Agreement has allowed both sides to point to the other and blame them for the deteriorating condition of our schools. The truth is, there is plenty of blame to go around.
In a bi-partisan agreement, I worked across the isle to secure $21.2 million for adding seats to the planned 13th high school, and for acquiring sites for new eastern elementary schools. This important step forward has already paid huge dividends.
The Northern Virginia region has some of the most congested commuter corridors in the nation because job creation strategies have focused on the District of Columbia and the immediately adjacent local jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia to accommodate the growth of the federal government and private sector jobs supporting new government programs. Over the past three decades, new job growth has significantly outpaced the ability of local governments to construct and maintain efficient transportation systems to deliver workers to federal job centers.
As a County and Commonwealth, we must continue to focus on road construction and multi-modal transportation improvements. We must continue to focus on solving the issues on I-66, Rt. 28, and our secondary roads.
For example, Rt. 28 has been a chokepoint for commuters traveling from Prince William County either to the I-66/Rt. 28 interchange, or continuing north on Rt. 28 to job centers along the Dulles corridor. It is essential that there is a better balance of transportation funding for road projects on Rt. 28 that also focuses on the south-bound portion of the road. Rt. 28 is broken and needs to be addressed immediately.
Our focus on Economic Development is to provide a robust and diverse economy with more quality jobs and an expanded commercial tax base. The Northern Virginia region has been heavily reliant upon growth in federal government spending, and current and projected reductions in federal spending have had dramatic negative impacts on the entire region. Significant national defense spending reductions have had an immensely negative impact in Prince William County in recent years.
Too much of the new job growth in Prince William County over the past 20 years has been in low-wage retail jobs that have failed to achieve the goal of creating quality new jobs that allow workers to earn professional level salaries sufficient to support their families. Over the past three decades, most of the economic development growth in the region has occurred in areas that are serviced by METRO or that are linked closely to efficient road systems which allow workers to commute to workplaces more conveniently.
Prince William County has been disadvantaged by its geographical location outside of the METRO system and directly impacted by a gridlocked road system that adds extraordinary commute times for workers. Growth in Prince William County has focused on a land development policy that allows for developers to build affordable homes that attract young families to locate and live here on the premise that lower-cost homes will offset the significant commute times. Today, approximately two-thirds of all resident’s commute to jobs outside Prince William County. The growing traffic congestion in the area has diminished any advantage of lower housing costs and will negatively impact Prince William County’s development planning in the near future.
The emphasis on stimulating population growth by offering more affordable homes has not been matched with commercial development. The result is that the tax burden is disproportionately higher on homeowners where about 80% - 85% of general revenues to fund county operations are generated from taxes on individual residences. The commercial contribution to the tax base should be in the magnitude of 25%, significantly higher than the current level of approximately 15% - 17% (when adjusted to commercial business operators and excluding apartment rentals).
The majority of resources in the Prince William County Department of Economic Development have been used to recruit outside employers to locate their operations in Prince William County. This strategy is primarily based on the premise that the County offers a strategic location, with a ready supply of highly educated young professionals, affordable and available land, and competitive labor costs, which combine to offer businesses a strong value proposition within the Greater Washington DC Metropolitan Area. Yet, these targets, often referred to as “whales” in the economic development community, are rarely landed. Most of the advanced industries that are on the County’s industry target list have a considerable dependence on federal revenue and their projected expansions have been significantly suppressed in this new era of increasingly reduced federal spending.
George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College are educating and training young people to fill our workforce, and many of them will be the next generation of small business entrepreneurs who will start companies to generate new job opportunities for thousands. Prince William County’s Department of Economic Development should strengthen our partnership with both of these educational institutions to channel these job creators to programs that encourage them to locate new business start-ups right here in the County. The Economic Development Department must allocate their resources to deliver more reliable growth rather than spending considerable time and money in attempting to lure large company “whales” that aren’t interested.
Prince William County must expand its current small business zones to target development areas and increase the stimulus for small businesses to start-up and locate in the County.
The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that small firms account for 64% of new net jobs created, and that since the latest recession, small firms led the larger ones by creating 67% of the net new jobs. About 40% of new jobs in our economy are created from new business startups. Overall, new small businesses (those less than five years old) are responsible for nearly all net job creation in America, and businesses less than one-year old have created an average of 1.5 million jobs per year for the last three decades. According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, small businesses that have been in business less than five years remained a positive source of net employment growth (8.6%) during the Great Recession, whereas older and larger firms shed more jobs than they created.
Parks & Recreation
One of the challenges in a growing community is to provide adequate recreational facilities that allow families to access sports programs for their children. The demand for gymnasiums and athletic fields for organized sports leagues is substantial and on a growth path that will significantly increase demand. Over the last 8 years, we have improved our parks and obtained funding for new projects.
We must continue to work with the sports leagues and resource protection groups to increase our investment in providing both active and passive park options.