by Tara Slate Donaldson, Gainesville Times

19 Aug 2005

“Not surprisingly, Prince William residents are fed up with traffic problems. They’re also not entirely happy with land use planning or the way the county preserves open space.”

That was the bad news in the most recent Citizen Satisfaction Survey, an annual telephone questionnaire that asks residents to rate Prince William County services.

The top five.  Citizen satisfaction with:

  • Library staff — 99.1 %
  • Landfill services — 98.8 %
  • Medical rescue services — 98.3 %
  • Fire protection services — 98.2 %
  • Voter registration — 97.0 %

The bottom five.   Citizen satisfaction with:

  • Ease of travel around Northern Virginia — 24.5 %
  • Coordination of development and roads — 34.9 %
  • Getting around in Prince William County — 38.1 %
  • Planning and land use — 44.8 %
  • Efforts to preserve open space — 45.1 %

“The good news is that citizens are happy with almost everything else, from public safety and libraries to the overall  county government.

“The survey is conducted every year by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia. This year, 1,432 adults were questioned about issues such as transportation, the county Web site, growth and overall quality of life. The survey has a 2.5 percent margin of error.

“The bad news

“One of the key results in the survey was the county’s top five problems.

“Citizens said they were the least satisfied with ease of travel around Northern Virginia, coordination of development  and roads, getting around in Prince William County, planning and land use, and efforts to preserve open space.

“‘They all have to do with issues of development and growth and getting around and that’s been a consistent low point  for you,’ said Thomas Guterbock, the survey director.

“Supervisors were quick to point out that the bottom five items are all issues in which the state government plays a  major role. In fact, said Chairman Sean Connaughton, the lowest satisfaction was with the ease of travel around  Northern Virginia, something the supervisors can’t really control at all.

“Still, said Supervisor Corey Stewart, (R-Occoquan), they ought to be trying harder.

“‘People understand that we can’t pave ourselves out of this hole that we have put ourselves into through uncontrolled high-density growth,’ he said. The transportation nightmare is getting worse and we are part of the problem, not part  of the solution.

“Dissatisfaction with the county’s rate of growth varied by area, with western Prince William residents more unhappy  than those in the county’s more developed east end.

“Brentsville area residents were the least satisfied — only 23 percent said they were happy with growth. The Gainesville and Linton Hall area fared a little better, with 38 percent responding positively. About 39 percent of ‘north county’ citizens said they were satisfied.

“Eastern Prince William communities like Dale City and Woodbridge had much higher satisfaction ratings, ranging from 41.8 percent in the mid-county region to 53.6 percent in the Occoquan area.

“The other bad news for supervisors and residents is that the commute time is continuing to rise. Prince William residents said their average one-way commute time has increased from 40 minutes in 2004 to 45 minutes in 2005. Altogether, the average time spent traveling to work has risen by about 9 minutes in the last four years.

“The good news

“But the good news is that citizens are still ranking their overall quality of life as high — about 7.2 on a scale of 1 to 10.

“And the overwhelming majority are happy with the county government as a whole. Almost 37 percent said they are ‘very satisfied’ with government services and more than 55 percent said they are ‘somewhat satisfied.’  According to Guterbock’s report, that statistic is ‘perhaps the single most important item in the survey.

‘”But there was one more chart that supervisors noted closely. When asked whether they’d prefer higher taxes and more services or lower taxes and fewer services,  most residents — 62 percent — said they’re satisfied with the current tax rate and services. Of the remainder, 12.6 percent wanted lower taxes and fewer services but a statistically equal number (11.2 percent) said they’d rather pay higher taxes for more services.

“Guterbock reported that the other 14.2 percent created their own option, asking for both lower taxes and more services…”