Citizens for Balanced Growth

Year: 2005

2005 Citizen Survey

2005 Survey:  County roads, growth need work”
(by Tara Slate Donaldson, Gainesville Times, 19 Aug 2005)

2005 County Citizens Survey (full text)

The top five:
Citizen satisfaction with:
The bottom 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%)
— Coordination of development and roads (34.9%)
— Getting around in Prince William Countty (38.1%)
— Planning and land use (44.8%)
— Efforts to preserve open space (45.1%))
— Growth in county (47.2%)
2005 County Citizens Survey (full text)

Survey: County roads, growth need work

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…”

“Kilgore, Kaine Tax Cut Plans Alarm Locals”

by Nicholas F. Benton, Falls Church Press [Online Issue]

24 Mar 2005

“Local officials responded with alarm this week to promises from Republican and Democratic candidates launching their campaigns for governor of Virginia in recent days to target the real estate tax for reform. Real estate taxes are the primary source of revenue for local jurisdictions’ operating budgets, and reliance on them by cities and counties in Northern Virginia is particularly acute given that they get back from Richmond only about 25 cents of every dollar of other taxes that are collected.

“Kicking off his campaign last week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Kaine offered a tax relief plan that would permit local jurisdictions to exempt up to 20% of real estate taxes. That was eclipsed by a more radical proposal by GOP gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore, who launched his campaign with a promise of an across the board five percent cap on annual real estate assessment growth.

“City of Falls Church Vice Mayor Marty Meserve told the News-Press yesterday that the proposals ‘have the potential to cripple us.’ She said that Kilgore’s plan would be especially damaging, while Kaine’s would at least give local jurisdictions the option to offer exemptions.

” ‘This all could be a repeat of the car tax situation, when a drum beat and a tag line caused people to believe they could ultimately save money when they couldn’t,’ she said. ‘There is a danger that people will think they are capping an unfair tax and won’t look deeper.’

“She said that the proposals are new and haven’t been discussed by the entire Council yet, but will be. As far as the spiraling assessments in Northern Virginia in recent years, rising by as much as 130% since 2000, she said, ‘That’s the market, and assessments are market driven.’

“Falls Church Council member David Snyder, a former mayor here who has run unsuccessfully for State Delegate as a Republican in the past, was even stronger in repudiating the attempts of both candidates to target the only significant source of income for local jurisdictions.

” ‘It would be one thing if Richmond returned us even 50 cents on every dollar we send down there. If that were the case, then we could lower the real estate tax down to something like 85 cents and we’d have no problems,’ he said. But, he added, under the current arrangement, the candidates’ plans ‘would deprive us of the means to do what local citizens want.’

” ‘They are playing politics and this could be the last straw to bring down Northern Virginia governments, in particular. The state takes all our money and returns only 25 cents for every dollar. The dogs of war have been unleashed, and this is a dangerous beginning to the campaign season for both sides as far as I can tell,’ Snyder said.

“A leading Virginia economist also assailed both plans. John Knapp, an economist with the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, was quoted in the Virginian-Pilot yesterday. He said that ‘both plans would make the tax system less fair and could hamper the ability of fast-growing suburban communities to keep up with demands for schools and other services.’

“In addition to a cap on real estate assessment growth, Kilgore called for a voter referendum on any proposed increase in state taxes on gas, sales or income. Kaine’s plan would create political pressure on local officials to exercise their option for exemptions.  Currently, Kilgore’s plan for a cap on assessments is used in 19 states to curb taxes. Kaine’s plan to offer exemptions to homeowners is current law in 31 states.  Meanwhile, real estate assessments for 2005 are going into the mail today in the City of Falls Church. In anticipation of another double-digit average assessment increase, City Manager Dan McKeever has already recommended a modest cut in the tax rate despite significant added burdens to the next fiscal year budget driven by the opening of a new middle school and other factors.

“He’s also projected the average rate of increase will be around 15%, which is low compared to surrounding jurisdictions. Fairfax County, Arlington County and the City of Alexandria have already sent out their annual assessments, each with average increases of over 20%.

“In Fairfax County, assessment numbers announced Feb. 28 showed an average increase of over 23%, raising the value of the average home to about $445,000. While the overall size of the Fairfax budget in the coming year will grow seven percent, county manager Anthony Griffin has already responded with to the assessment hike there with a proposed 10 cent cut in the tax rate down to $1.03 per $100 in assessed valuation. Included in that proposal are plans to dedicate one cent of the tax to affordable housing and one cent to storm water management.

“In Arlington, assessments announced in mid-January increased overall by 24%, resulting in an increase in the value of an average home from $369,600 to $458,200. Over three years, overall assessments have soared by 70% as county board members consider dropping the tax rate to 95.8 cents. One consequence of the boom in values there has been that 47% of the county’s affordable rental units have been lost since 2000.
‘This is without question the longest protracted period of residential value growth we can document,’ said Arlington Assessor Thomas Rice.

“In Alexandria, assessments completed in early February showed an overall leap of 21.2%, due to both new construction and value appreciation. The jump was 21.3% for the average residential home, with the average assessed value of an existing residential home increasing by 131% since 2000. The value of an existing single family detached home or townhouse is now $563,092 there.

“Average Loudoun County increases are also at 20%, causing some to wonder why the estimated increase for Falls Church, where the average value of a single detached home is already at $527,000, would be only 15%.

“McKeever’s 15% estimated average increase combined with a two-cent drop in the tax rate to $1.06 would leave the average homeowner in Falls Church paying 12.8% more in taxes. If the actual percentage is higher, the net owed per taxpayer will be still more. That information should be known by the end of this week.”

“Brentsville, Woodbridge Developments to Proceed”

by Nikita Stewart, The Washington Post

17 March 2005, p. T1

“The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted Tuesday to allow plans for two major developments on both ends of the county to go forward, despite county planners’ advice to reject them.

“The votes simply allow the county’s Office of Planning and Zoning to continue reviewing the proposals, which could alter Prince William’s long-range Comprehensive Plan. The board could still reject the projects.

“The projects include more than 6,000 houses in Brentsville, dubbed the Brentswood Community, and a high-end retail mall and luxury apartments in Woodbridge, proposed by the owners of outlet mecca Potomac Mills Mall. In addition, the board approved two other residential projects in Brentsville and a third in Coles.

“Voting 4 to 4, the board rejected a plan to build 365 houses in Brentsville despite the developer’s offer to realign Vint Hill Road, a project that the county might have to take on. Supervisors Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries), Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles), Corey A. Stewart (R-Occoquan) and John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) rejected the project.

“The board never even considered a property owner’s request to build 10 houses on 15 acres in the Rural Crescent, although county planners urged supervisors to approve the application because the property is surrounded by dense development.

“Stirrup, who represents the area, refused to sponsor the measure, and no other supervisor took up the request. Stirrup said he had to protect the Rural Crescent, the 80,000-acre swath that is supposed to preserve open space through sparse development and no sewer lines.

“He said a friend calls the rural area the ‘rural croissant — it’s just being eaten away bit by bit.’

“The afternoon meeting, usually attended by just a few county employees, drew defenders of the Rural Crescent and residents who support development. They duked it out on the microphone with three-minute speeches to supervisors.

“Elena Schlossberg-Kunkel of Advocates for the Rural Crescent said that amendments to the Comprehensive Plan threaten the rural area’s boundary, and that the board has not had enough public discussion about the amendments.

” ‘There either is a Rural Crescent line or there isn’t,’ Schlossberg-Kunkel said.  ‘Let’s be upfront about it.’

“Dick Schneider, 69, who lives in Heritage Hunt in Brentsville, said he favored the proposed Brentswood Community because it offers ‘an unparalleled opportunity’ to resolve the area’s transportation woes.

“Voting 5 to 3 for the Brentswood Community project in Brentsville, the board was swayed by developer Brookfield Homes’ promise to provide more than $100 million in road improvements before it completes the 20-year project. Brookfield Homes has said it would extend carpool lanes on Interstate 66 by nearly two miles, widen the interchange at I-66 and Route 29, and build an overpass that would get rid of a railroad grade crossing on Route 29 that ties up traffic and is often the scene of crashes.

“Nohe, who voted for the project, said smart growth advocates are continually saying that roads, schools and other infrastructure should come before development. ‘This developer is calling our bluff,’ he said.

“Stirrup, who said publicly last week that the project should be considered, said it was a ‘difficult decision’ but voted against it Tuesday because of the impact 6,000 houses could have.

“County planners predicted that the number of vehicle trips on roads in the area would triple.

“Stirrup was joined by Caddigan and Stewart. Stewart has opposed every project except the proposed Potomac Center, which could bring upscale shopping and 433 apartments just across from Potomac Mills.

“Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) said she received numerous calls and e-mails of support for the Potomac Center project from residents who are tired of driving out of the county for ‘a decent outfit.’

“County planners had opposed the project because the Comprehensive Plan calls for the land to be used for office space.

“Barg said Mills Corp. of Arlington is in talks with Hecht’s to be one of the stores but could not reveal others that are part of negotiations.

“Caddigan said the board should define ‘high end.’  She noted that May Department Stores Co., which owns Hecht’s, is merging with Federated Department Stores Inc., the owner of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Caddigan said one of Potomac Center’s anchor stores might be Macy’s.

” ‘I don’t really consider that upscale,’ she said.

“Barg said discussions will continue with Mills.”

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