by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

19 January 2007, p. 43

“Transportation, education and public safety are the major goals for Prince William County, Corey Stewart, chairman of the county’s board of supervisors, told a packed luncheon meeting of Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce January 17 in Holiday Inn, Manassas.

“In his state of the county address, Stewart noted that Prince William County ‘made headlines as we were ranked seventh in median household incomes’ across the nation.

“The chairman noted ‘transportation continues to be one of the county’s top priorities, needs and challenges,’ which was the reason the county created a department of  transportation.

” ‘The commonwealth still does not commit the financial resources to meet the transportation needs of the region, so Prince William County has had to find ways to fund and build much needed transportation projects within our community. The county has become an example to other localities on how to build roads,’ he contended.

“Stewart reported county residents approved a $300 million bond referendum in 2006, to improve and add new roads.

” ‘This is the sixth bond referenda since 1988, totaling more than $476 million approved by voters for transportation projects in Prince William County.  The residents are sending a clear message to the commonwealth that something has to be done to fix the transportation issues in this area,’ he said.

“In discussing education, the speaker explained the county’s population growth is a challenge to the public schools.

” ‘The total student population for the 2006-2007 school year is 70,723, an increase of nearly 2500 students from last year,’ he said.  To meet growth demands and keep the level of excellence ‘for which it is known,’ the school district hired some 800 teachers, opened Buckland Mills Elementary School, Rosa Parks Elementary School and Potomac Middle School and expanded full-day kindergarten to two-thirds of all elementary schools.

“In the public safety arena, Stewart pointed out the county opened the Western District Police Station, broke ground for the expansion of the adult detention center scheduled for completion in August 2008, expanded facilities at the public safety training center, added 24 more police officers, added 26 new fire and rescue technicians, trained 575 fire and rescue personnel and began the implementation of a multi-year emergency vehicle traffic light priority system at 80 county intersections. The traffic light priority system permits emergency vehicles to reach an incident quicker and safer, he said.

“Stewart reported the county also upgraded its emergency operations center’s communication abilities by adding satellite phones and a new web system to facilitate quicker and more reliable communication with neighboring jurisdictions.

“During the past year the county also began a county pandemic influenza and continuity of government plan for all county departments to ensure the continuance of government in the event of a disaster.

“Stewart pointed out the county’s economic development program ‘is one of the most successful in the nation…and further confirms Prince William County as a prominent, thriving and growing business location.’

“During 2006, 28 companies said they intended to invest nearly $200 million in the county and add 1200 new jobs.

” ‘We ranked among the fastest growing job markets in the nation.  Unemployment is at a five-year low of two percent  for October 2006, less than half of the national rate of 4.1 percent,’ the speaker said.

“He added the commercial real estate market added almost three million square feet to the commercial building inventory.

” ‘We welcomed six companies at Innovation Technology Park that announced their intentions to invest $93 million and add 225 employees at Innovation,’ the chairman explained.

“In the past five years, 111 companies decided to invest $1.5 billion in the county and add 6775 new jobs. The commercial building inventory increased by 51 percent in the past five years.

“Stewart said the decision of Eli Lilly not to continue with plans for a plant in Innovation probably was due to ‘projections being. a bit too hopeful,’ adding the county is working with Lilly to make the site ready for marketing. He called Lilly’s pullout ‘the only dark spot’ in the year’s economic picture.

“In looking to the county’s future, the speaker said the board of supervisors ‘took a stand and voted to defer consideration of residential rezoning applications until the 2008 comprehensive plan is adopted, or until the state passes a comprehensive transportation plan.’  He added the board also came out against Dominion Virginia Power’s plan to erect a power line through Western Prince William County.

“Stewart remarked the board recently ‘voted to leave the tax rate alone,’ despite a possible $20 million budget shortfall. He said the county’s budget will be up for approval in April, and the final rate will be set then. The decline in residential real estate values is responsible for the decline in tax revenues, he added.

“He said he hopes the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s planned facility at Innovation will bring an opportunity ‘to get homeland security business. On the east end (of the county), we are trying to attract defense contractors.’

“The chairman pointed out the county must not address the budget shortfall by ‘implementing quick fixes. Rather, we need to examine programs and services that we can eliminate or reduce, while still serving the needs of our community to ensure our economic strength over the long haul.’

“Stewart noted he also wants to make the permit process easier for small and home-based businesses, calling the current system ‘archaic.’ “