by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

2 November 2007, p. 25

” ‘Today is a product of positive thinking of the board overtime,’ Sharon Pandak, Democratic candidate for Prince William Board of County Supervisors told a meeting of Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce October 12 at Montclair Country Club.

“Pandak is challenging Corey Stewart, a Republican, in the November 6 general election. Stewart won a special election against Pandak earlier this year in a race to replace Sean Connaughton, who accepted  a federal appointment.

“Pandak, a former attorney for the county, explained the county is the second largest in the commonwealth and the seventh wealthiest in the United States.

” ‘We need to preserve the environment, and get a better handle on growth. We need to deal with transportation. I’m committed to a world class educational system. I want the kids to stay here after high school,’ the candidate asserted.

“Stewart, who previously represented Occoquan District on the board, said the board has ‘cut costs, cut spending and focused more on transportation, public safety and education.’  He added he wants to keep a ‘business friendly’ county, and that 14 percent of the tax base is commercial development.

” ‘We need to get commercial development to 25 percent,’ he contended.

“Pandak noted the county needs ‘to be fiscally responsible, and engage in long-term thinking. When the county had lots of tax revenues, serious cuts were made in the tax rates. That made it more challenging. We shouldn’t need large swings in the tax rate. We many not be in a position to just nudge the tax rate this year.’

“The Democrat added the county needs to pursue more federal money for transportation and for homeland security.

“Stewart said that the previous administration saw a tax rate of $1.39 (per $100 of assessed valuation).

” ‘We reduced the rate. If the rate were not reduced, the tax bills would have skyrocketed. Prince William went to the lowest tax rate in the region, and that’s quite an accomplishment,’ he contended.

“The chairman added that there has been a 14 percent decline in assessments, and ‘that under Virginia code, the commercial property tax rate must be the same as residential. When residential rates go up, it’s the same for commercial. Commercial is now stable, or going up, but residential is down.’

“Stewart added he knows the tax rate will go up, and that ‘it’s important to cut costs and prioritize.’

“In discussing the business atmosphere in the county, Stewart said the perception is that the county is ‘not the most business friendly. We need to correct that.’

“The Republican contended the county’s ‘permit and inspection system is broken.’

“He said business get inspections and are ready to open, then an inspector finds ten items that need reinspection. On reinspection, more items are found, and some are different from the previous list, he explained.

” ‘After five to ten rounds of inspections, some people are out of business before they can open. This needs to be fixed,’ Stewart asserted.

“Pandak, who said she has a small business in the county, vowed to fix the business atmosphere. She said Innovation in western Prince William County ‘is the product of a board several terms ago. That was a progressive concept.’ She called this year’s moratorium on development a ‘sham that expires after election. We must send the message that we’re not closed for business.’

“Both candidates were asked what they’d do to help existing businesses grow.

“Stewart remarked education, public safety and transportation are the keys, and that Prince William is the only county in the state ‘with a significant transportation program.’ He added that the county is one of the one percent in the United States to have an AAA bond rating.

“Pandak volunteered the county needs adequate broadband capabilities ‘so we can reach around the world,’ and that the county’s economic development council should expand and be more diverse.

” ‘I want a dialogue with the chambers (of commerce) to get the county’s message out that we’re creative and innovative,’ Pandak added.

“In discussing illegal immigration, Pandak contended the federal government is responsible for a lot of the problems.

” ‘We must hold businesses which knowingly bring and hire (illegal immigrants) accountable with severe penalties,’ she pointed out. The Democrat added she would go to Congress and get the ‘congressional delegation and governor to listen.’

“Stewart asserted the county ‘cannot afford not to address’ the illegal immigration issue and its $2.5 million price tag to pay for public safety. He mentioned a man held on an assault charge at the county’s adult detention center.

” ‘His status was not checked, and he was released and strangled a county resident. He had been deported twice, and was an illegal alien,’ Stewart explained. He said, ‘this cannot happen today because the board voted unanimously’ on the July 10 resolution cracking down on illegal immigration.

“Asked how they would address the upcoming county budget shortfalls, Stewart said the focus should be on cost-saving measures.

” ‘We wanted to force staff to scrub the budget. There’s always ways to cut to reduce costs and keep tax bills down,’ he added. He said with a 14 percent reduction in real estate assessments, ‘We’ll need to look at more reductions in all agencies.’

“Pandak contended that ‘last year’s budget was shortsighted and led to worse challenges.’ She cited the overcrowding at Brentsville High School, noting the school that would have relieved that overcrowding has been delayed a year or two.

” ‘We need not to make short-term decisions that will cost more in tax dollars. Priorities must be weighed. We need to have budget meetings for the public, and to develop five-year plans with the schools.

“To a question on how to provide more workforce housing, Pandak noted, ‘There’s a problem with brain drain. We need to do more with live/work (properties).’

“Stewart pointed out the county can ‘try to provide more housing for teachers,’ and that the county can work with the private sector.

“In discussing the proffer system in which developers contribute funds to offset the impact of their developments, Stewart said he asked county staff ‘to give us the real cost of building the infrastructure for each house.’ He said the single-family proffer figure should be $51,000, according to staff.

” ‘If the builder doesn’t pay, you do,’ he told his audience. He added he believes a proffer should ‘stay in the area where the proffer is generated. For example, the Brentsville school portion should stay there.’

“His opponent contended, ‘Proffers are voluntary contributions made by developers as part of the process. Proffers can be part of a rezoning on whether the comprehensive (land use) plan is being met.’ She added the county started calculating proffer costs in the 90’s.

” ‘We need to be sure all affected parties are at the table’ in determining proffer amounts, Pandak said. ‘We won’t solve infrastructure problems with proffers. We need to look at impact fees.’ “