by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

19 Aug 2011, pp. 20-21

“A dozen candidates for positions on Prince William Board of County Supervisors told the audience at Northern Virginia Community College’s Manassas campus on Aug. 9 why voters should cast ballots for them.   The event was part of the leadership series of Prince William Chamber of Commerce.

“Speakers who are running in the Republican primary election Aug. 23 to represent Gainesville District were Martha Hendley, Peter Candland, Steve Botello, Michael High and Suzanne Miller.  The victor will face Democrat Ann Wheeler in the Nov. 8 general election.

“The Gainesville post is being vacated by John Stirrup, who is running in the Republican primary race the same day to represent the 13th District in the Virginia State Senate.

“Speakers who want to be supervisor from Coles District were Marty Nohe, the incumbent, and Robert ‘Bob’ Pugh.

“Also addressing the group were Brentsville District candidates Wally Covington, the incumbent, and challenger Jeanine Lawson.  Candidates who are running for board chairman in the Nov. 8 race also spoke.  There is no primary election for that contest.  Speakers were Corey Stewart, the Republican incumbent board chairman and at-large member, Babur Lateef, a Democrat, and John Gray, an independent.

Gainesville District Aug. 24 primary supervisor candidates

“In the Gainesville contest, the candidates addressed the Business Professional Occupational License (BPOL) tax.  The board of supervisors recently increased to $200,000 from $100,000 the amount a business can gross before it is liable for the tax.

“Candland said he applauded the hike, and suggested ‘we see how it works at $200,000.’  Hendley questioned whether the $200,000 could be raised so high it would become ineffective.  Miller suggested the county can’t just shift money from one place to another, and spoke in favor of more job creation.  High wondered why a BPOL tax should be paid if a company paid sales tax on equipment bought locally.  Botello agreed with the BPOL base increase, pointing out business people should be listened to, and the tax eliminated, if possible.

“Candland called BPOL ‘another tax on business,’ and said other counties don’t have the tax, ‘and their roads are not exploding.’

“Rob Clapper, the event’s moderator and chamber president, noted the BPOL tax originally was assessed to pay for the War of 1812.

“Asked whether they think there is enough housing in the county, High noted there is ‘so much, it’s sickening.’  He asserted slums are being created.

“Botello opined there are more than 100,000 units approved, but not built, in the county pipeline.  He said he supports moderate growth, but that ‘there are a lot of homes waiting to be bought.’

“Hendley said the number of approved but unbuilt units is 24,200, down from the 40,000 or more that were in the pipeline in 1998.  She added there was a glut of townhouses years ago, but the zoning ordinance was changed so there were wider townhomes, fewer in a stick or row of townhouses and more open space.

“Miller noted because of the economy, ‘developers are stalling.’  She suggested stricter proffer packages be required.

“Candland noted homes are being built in Gainesville, but asserted there is no infrastructure to support them.  He said he has a daughter at Bull Run Middle School who goes to class in a trailer, and that it takes him 20 minutes to get to a gas station.

” ‘We need the infrastructure for those who are here,’ Candland said.

“Clapper said that an additional 200,000 residents can be expected to move into the county in coming years, asking about candidate support for the Rural Crescent.

“Hendley remarked she backs off the Rural Crescent because of its financial impact on the county, High said the county has enough homes and Miller noted she supports the Rural Crescent, but is pro-business.  Miller pledged to get Innovation ‘filled if elected.’

“Clapper explained the chamber favors construction of the bi-county and tri-county parkways, asking the candidates’ opinions.

“Candland pointed out the need to investigate both roadways, and that the county’s access to Dulles International Airport ‘is a problem.’

“Botello and High agreed quick access to Dulles is important.  Miller suggested adding more jobs in the county would lessen the number of residents who have to commute, and that local jobs should be sought before parkways are built.

“Hendley reported she supported the tri-county parkway through Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, noting Prince William taxpayers already own some of the land intended for the road.  She said the county needs to prioritizes, and ‘get the most bang for its buck.  The majority of our traffic goes east each day.’  She suggested concentrating assets on the east-west traffic, adding the bi-county parkway comes in west of Dulles Airport.

Coles District Aug. 24 primary supervisor candidates

“Nohe reported he’s ‘the most qualified candidate who’s running, not necessarily the most qualified candidate.’  He pointed out the county has the lowest property tax in northern Virginia.  He said the focus should be on developing high quality jobs.”Nohe said he’s lived in Coles District ten years.  Pugh noted he was in Brentsville District, but redestricting this year put him in Coles District.

“Both Nohe and Pugh agreed on BPOL tax reform and eventual elimination.

“Commenting on the Washington Council of Government’s (COG) idea that the county will have 200,000 more people by 2030, Pugh asserted the county shouldn’t go along with the COG’s ideas.  He claimed Nohe is taking a regional approach to the matter, which ‘is not best for Coles and Prince William County.’

In discussing the county’s housing supply, Nohe said it all is based on supply and demand. He said older neighborhoods ‘are filling back up’ after the Great Recession, and that county unemployment is low.

” ‘We must make sure we have high quality homes available,’ he declared.

“In the Coles District race, Pugh said ‘he doesn’t oppose growth,’ but feels ‘it’s been overdone.’  He contended that in the 90’s, the county was 70 percent residential taxpayers, but that today that number has soared to 82 percent ‘and is tax negative.’  He suggested a more balanced approach to development [relatively more commercial and less residential.]

Brentsville District Aug. 24 primary supervisor candidates

“In the contest to represent Brentsville District on the Board of Supervisors, Lawson reported she is a new chamber member and originally is from Iowa, moving to the county in 1992.  She noted Virginia has been named the number one business friendly state in the country.

“Lawson explained she is ‘committed to working with Martin Briley and the governor to get professional jobs’ for the county.  Briley heads the county’s economic development department.

“The candidate said the fact ‘two-thirds of our workers will leave the county daily’ for employment ‘needs to change.’  She added she wants to attract professional jobs so college graduates can remain or return to the county.

“Covington advised he has been elected to the supervisor’s post twice and has three children in county schools.  He said he ‘wants to continue what I’ve started.’  He pointed out he has the experience and has served on many different boards, such as the VRE and Innovation.

“Lawson said she is running because the county needs new leadership.  She accused current board members of ‘rubberstamping development,’ adding new leaders are needed ‘to represent the people, not special interest groups.’

“When it comes to housing supply, Lawson estimated there are 40,000 units approved, but not yet built.  She contended that Prince William Association of Realtors (PWAR) reports 60 to 70 percent of current real estate sales are short sales, and that at one time, the county led in foreclosures.

“Covington disputed the 40,000 figure, claiming it is closer to 30,000, and that ‘the private sector should choose how much housing is needed.’  He explained he was successful in getting developers to pay a project’s transportation dollars up front, ‘but that the state cut some of that power.’

“When asked if the candidates believe the county’s tax burden is too low, too high or just right, Covington said BPOL should be done away with because it’s unfair.

” ‘You’re taxed when you don’t make money,’ he contended.  He said taxes ‘are higher than I’d like,’ adding he would like to see more of the money the area sends to Richmond returned to the county.

“Lawson said taxes are too high, and that ‘families are suffering.  Raising taxes is dangerous.’  She claimed taxes are up because ‘we’re paying more than our fair share because developers don’t.’

“When it comes to transportation, both Lawson and Covington support easier access to Dulles Airport.  Lawson added she only would support a route that has limited access points.  Covington said he favored the bi-county route because the tri-county one goes through wetlands.

“Covington concluded by pointing out the county has made $200 million in new investments this year in transportation, that schools and infrastructure have been built, that the county enjoys a triple A creding rating and is number one in the state in job growth.

” ‘Think about your vote,’ Covington advised.  ‘Three years ago inexperience came into this country, and it hasn’t worked out.’

Candidates for board chairman Nov. 8 election

“In the chairman’s race, the three candidates commented on how they would address goals of the chamber.

“Lateef explained he favored reforming or eliminating the BPOL tax, calling it ‘a barrier.’  He added waiving the tax would stimulate business.

“Stewart remarked hiking the BPOL tax point to $200,000 was a chamber goal, but that it would have some impact on revenue.  The tax puts $21 million each year into county coffers, he noted.  He said reform of BPOL should be considered.

“Gray reported Stafford County has no BPOL tax, which gives it a competitive edge over Prince William County.  The candidate also decried the 80/20 rate of residential to commercial properties in the county.  He contended this county has overtaxed its residents by $18.5 million and should return that money to the taxpayers.  He suggested properties be reassessed every two years, not every year, as is done today.

“In speaking of county economic development, Lateef said work on U.S. 1 didn’t move fast enough, and that the county needs bus rapid transit (BRT) and the expansion of VRE.  He also suggested the need for a new stadium for the Potomac Nationals baseball team, mentioning the possibility of a mixed-use project on Interstate 95, Interstate 66 or U.S. 1.

“Stewart explained much development has taken place in the county’s western end in the last 15 years, but that ‘there’s an explosion now along Rt. 1.’

“He noted Hilda Barg, the former longtime supervisor from Woodbridge District, ‘dedicated her life’ to improving the roadway, and that the eight-mile road widening was nearly complete.

“Gray observed the revitalization plan has been in the works for U.S. 1 for 24 or 25 years, but that all of it changed in 2007 and 2008.  He mentioned investigating how this affects the tax rate.

“When speaking of support for the Rural Crescent, Gray said there is ‘no overwhelming support to kill’ it.  He added the county couldn’t afford the infrastructure costs of chopping ten-acre tracts into smaller lots.
” ‘Residential development doesn’t pay for itself.  Commercial development does,’ Gray asserted.

“In discussing K-12 education and the need for technical workers and those in the science fields, Lateef suggested math and science begin in kindergarten or first grade.  He contended it also is important for students to speak a second language.

“Stewart explained the county each year gives the school district 56.75 percent of its general revenue budget, ‘and the school board does the rest.  It’s not right for supervisors to micro-manage the schools.’  The chairman added the county is working with both George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College on possible expansion projects in the county.

“Gray said the elected school board handles K-12, and that the schools have three times the number of employees as the county.”