by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

15 Feb 2013, p. 21

“Prince William County has skyrocketing property taxes, crowded schools and roads, and its quality of life is slipping, Bob Pugh told the Jan. 30 meeting of Prince William Committee of 100 in Four Points by Sheraton, Manassas.  Topic of the panel discussion was, “Prince William Land Use Planning:  Is Our Vision Slipping?”

“Other panelists were Jeff Kaczmarek, county director of economic development; Sherman Patrick, a professional planner, [land developer,] and former county employee, and John Karhnak, chairman of Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association (WPCCA).

“Pugh, a financial analyst and former senior financial analyst with the county, told his audience of about 45 people, “the county abandoned its vision a decade ago.  He said he used to do fiscal impact analysis work for the county until 2000 and 2001, ‘when the county decided not to do it.’  He added the county’s goal of having commercial development provide 25 percent of the county’s tax base is gone, with commercial properties contributing only 15 percent of the revenue.

” ‘And most commercial development is in low-wage services,’ Pugh added.

“The speaker asserted ‘the average new residential unit built in the county has a $900 annual negative fiscal impact per year.’  He contended the only ways to cover this revenue-negative development [are] to ‘increase taxes, cut the quality of services or get high wage jobs.’  He said the county is cutting services.

“Pugh reported the lack of a balanced tax base led to an uptick in taxes to subsidize new development.  ‘In 2002 and 2003, taxes skyrocketed because of excess residential development that didn’t cover [pay] its way in taxes,’ he said.  ‘We’re building a low-wage service economy in Prince William County.  Population growth outstrips job growth.’

“Pugh contended the largest and fastest growing job sector in the county in the past ten years has been in public administration.  He added the way the county is developing will cause it to lose high-wage IT jobs, and it would become a bedroom community with no room for commercial expansion.

“Kaczmarek, the first speaker, explained one of county’s strengths and a key to its success is its diversity.  Another strong point is its AAA bond rating from the three national bond rating agencies.  The county is first in Virginia and third nationally in job growth, the seventh wealthiest county in the country and one of 100 best communities across the nation for young people, he remarked.  ‘Prince William is not a name well known, but we’ll market it,’ he noted.

“Kaczmarek said the county’s strategic plan for 2013-2017 ‘wants to attract captial investment by diversifying its economic base and in easing the residential tax burden.’  He said the new life science center will be promoted, and that his department would ‘develop a cohesive brand identity.’

“The development director said firms considering locating here want a business-friendly government, access to a labor pool and talent and financial incentives.

“Patrick told his audience goals of the county’s comprehensive plan ‘need to be realistic.’  He added that if it were a good iea to have more upscale restaurants, they’d be here, and that people are not going out to dinnner enough.

“Patrick said there’s a need in the county for mid- to high-rise offices.

” ‘But we’re not there yet,’ he said.

“He contended that not every new home has a negative tax impact on the county, and that the breakeven point would be a home valued at $385,000 or more.  Patrick contended, ‘transportation is our number one problem.  The cheapest way to work is by car.  The cost is less than (mass) transit.’

“In answer to the question on whether the county has lost its vision, he commented, ‘no, it’s not lost its vision.  There’s lots to be done.  Give the planning department more money.’

“Karhnak, chairman of Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association (WPCCA), reported he’s read the county’s entire 1100-page budget.  He said residential real estate taxes provide 85 percent of taxes collected.

” ‘And 27 percent of workers travel an hour or more each day to work, which is three times the national average.  Seventy-five percent of county workers drive to work alone, up from seven percent last year,’ Karhnak noted.

“The speaker said the strategic plan wants more workers working in the county, new jobs, an increase in capital investment and ‘internal awareness of our strengths.’ “