Citizens for Balanced Growth

Year: 2014 (Page 1 of 4)

“Open Letter to BOCS Chairman Stewart on His Tax Increase Plan”

from PWCBG’s Ralph Stephenson

e-mailed to county citizens and media 16 December 2014

(Also published as: “Guest Opinion:  Corey Stewart can’t stick to political principles” by InsideNova, 23 December 2014)


Chairman Stewart:

In 2006 you strongly opposed Brentswood (the predecessor of the pending Stone Haven and Prince William Station residential developments.)  You pointed out then and for a year or so afterward that “when we approve large developments, we are essentially approving a tax increase” and that the county’s housing boom has “hurt the average person”.  (See: Parties Nominate Candidates for Pr William Seat and  BUT NOT LONG THEREAFTER YOU REVERSED COURSE 180 DEGREES AND BEGAN RELENTLESSLY CHAMPIONING RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPER CAUSES, including Avendale and Stone Haven, as well as a major change in direction beginning 2009-10 by the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) on land use that seemed to allow development virtually “anywhere, anytime” and allowed fast-tracked approval of developer land use requests.  (See: Fast-Tracking Developers )

You also talked in 2007 about how you’d been “socking it to the development community.”  BUT NOT LONG THEREAFTER YOU BEGAN AGGRESSIVELY SEEKING DEVELOPER MONEY.  (See:  At last count you’d received $759,841 from them.  (See:

AND NOW, per the 11 December 2014 InsideNova report below, YOU NOT ONLY HAVE APPARENTLY LOST INTEREST IN RESTRAINING TAX RATES, BUT ARE BLAMING COUNTY BUDGET SHORTFALLS, PARTICULARLY SCHOOL SHORTFALLS, ON PW COUNTY TAXPAYERS’ RELUCTANCE (AND INABILITY IN MANY CASES) TO PAY HIGHER TAXES.  In so doing, you have truly retreated to one of the last refuges of political scoundrels:  If only the taxpayers were more generous and the government had more and more money, everything would be so much better — and we wouldn’t have overcrowded schools, etc.  Apparently, taxpayers paying 30-40% of their income in federal, state, and local taxes and fees is not enough for you.  I’m sure it’s very frustrating to you that taxpayers are hesitant to give you more money so you can:  cover up your own policy mistakes of the last 5-6 years, keep giving indirect subsidies to residential developers, and in turn receive more and more campaign funding from developers to further your faltering statewide political ambitions.

It’s interesting that in recent years you have not publicly made mention, in fact have assiduously avoided any mention of the main reason for overcrowded public schools (and roads, for that matter):  consistently tax-negative residential development, caused by you and your predecessors’ pro-residential developer policies that simultaneously overcrowd and underfund both schools and roads and neglect tax-positive commercial development.  (For more info, see:  Proffers and Tax Impacts and Media Reports On Balanced Growth .)

Note that early next year Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth (PWCBG) plans to release updated 2015 budget figures on tax-negative residential development.  While a few numbers will change, we expect that the basic story will remain more or less unchanged:  The breakeven value of new houses (where taxes received from the house equal the cost of government services incurred by the house) has been about $450,000, while the average new house sells for about $330,000.  That leaves a tax gap of $120,000 multiplied by the current tax rate of 1.25%, meaning that on average each new house built has been $1,400-$1,500 tax negative per year.  While tax rates change and it looks like the average house is selling for a bit more now (though that trend could reverse if the percentage of townhouses in new housing rises), the breakeven value has also risen.  So we expect that the tax gap will remain similar, likely resulting in at least a $1,200 tax deficit per house per year.

Highly overvalued developer proffers of empty and often worthless land do not help much in reversing the tax-negative trend.  (See Word attachment above.)

In other words, OVERALL, RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT IN PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY IS OVERWHELMINGLY TAX-NEGATIVE, AND THAT REALITY DOES GREAT HARM TO TAXPAYERS, SCHOOLS, ROADS, QUALITY OF LIFE, AND THE VALUE OF EXISTING HOMES.  Let me remind you that this is the very point that PWCBG has been making to you and the rest of the Board of County Supervisors for almost nine years now.   Surely you could not have failed to hear us all those countless times during that period when we’ve spoken to you directly in person at BOCS meetings or, along with hundreds of citizens, sent e-mails to you reminding you over and over again of all this.  Or perhaps, more to the point, YOUR DESPERATE PLEA BELOW FOR HIGHER TAXES CONCEDES PWCBG’S POINT, IN A BACKHANDED, PERVERSE WAY.

Compounding folly on top of folly, county officials such as you continue to advocate more and more of this tax-negative, taxpayer-subsidized housing — even though there are still ~30,000 approved-but-not-yet-built houses and no housing shortages in the county.

Nor have you or the School Board mentioned the $37-38 million dollars diverted to the school board’s Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center and other frills that were funded even before the basic needs of schools were met.

Your political “principles” change so quickly and so radically that you’re giving me political whiplash.  Let’s hope that your next change is either in the right political direction once and for all or to the political exits.

Ralph Stephenson
Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

“Prince William leader floats idea of eliminating real-estate tax cap”

by Jill Palermo,

11 December 2014

Saying Prince William County residents are more concerned about overcrowded classrooms than their annual real-estate taxes, Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart proposed a change in local tax policy Tuesday that would focus more on raising needed revenue for schools and county services and less on capping tax hikes.

Stewart, R-At Large, floated the idea during a joint meeting of the county Board of Supervisors and School Board held at the Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center.

Pointing to the recent two-year county survey, as well as a separate survey his office conducted for political purposes, Stewart said increasing traffic congestion and school overcrowding are more immediate concerns for many residents than taxes.

“Regardless of your political stripes, people are more concerned about their quality of life at home than they are about keeping tax bills so low, I mean 30 percent lower than in Fairfax and Loudoun counties,” Stewart said. “There’s a price we are paying for that.”

The discussion, held in advance of upcoming annual spring budget talks, focused on tax policy as well as Stonehaven – a proposed residential development on the county’s west end that promises to bring a $24 million proffered site for the county’s 13th high school.

The controversial 1,650-home development, located near Jiffy Lube Live, has been put on hold until after the Dec. 23 special election that will pick a replacement for former Brentsville Supervisor Wally Covington, who resigned in September.

Stonehaven has prompted widespread concern among western county residents that the development will only exacerbate traffic congestion and school overcrowding.

But in response to questions from Stewart about the need for the new high school, Superintendent Steven Walts said the school division needs a 13th high school — whether Stonehaven is ultimately approved or not.

Walts said nearby high schools – including Battlefield and Patriot — will be about 1,500 students over capacity by 2019, the planned opening date for the new high school, even without estimated 300 high school students projected from Stonehaven.

“To somehow imply that by not doing Stonehaven our number problems are going to go away is just not factually based,” Walts said. “We need that high school to relieve overcrowding as its primary reason.”

Regarding real-estate tax policy, Stewart explained that supervisors have begun their annual budget discussions in recent years by voting first on a “tax guidance policy” for the coming fiscal year.

That vote, usually in December, effectively caps the largest source of county revenue – real-estate tax receipts – by dictating a ceiling on the average bill.

The problem with the policy, Stewart said, is that if often results in schools getting less revenue than projected under the county’s five-year budget plan.

In the past few years, supervisors have agreed to “out year” tax-bill increases of about 4 percent but rarely stick to that goal in response to political pressure to push taxes as low as possible, Stewart said.

For Prince William County Schools, which last year received 57.23 percent of county tax money under the long-standing revenue-sharing agreement, those decisions have typically meant cuts in proposed school revenue in the millions. As a result, efforts to lower class sizes and raise teacher pay – two long-stated priorities of the school board – have been largely impossible because of constrained revenue growth.

“In my view, this is the problem,” Stewart said. “To focus on a tax-bill growth policy… is not serving the county or the schools at all.”

Still, when Stewart effectively asked school board members for their political support of the change – saying it wouldn’t likely happen unless they publicly requested it – several school board members balked, including left-leaning Lillie Jessie (Occoquan) and right-leaning Vice Chairman Gil Trenum (Brentsville), who led the meeting in School Board Chairman Milt Johns’ absence.

Jessie said the school board would need more specific numbers about how a change in tax policy would affect school revenues.

Trenum said more consistent revenue projections would be appreciated but stopped short of saying he’d support real-estate tax increases to get them.

“I say that because there might be other ways to do that,” Trenum said, noting in an interview after the meeting that supervisors could increase the schools’ portion of the revenue-sharing agreement to ensure actual revenue for schools is more consistent with projections.

“If we’re going to talk about being flexible, we should talk about being flexible with that,” Trenum said.

Views of 2014 candidates for Brentsville District BOCS seat

Jeanine Lawson-R

22 March 2014 statement by Jeanine Lawson, candidate for Brentsville Supervisor, to PWCBG on why she should succeed current Brentsville Supervisor Wally Covington, when he resigns in 2014

Lawson expresses support for balanced growth principles to reduce school overcrowding, foster growth of professional jobs, improve ratio of commercial-to-residential tax revenue, reduce traffic congestion, and preserve Rural Crescent.  Notes her record of “standing up to the pressures of over-development” and years of service “as a trusted advocate for the community.”  Campaign contributions show broad distribution of donors; minimal reliance on developers.

Scott Jacobs-I

12 March 2014 statement by Scott Jacobs, candidate for Brentsville Supervisor, to PWCBG on why he should succeed current Brentsville Supervisor Wally Covington, when he resigns in 2014

Jacobs seeks “to bring more smart commercial development which will create high-paying jobs right here at home to lessen the burden of congestion on our roadways.”  Describes, if elected, “how” he’d perform his duties as supervisor, seeking public input and supporting “common-sense projects”; but otherwise fails to specify “what” land use policies he’d pursue and whether he supports PWCBG’s strategy — as described at Why balanced growth is important  — to balance residential growth with trafffic, school, tax, economic, and quality-of-life issues.  Campaign contributions show almost exclusive reliance (63%) on developers.

Eric Young-D

1-4 November 2014 e-mail exchange between PWCBG and Eric Young, candidate for Brentsville Supervisor

PWCBG questions Young’s late-entry into the Brentsville District Supervisor race (mid-Oct) and failure to “ever publicly speak out and fight for what he now says he believes in.”  Young says he supports  PWCBG’s balanced growth principles, wants “more frequent discussion of proffers requirements” to ensure they’re “adequate” for community needs, and pledges to “never accept developer money.”  Young believes that “the biggest stakeholder in land development is always the developer” who takes “the biggest financial risk,” but says he would “like to see that balance tip a bit more toward our community to alleviate the impact that development has on the people.” Article: “[9 December 2014] Brentsville Supervisor Debate Highlights Distinctions between Candidates [for Brentsville Supervisor]” by Val Wallace, Bristow Beat

E-mail exchange between PWCBG and Eric Young, candidate for Brentsville Supervisor

——– Original Message ——–
Subject:     Re: Your Candidacy & Positions on Balanced Growth
Date:     Tue, 04 Nov 2014 23:26:39 -0500
From:     Eric Young <>
To:     Ralph & Kathy Stephenson <>


Following the Balanced Growth principles you have outlined on your website is the way that we are going to get our county headed in the right direction.  I’m not a statesman and definitely not quick with words, so you’re not going to get a lot of fluff or anecdotes about the way it was as I grew up in PWC from me.  I am a strong supporter of the trifecta of balanced growth principles.  [Eric noted in a followup e-mail that the “trifecta” to which he is referring is “the three bullet points on your (PWCBG) under the ‘Why Balanced Growth is Important’ page.”  See Why balanced growth is important .]  I did appreciate you saying that it is important to have proper transportation infrastructure in place as needed and not years after.  I believe in a “growth pays for growth” model.  This means, however, that our long term planning needs to be much more comprehensive.  Additionally,  because our economics and demographics are in constant flux, I will push for a more frequent discussion on proffer requirements to ensure the investments made to our community more adequate.  The biggest stakeholder in land development is always the developer.  That’s as it should be because they’re taking the biggest financial risk.  But I’d like to see that balance tip a bit more toward our community to alleviate the impact that development has on the people.

With regard to where I have been…well I’ve been busy providing for my family and serving my community in the positions in which I have been asked to serve.  Currently, that post is as the Vice Chairman of the Prince William County Service Authority.  Those two things eat up the majority of my time.  The rest of my time is spent with my family and church activity.  Those were my priorities as of most recently.  You are very familiar with the principles of balance :)…my balance of priorities just didn’t include a more outward demonstration of my interest in public service. So I can understand how this would seem to the public with regard to my views on land use.  The time has come, though,  to step up and restore faith back to in our local elected officials.  This is something we have lost and its something the people want back.  Hence my pledge to never accept developer money.  Although, tremendous people whom I respect and like, I don’t believe either of the other two candidates for this office have the necessary will to simply stick to doing what is right for the people.


On Nov 1, 2014 11:59 AM, “Stephenson, Ralph & Kathy” <> wrote:

Hi, Eric. We understand you’ve very recently officially declared as the Democratic candidate to replace Wally Covington as Brentsville District Supervisor on the PW Board of County Supervisors.

As we’re sure you’ve noticed, at Prince Williams Citizens for Balanced Growth (PWCBG), we like to post on our website local candidates’ positions on balanced growth.  We’ve already invited both Scott Jacobs and Jeanine Lawson to respond, posted their responses, and will post your response as well.

Please advise whether you support the balanced growth principles espoused by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth (PWCBG) at the following weblink:Why balanced growth is important   Please note which balanced growth principles you don’t support, if any, and why not.

Your late entry into the race, and very recent opposition to Stone Haven, developer money corrupting the political process, and residential development that overcrowds our roads and schools is welcome. Nevertheless, we’ve never seen you speak at the BOCS or Planning Commission meetings, or in any other public venue until your recent media interviews, or seen you in any way fight for any of these views previously. As one of our local political allies said to us: Why doesn’t Eric ever publicly speak out and fight for what he now says he believes in? “He doesn’t speak out and work against Birkwood, against Stone Haven, against Pioneer Assemblage, but he expects people to believe he is against them? Actions speak louder than words.” Your response to this widespread perception would be appreciated as well.

Ralph & Kathy Stephenson, PWCBG

“Stone Haven vote waiting on new Brentsville supervisor”

by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

17 Oct 2014, pp. 10, 28

“Saying they needed more information on school projections and a representative of Brentsville District elected, Prince William Board of County Supervisors unanimously deferred to Jan. 30 a vote on the controversial 864-acre Stone Haven subdivision near Jiffy Lube Live.  The action came at the board’s Oct. 7 public hearing.

“A new supervisor to replace Brentsville supervisor Wally Covington will be chosen at a special election Dec 23.  Covington recently was named a county judge and had to give up his supervisor’s post.  The Stone Haven project is in Brentsville District. Continue reading

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