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.