County leaders clash on referendum
Tuesday’s Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting could end up being a showdown between individual board members who disagree about whether a position should be taken on the proposed $5 billion regional sales tax referendum.
While the jurisdictions of Fairfax, Loudoun, Leesburg and Manassas have passed resolutions urging voters to support the half-cent increase in the sales tax to pay for transportation needs, Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors has yet to act.
In a memo to fellow board members last week, at-large Republican board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton urged them not to take a position on Tuesday, but wait for public information campaigns the county will be launching.
The November ballot question is whether to increase Northern Virginia’s sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5 percent to pay for $5 billion in road and transit projects over 20 years.
Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III, R-Gainesville, said he wants the county to take a position now.
“Sooner is better than later,” he said. “We all have plenty of information now to know whether or not Prince William County will benefit. It may not be exactly what we want, but we do know and have information that the referendum will have an impact on congestion, and it will give money to each jurisdiction for secondary projects.”
The county should take a position now, he said, and then have public meetings to tell people why it made that choice. He will come out in favor of the referendum on Tuesday, urging voters to support it.
Members of the Prince William Taxpayers Alliance, referendum foes, plan to hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. just before the board meeting to demand that the board vote to oppose the referendum.
Connaughton said he supports the board taking a position at its September meeting after three meetings with the public.
What the staff said Friday, in a memo by Dana Fenton, assistant to the county executive, was that the board should consider endorsing the regional sales tax.
According to some supervisors, there has been little pressure for the board to take a stand.
“I don’t have anyone calling and asking me that question,” said Supervisor Ruth T. Griggs, R-Occoquan. “Nobody is telling me I have to tell them how to vote. I thought the whole point of a referendum was to let the voters decide.”
She said she is neutral on the question of whether the county should pass a resolution.
The issue is an important one, considering that voters may be asked to decide on a menu of transportation projects that only generally outlines what projects in Prince William County would receive funding. For instance, $300 million is included in enabling legislation for I-66 improvements and rail extension (from I-495 to U.S.15), but it doesn’t say what projects within that category will be funded.
Determining that is the job of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which met for the first time Thursday. One proposal from that body would allocate $150 million of bond authority for I-66 and rail extension projects; $90.9 million for I-95/I-395 improvements; and $75 million for U.S. 1 improvements, to name a few. But those types of decisions have not been finalized, and according to Fenton, it’s unclear at this time if more specific projects lists will be available before the voters go to the polls in November.
In February, Dale City resident Kevin Raymond stressed to the board the need for higher taxes to pay for roads and that congestion doesn’t fall within county lines but rather is a regional problem. “New highways and parkways, whether built in Fairfax, Stafford or Prince William, will serve all the region. Take the widening of Va. 123 in Fairfax, which when completed, will improve the commute for thousands of Prince William residents. These are regional needs, not county needs.”
Other supervisors could not be reached for comment Friday except for Mary K. Hill, R-Coles, who said she hasn’t made a decision because she is still waiting for some answers from the county.
Also on Tuesday, supervisors will be taking a position on a $69 million local road bond referendum. A resolution has been drafted moving the county forward on six projects for local roads, with a citizens committee established for public education.
Manassas Park City Council is scheduled to discuss the regional sales tax referendum on July 30.
Staff writer Diane Freda can be reached at (703) 878-4723.