We continue our community conversations in 2017
Before any great journalism is made, a publisher must listen to his community.
As we prepare to ring in 2017, we’re also preparing for another year of producing great, quality journalism that is worth your time and attention.
Covering our communities in and around Prince William County has been our mission since we started in 2010.
You play a crucial role in helping us reach this goal. So, that’s why I’ll be at the One Degree Room, located at 204 Commerce Street in Occoquan, on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 from 10 a.m. to noon.
Later in the week, I’ll be at Jirani Coffeehouse, located at 9425 West Street in Manassas on Wednesday, Jan. 11, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
During both sessions, you can chat with me, tell us what’s on your mind, and about what stories you think we should be covering.
Just as I was last month when we met here, I’m open to talking about any issue in our community from roads, traffic, transit, schools, parks, local government, business development, shopping, entertainment, etc.
Got a pothole on your street that’s been ignored? Know of a special person in our community deserving of recognition? Just want to say hello and drink a cup of coffee?
All of these are great reasons to visit.
See you soon. Happy New Year.
For a brief moment, we pause
It’s at this moment the world is merry and bright. Families travel to be with each other. Gifts of appreciation are shared. Memories are made.
The store windows in Occoquan are decorated with garland, while the buildings in Downtown Manassas are adorned with white lights.
A large Christmas Tree overlooks Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center in Woodbridge, while light continues to shine on our very own symbol of freedom — The National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico.
These sights are commonplace in our community at this time of year. The hustle and bustle of our daily lives sometimes make it difficult for us to stop, look around, and appreciate them for all they’re worth.
At Potomac Local, I’m appreciative of you for allowing us to celebrate another Christmas by looking back at all we’ve accomplished over the past year.
We’ve seen the opening of a new Re-Store which helps provide housing to some of our area’s neediest. We saw the renaming of a Dale City middle school and talked to the community who came to be a part of the process.
These are just some of my memories from 2016.
Your gift of continued support and readership of Potomac Local goes a long way in helping us to celebrate the season.
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Lots of great story tips at coffee session
I enjoyed meeting with community members and business leaders in Occoquan, as well as representatives from the Prince William County Solid Waste Division, The Prince William County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and Associates in Gastroenterology.
We drank French press coffee (because what else do members of the press drink?) and swapped some great stories about our community. I learned a lot, and I appreciate the news tips.
I look forward to meeting you soon at another one-on-one session in January. Time and date TBD. Bring your story ideas.
Excited for the New Year
Here’s a bit of breaking news: Santa arrives in less than six days. Then the hustle and bustle of the holiday season winds down.
At Potomac Local, we’re looking forward to spending time with family and friends over the holidays. And then we can’t wait to learn what new developments 2017 has in store. The news never stops.
Seven fire posts in one day
We published seven posts to the site Monday about house fires. That’s very unusual.
In the case of the fire on Cosgrove Way near Dumfries, a concerned neighbor and Potomac Local community member Jacqueline Palmer sent us a sidebar post detailing information about the family who lost everything in the fire. See her post, and how you can help.
Winter begins on Wednesday (even though Saturday’s ice storm was a sure sign that it has already arrived). Please be careful when it comes to heating your home and discarding cigarettes and smoking materials.
We’re back on winter weather watch
Speaking of winter, how about that ice storm on Saturday? From crashes to canceled events, Old Man Winter showed up for the first time this season.
We’ll be watching VDOT and holding them accountable when it comes to pre-treating our roads. We can’t forget the bungle that was the commute from hell in January, where many people became stranded on highways and had to sleep in their cars. ‘
Dumfries Christmas Parade
On a lighter note, I had the pleasure of announcing the 42nd Annual Dumfries Christmas Parade. Unlike years past, the performers weren’t allowed to stop in front of the reviewing stand. And, the location of the stand isn’t ideal, but none of that took away from a great Christmas tradition in our region. We posted the winners of the parade.
VRE extension prospects bleak
As we’ve been reporting, it doesn’t look good for an extension of Virginia Railway Express to Gainesville and Haymarket. It appears the cost — as much as $660 million, about $40,000 per each new rider gained between today and 2040 — outweighs the benefits.
While Prince William County leaders decide what recommendation they want to make to the VRE Operations Board (which will approve or kill the extension project), we’ll be watching this one for you.
Wreaths Across America
And it is always fun to watch wreaths being laid at Quantico National Cemetery as part of Wreaths Across America. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7916 in Occoquan sent us a story about their efforts to lay the wreaths, and we published it.
Thank you for your continued to support in our mission to inform our community by bringing you relevant, local news.
The 42nd annual Dumfries Christmas Parade was held Saturday.
This was my third year taking the microphone and announcing the marching groups, floats, and area elected officials who all participate in the Christmastime tradition.
I was honored to have Ms. Betty Covington on the stage to help me announce. Covington has done so much for Dumfries, serving as Dumfries Elementary School principal and later as the Dumfries District, renamed Potomac District School Board member.
In this day and age of video games, Netflix, and instant information, it’s great to see so many people bring their children to a parade, a time-honored tradition that brings communities together. Parents braved the cold and brought their children out on December day when temperatures never escaped the 30s.
From school dance troops, cheerleaders, Air Force JROTC, churches, businesses, the volunteer fire and rescue departments, and Santa and Mrs. Claus, there’s always a lot to look at the in the Dumfries show. All the marching organizations, bands, and floats were carefully judged they marched along the parade route. We’ll post the winners of the parade judging contest to Potomac Local as soon we have them.
The Toys for Tots float that appeared earlier this month in the Greater Manassas Christmas Parade held on December 3 that won first place at that event was also in Dumfries’ parade. We’ll see how it fared with the judges in Dumfries.
Going forward, Dumfries leaders may want to take a page out of Manassas’ book and move the reviewing stand to the end of the parade route at Graham Park Drive near Dunkin Donuts. Having both marched in the Dumfries parade, and announced the parade the past three years, I’ve noticed that many people gather at Town Hall at the start of the parade, and in a second large group at the end.
The announcer and the reviewing stand for the Manassas Parade are located at the very end of the route, at the intersection of Center and West streets. People line up along the over one-mile long parade route to see the procession, and then the participants are announced at the very end.
Very few people gather near the Dumfries parade review stand where I make my announcements.
The end of the parade is also a great place to snap photos, as many participants like to stop and perform for the parade judges to showcase their talents, and to show off their floats.
In Dumfries this year, parade marchers were told not to stop and perform in front of the viewing stand. However, some did and chose to dance or sing. Because their young hearts were enjoying themselves so much, who was we to tell them no? Where’s the Christmas spirit in that?
This year, the Dumfries parade was also competing with a series of events happening in eastern Prince William County, Winterfest, which also occurred Saturday. The festival was a daylong series of events that began with a Santa’s Lake Ridge Parade at Tacketts Mill, then caroling in Occoquan, capped off with nighttime fireworks at Prince William Marina.
Last year Winterfest was on the third weekend in the month, while the Dumfries parade has traditionally been held on the second weekend. With so many Christmastime events happening I’m sure it’s difficult to efficiently coordinate everything, but it’d be good to see the leaders of the small towns not competing for holiday event goers.
My hat is off to Dumfries Community Services coordinator Brittany Heine, who shows us what being a one-woman production is all about. Sure, Henie has help from many volunteers, but after years covering the town and participating in events, her role is the glue that makes the parade come to together.
Do you have a pothole on your street that has been ignored for some time? How about a dirty playground in your neighborhood that is no longer a safe place for children to play?
Maybe you have some good news, like an amazing friend who organized as successful neighborhood watch program. Or, maybe you have a teacher who went the extra mile to help her students learn.
These are all great stories, and I want to hear about them, and any others you want to share.
I’ll be at the One Degree Room in Occoquan on Tuesday, December 6, from 10 a.m. to noon. Sit down, grab a cup of coffee, and chat with me about whatever is going on in your neighborhood.
As your community news publisher, I’ll be sure to listen to your story ideas, compliments, complaints, and constructive criticism.
There’s no charge to meet with me, so come over and grab the publisher’s ear.
The One Degree Room is located at 204 Commerce Street in Occoquan, on the lower level of the One Degree Capital building.
News Happy Thanksgiving
By now, I hope you’ve made it where you are going for Thanksgiving.
For my wife and I, we spent the day traveling on Virginia highways making our way over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house. This is the third time we’ve made the annual trip to be with family for this special holiday.
Like many who traveled this holiday weekend, we braved lines, crowds, and delays to make it where we were going. For those who stayed close to home, long lines and delays at shopping malls and roads will also affect holiday travelers and shoppers.
The best gift you can give yourself this Thanksgiving is to be with friends or family. It’s these people who are there for us, who make us laugh, who are there for us to talk, and for the very best of them, give us a shoulder to cry on from time to time.
And, if you’re a good friend who returns the favor, your visit will be a gift well received.
I am truly thankful for my family who supports me in not only this project of bringing you our local news but in all endeavors. From improving our home, investing in our family, planning for our future, and taking care of our tribe of goats and pack of dogs, my family has been there every step of the way.
I hope that you have friends and relatives like this in your life and that you’ll be able to count your blessings, and for what you are thankful.
We’ll take a break Thanksgiving Day from posting local news. For us, it’s time to be with family and friends, to relax, regroup, and, of course, eat some turkey.
We’ll be back bright and early on Friday.
News We are all grateful to the law enforcement officers who protect us. When wounded on the job, we should know who they are.
I saw the name of a Stafford County Sheriff’s Deputy, who was shot four times the line of duty earlier this week identified today in the media only through court records.
Thankfully, the deputy is on his way to recovery after a successful surgery.
We all respect those in law enforcement who protect and serve us. We, as a community join and rally around them to make a full recovery. We are saddened when they, god forbid, pay the ultimate price.
In this case, a reporter searching through court case records is the only reason we know the name of this brave deputy who is deserving our thanks, admiration, and goodwill.
“Initially, the deputy’s family requested that the injured deputy’s name be withheld. The Sheriff’s office complied with their wishes,” stated Stafford sheriff’s spokeswoman M.C. Moncure.
When three Prince William County police officers were shot in February, one of them fatally, we (the public at large and members of the media) knew the names of the officers within hours of the incident.
The Prince William County Police Department Public Information Office not only released the names to the media on the night of the shootings, but they also posted names and photos of the officers on the department’s social media accounts.
Officer Ashely Guindon paid the ultimate price on her first day on the job. Officers David McKeown and Jessie Hempen recovered, and were celebrated when they returned to the department for roll call — a triumphant moment that Prince William police shared on its social media pages.
In hours after Prince William police told us the names of the brave officers who were shot in the line of duty during a domestic situation, that information was used by citizens to create a rallying cry around fallen officers, and to show support for a police department that serves its citizens.
Within days, 1,000 people gathered at the county’s government center for a candlelight vigil to remember Officer Guindon, and pull together for the speedy recovery of the then hospitalized officers McKeown and Hempen. It was one of the biggest display’s of community support I had seen, and it made me proud to be from Prince William.
In regards to the Prince William department’s decision to tell us the names of its wounded officers, spokesman Jonathan Perok had this to say, “There isn’t a policy in that regard. It was a mutual decision that the department and families came to at the time. We saw a need in releasing the names and the families were consulted and agreed.”
Wouldn’t the Stafford Sheriff’s Office agree the actions of the Prince William County Police Department set a good precedent in this cases like these in the name of transparency, as well as a way to solicit support from its residents?
In my nearly 20 years experience in local media, the Prince William County Police Department is not alone when it comes to providing its residents the names of its wounded police officers.
We are all grateful to the service given by the men and women of the Stafford Sheriff’s Office, and all law enforcement agencies that work to keep us safe. The ability to identify its members and support them in trying times like these should not be limited to those “in the know” or by those who are forced to search court case records.
Potomac Local, like many organizations, tried to get Hal Parrish and Jeremy McPike on stage for a debate this election season.
To our dismay, and to many of those who looked forward to the debate, it never happened. But it was not for lack of trying.
Our community news organization held more debates this year than we ever have held during our five years covering Prince William County. Candidates for state and local offices agreed to meet to debate and discuss the issues facing our community.
Potomac Local worked with the Republican and Democratic committees of Prince William County to secure the public schools we used as venues to hold these debates.
The debates were well attended, and discussion sparked from them made voters better informed. Our debates were far from perfect, but they were substantive.
Potomac Local didn’t sell sponsorships for the debate, and no one from my company was paid to be there. It was a true public service.
This summer, Potomac Local worked tirelessly to bring together McPike, Parrish, officials in the respective political parties, church pastors, and business leaders to come to agreement on when and where both candidates could meet.
We first secured Bull Run Unitarian Chruch in Manassas as our debate venue due to its central location in the Prince William region. Parrish’s campaign declined to participate and cited parking constraints as the reason.
We then secured a large meeting room at the offices of Home Instead Senior Care in Manassas. The McPike campaign did not want to debate there as they felt the location would be too close to Manassas Councilman Ian Lovejoy, who serves on the council with Parrish and manages the Home Instead offices.
Finally, we secured an auditorium inside a Prince William County Public School. The Parrish campaign declined to participate if the Prince William Chamber of Commerce did not participate in the event.
Potomac Local is a member of the Chamber, and I also know it tried unsuccessfully to bring McPike and Parrish to the table. Many who watch state politics closely, including Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, who co-moderated several of our debates, were eager to attend a debate featuring both candidates.
Potomac Local does not endorse political candidates. I know Parrish from covering the Manassas City Council where he serves as Mayor. I know McPike from my years of covering the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department where he volunteers.
McPike won a debate Potomac Local hosted in May, featuring two Democrats running against him in a Primary Election. It would have been nice to see if could do it all over again had been able to stand next to Parrish and debate the issues.
Another debate Potomac Local tried to organize at the Manassas Park Community Center, between Robert Marshall and Don Shaw was canceled after Marshall declined to participate.
Uriah Kiser is the founder and publisher of PotomacLocal.com.
I went home Wednesday night and finished working on the fence in our backyard.
We installed a new gate to a side yard. Our two goats will enjoy this new large space, and I’ll enjoy the fact that they will eat all the unwanted foliage there.
It was simply just another evening at home I shared with my wife and our pets after another long day at work.
These evenings are ones we may sometimes take for granted.
That morning journalists Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, were shot and killed on live TV while interviewing a local chamber of commerce president, who was also shot and survived. The story they were covering was not one of violent crime, or digging up secrets of a mob boss, or to uncover political wrongdoing.
A celebration was underway for a dam built 60 years ago that created Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake. Parker and Ward went to learn about all of the fun events and activities planned for the anniversary, and went to bring home that community news story to their audience.
It’s a story that us reporters, and a service that we as readers may take for granted.
We journalists cover our communities with pride every day. Our business, the way we do our jobs, and the rules of traditional news writing as we knew them 20 years ago have all changed. They will continue to change as new digital storytelling tools emerge and, most importantly, readers continue to shift how they get their news and how much news content they demand.
As journalists, we are involved in this community in ways many people are not, or simply can’t be due to work and family commitments. We are here during the day reporting on our community while the majority of our readers leave the area for work in Washington, D.C.
We are the ones that are asked why police were “on my street last night.” or “what’s going on in my child’s school,” or “what am I really getting in exchange for the taxes I’m paying?”
In turn, we are privileged to go out and and bring home the answers to these and other questions. We get to explain to our readers what’s going on in their communities and why it matters to them.
Anymore, there are few others in our community that do what we do. But we’re glad there’s still a handful of us. Every community needs more reporters.
If our readers didn’t have to work and had more free time, maybe they would go out and do what we do.
The job is not easy. It’s time-consuming. It’s not cheap. It doesn’t require the highest degree awarded by the most prestigious journalism school in the nation.
It does require dedication, commitment, and a true understanding of the community that we serve. It is work that should not be taken for granted.
It’s taken me a few days to write these words, and to try to wrap my head around the tragic events of this week. I tried to let my emotions subside and time pass before I took to my bully pulpit.
Newspapers, local news websites, and local TV stations are not the sole source for community information any longer. Social media is now an indispensable method of spreading news and photos, and for telling stories.
Not a day goes by that we, the reporters, don’t look to social media to find out what conversations are being had in the communities we cover. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a TV news show that isn’t showing an image of a Facebook page or Twitter comment to help tell the story.
Not all information posted to social media is accurate. We saw that Wednesday when incorrect reports surfaced of Virginia State Police pursuing Parker and Ward’s killer on Interstate 64 near Charlottesville.
As long as we’re around — as long as our readers find value in our reporting and local businesses and organizations find value in marketing to our readers — we’ll do our best to report the news timely fairly, accurately, and with a focus on how it impacts our community.
It’s the same thing Parker, and Ward would be doing today had they not been gunned down.
Ahead, the debate over how to best help those with mental illness, and what to do about the increasing number of high-profile shootings will rage on. After Virginia Tech, the state is no stranger to these conversations.
For now let’s remember two young, much-loved journalists who had their whole lives ahead of them. Whom, for a brief time, were given the honor and privilege of covering their hometowns — the same privilege that I have been given.
And let us take nothing for granted.
-Uriah Kiser is the founder and publisher of PotomacLocal.com.
Some candidates rise and fall with their party affiliation. For others, it simply doesn’t matter.
For example, take candidates running for school board in Virginia. A provision in the state code mandates all candidates for school board run without the affiliation of a political party and seek offices as independent.
In the 2015 race for Prince William County School Board Chairman, candidate Ryan Sawyers is endorsed by the Prince William Democratic Committee and Tim Singstock won an endorsement by the Prince William County Republican Committee. Tracy Conroy is running as an independent.
When voters go to the polls, they won’t see a letter on the ballot denoting any party affiliation.
“Parties can endorse anyone they want to, but party endorsement is different from party declaration on a ballot,” said Diana Dutton, with the Prince William County Office of Elections.
State law requires ballots only show political affiliation for offices such as Governor, Lt. Governer, Attorney General, House of Delegates, Virginia Senate, and congressional offices.
Also on the list of no required political affiliation — candidates for boards of supervisors, and those seeking office on a town or city council with a charter that doesn’t require naming political affiliation.
At Potomac Local, we do note party affiliation for candidates even if Virginia law states candidates don’t have to.
We work hard to cover local elections in Prince William and Stafford counties, and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. It is our job to tell our readers that parties endorse candidates.
After all, a political party that lends its endorsement to a candidate must believe that person is the best person who would best represent that party’s views while serving in office. These candidates are also more likely to receive donations from like-minded voters of these respective parties.
You can get a full list of candidates — and information about their affiliation or endorsements — at projectelection.com.
If it bleeds, it leads.
That’s an old saying about local news; taking shots at news directors who put stories like car crashes, shootings, and other general mayhem at the top of their newscasts.
However, news about crime and public safety is some of the most read, most shared, and consistently highest-ranking content on PotomacLocal.com.
Information about new arrests, scam artists trying to rip off residents, and details about why the police were on your street last night always does well on our local news site.
More than 50,000 unique readers in Prince William, Manassas, and Stafford consume this content on a daily basis. After seeing their friends and family member’s arrest photo on our site, finding a good lawyer becomes one of the first things on their to-do list.
It’s something for you to think about when trying to build awareness about your services in our community.
We also cover more than crime news – topics like schools, traffic and transit, and community events. We’re a trusted daily online news source read daily — with more than 150,000 page views and social interactions per month.
Take a look and you’ll see, from our list of most-read stories in 2014, PotomacLocal.com readers are captivated by stories about crime in their community.
See for yourself by visiting our site. We post at least one crime story a day on PotomacLocal.com. Our posts are based off trusted information obtained from local police and sheriff’s departments.
When it comes to marketing your services, we have online display ads, as well as ways to reach our audience through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
We also offer a promoted post option that allows you to reach our audience by posting answers to commonly asked legal questions directly to our site. It’s brands you as the local legal expert in your field.
If you have questions about how all of this works, please send me an email and I’d be happy to chat with you.
Every photo has a story.
As a reporter for many years, I’ve worked a lot of crash scenes, house fires, and homicide investigations. Never once was I stopped by a police officer and asked for my license and registration.
There’s a first time for everything, they say. Who knew it would be the assignment where I’m taking a photo of a Ferris Wheel?
It was just before 1 p.m. Friday when I was driving along Route 1 and saw a carnival rides erected in a parking lot across from Our Lady Angels church. I pulled into the parking lot to take a photo of the wheel with my camera phone. A police car was sitting in the parking lot.
After pulling in, I stopped my car, rolled down my driver’s side window, stuck my cell phone out the window, and took this photo: (more…)
When I travel to a new city, the first thing I do is listen to the radio stations. I’ve probably heard nearly every song before, but the commercials are all new to me.
When I check in to my hotel, after marveling at the view (if I’m lucky enough to have a view), I turn on the local TV station. If I can find one, I grab a local newspaper.
These have always been tried and true sources of local information. I scan their local news and read the ads.
The local ads, just like the news, tell me what’s going on in a community. They serve as informative content that, at a glance, tells me about fun things happening in the area.
Most times I’ll see or hear an ad for an event, and then pack up friends and family in the car and drive over to that event feeling as if I’ve got some kind of insider information just because I saw the ad or read a promoted post on a blog.
I don’t know why I’m this way. Maybe it’s because I’m a media guy. Maybe it’s because I like to explore the community and try new things.
I do the same in my own community. I’m always scanning and searching for things to do right here in Prince William and Stafford counties. That’s why I’ll never understand when people say “I never read the ads.”
I get that some, if not most advertising is disruptive. TV ads that interrupt your favorite show, or pop-ups on your computer screen that try to sell you online poker chips. (more…)
When it comes to parking in the city, a Seinfeld episode comes to mind.
You know the one where George Costanza gets into an argument with another driver over a parking space on the street.
I’ve always remembered this particular exchange between the characters:
Elaine: Oh, you’re never gonna find a space on Jerry’s block, just put it in a garage.
George: Look, I have my system. First I look for the dream spot right in front of the door, then I slowly expand out in concentric circles.
Elaine: Oh come on, George, please put it in a garage. I don’t want to spend an hour looking for a space.
George: I can’t park in a garage.
George: I don’t know, I just can’t. Nobody in my family can pay for parking, it’s a sickness. My father never paid for parking; my mother, my brother, nobody. We can’t do it.
Last week, however, I did want to pay for parking. My wife and I had tickets to see “Bobs Burgers Live” at the Warner theater in Washington, D.C. It was a Wednesday night, I drove us both into the city after work, and we wanted the easiest, most uneventful evening leading up to our show.
Earlier, I went to Google and typed in “Warner theaterParking” and saw a host of results appear on the page. I clicked on one of them, and I saw the “Bobs Burgers Live” logo.
“Hey, that’s the show we’re going to tonight,” I said.
It was like the website knew exactly what I was looking for — parking for the Bobs Burgers show. I was intrigued, and I clicked on.
The site’s name was Parking Panda. It showed me several garages within a three to four block radius of the Warner Theater, and it also showed how much it would cost to park there – between $11 and $23. Some garages offered valet though my wife and I are not fans of valet. (more…)
We have a pickle hanging on our Christmas Tree at home.
My wife hangs the green glass ornament on our tree each year. It’s made of the same material a traditional ball ornament is made of.
It’s an ornament we didn’t have on our tree when I was a child. My family opted for glass ornaments, apples, or tiny mailboxes for letters to Santa with the current year printed on the side of them.
Our pickle is always hung on the inside of the tree or on its back side. It’s never the first ornament you see on our tree, at that appears to be for good reason.
It appears pickles on trees are becoming more commonplace at the holidays. A myth states the person who finds the Christmas pickle will have good luck the following year. In Germany, many hid the pickle and gave the first child who found it an extra present on Christmas morning.
I wanted to find out just how popular hanging a pickled cucumber on a Christmas Tree really is, even if it is made of glass. Is the tradition as as popular in the U.S. as it is in Germany?
A search on Quora turned up some interesting results. Some have heard of the tradition while others, like Josh Stein who said he had a pickle on his family’s Christmas Tree when he was a child.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is “how much does it cost to subscribe to your online newspaper?”
Most of those who ask this question are residents of our community, and business owners who are learning about Potomac Local for the first time. My reply is always the same.
“Absolutely nothing,” I say.
And it’s usually followed with this comment:
“More than a newspaper, we like to consider ourselves an online community news resource published daily.”
For the past four and a half years, I, along with so many others, have worked to grow Potomac Local into what it is today – a widely read, community-focused news and features publication that has laid the groundwork for independent local news in our community.
We couldn’t have done it without you, and this time of year we like to say thanks. Thanks for coming to us daily to find out what is happening in your neighborhood. Thanks for trusting us to bring you stories about your local government, your children’s schools, and what is being done to fix your traffic-clogged commute.
And, thank you for supporting the advertisers who support Potomac Local. Those advertisers help put food on my family’s dinner table and ensure the lights, and our website, stay on.
Potomac Local will continue to be free for the foreseeable future. All of us in the news business are looking for ways to sustain and grow our business models, but few have found success in charging readers for access to news content.
As we enter the bustling holiday season, we’ll continue to work to provide you relevant news and information about where we live. This area has been my home nearly all of my life, and it will always be a privilege to work for you and cover my hometown.
QUANTICO, Va. — A live band playing the music in an open park is one of the definite sounds of summertime.
Country Singer Tyler Toliver kicked off the Cowles Auto 2014 Salute to Our Troops Music Series in Raftelis Potomac River Park located at 408 River Road in Quantico on Saturday. More than 150 people packed the park with blankets and chairs to hear Toliver and his band.
In the park, there were barbecue and ice cream vendors, and a beer garden was set up for all ages around the live music stage.
The music stopped just before 9 p.m. and Quantico Mayor Kevin Brown took the stage and welcomed everyone. With the Quantico Honor Guard behind him,he thanked everyone for coming to the park for the music and what appears to be a new Memorial Day tradition in the town — a spectacular fire works show made possible by Quantico Tactical.
For at least 20 minutes, fireworks were lunched over Hospital Point and they illuminated the sky. Some of them exploded bright white with embers that trickled back down to earth to resemble a weeping willow tree, while others were bursting with color.
As I sat on the ground with my wife next to the Potomac River, our heads tilted toward the sky, the sound of small children oohing and ahhing over the light show was made our experience worth the trip. And, let’s face it, what could be more patriotic than our community coming together to honor our military with a fireworks show at the crossroads of the Marine Corps?
I’ve have never seen so many visitors in the Town of Quantico as I did Saturday night. Many families were strolling Potomac Avenue with their children out enjoying an evening of warm spring weather, puffy clouds, and a light river breeze. Stores were open and people were sitting at sidewalk tables eating and drinking.
In the newly improved Reftelis park, new paved walking paths invite people to come play near the river shore. It was a great place to hold an event like this.
For so many in our area, for so long, the tradition has been to get out of town on Memorial Day weekend. In recent years, the Rolling Thunder rally that attracts thousands of bikers to the region has become a local tradition.
Now, thanks to the work of those who put on this community celebration in Quantico, we can now add fireworks on the Potomac River to that growing list of local Memorial Day weekend traditions.
Corey Stewart turned to the press this week to get residents riled up about the need for more police on the streets.
The At-large Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors’ rare press conference on Tuesday drew not only me to the table, but reporters from other online news websites and newspapers that cover the county, as well as a TV reporter from Washington, D.C.
It’s budget season residents want their tax money spent on certain things, such as libraries, parks, and schools. Stewart thinks more money should go to fund the police department and wants to revert back to a plan that predates recession of 2008 tax cuts that calls for hiring 25 new police officers each year.
“One of the reasons for me doing this press conference is to get the citizens engaged,” said Stewart. “It’s the citizenry that is the eyes and ears of the police department.”
Stewart said he approves of the job Chief Stephan Hudson is doing since taking the reigns of the force last year. But he could do better if his department had more funding, he added.
And, while I’m sure he’s right, let’s not forget the crime rate remains low in Prince William County. There were 17.04 crimes reported per every 1,000 people in the county in 2012, down from a 15-year high of 30.3 in 1998.
The rate of violent crime in 2012 – murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults – went up 9% in 2012. But it was really more like 5% because many of the violent crimes that were reported to police that year occurred during prior years.
Statistics show unequivocally that the rate of crime in Prince William County has fallen while its population has ballooned. For that we can thank a highly visible police force that has made it their mission to work with the community to curb crime, to involve them as much as possible during investigations, and to not withhold information about how they operate from residents or the press.
Stewart says his office has fielded more phone calls about crime and about what county officials are doing to curb it since the beginning of the year. Incidents like the murder of 21-year-old Glenda Marisol Coca-Romero who was shot and killed while working in a corner grocer in Woodbridge sparked the majority of those calls.
More police officers could also mean less funding for other things like schools, parks, and libraries, things Stewart says he’s for. But hereminded residents they can’t have everything without a price.
“Citizens also want us to keep their tax bills low, and one thing I’m not going to say is we can do all of those things and keep tax bills flat.”
Uriah Kiser is the publisher of Potomac Local News.
Publisher’s note: Peter Candland invited me to a cafe and offered his take on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and the upcoming budget season. He ordered a soda and I had coffee. Here’s a bit of our conversation.
In recent weeks, Peter Candland has lost more than he’s won – but that hasn’t kept him from trying to change what he calls a “good ol’ boy” system in Prince William County politics.
Now serving his third of a four-year term representing residents the of the Gainesville District on the Board of Supervisors, the Republican recently called for more transparency in local government, and for his Board to vote on key issues at night rather than in the afternoon so more people can leave work and attend public meetings and put in their two cents prior to the votes.
A recent set of six proposals outlining many of those ideas failed one by one. He’ll bring those same ideas back for a vote next year, he said.
More oversight on School Board spending
And, though it’s a done deal and will be built inside the county’s 12th high school, Candland maintains that building a $10 million swimming facility is a raw deal for taxpayers. Voted on by the Prince William County School Board in December, the decision to build the swimming pool has caused him to ask for more oversight on how the independently-elected county School Board spends their money.
Currently, Prince William County gives 57.23% of its entire budget to the school division – down from the 62% Candland previously lobbied for. According to him, giving more cash to the schools would have helped reduce Prince William County’s burgeoning class sizes by three students per classroom at each grade level.
Choosing to build the pools shows the school division is not committed to reducing the numbers, he said.
“My confidence in school board in spending money in right way has waned,’ said Candland. “I’m the taxing authority, and I’m the one that is going come to you and take more of your money, and am I going to want to take more of your money if I don’t have the confidence that you are going to spend it the right way?”
In a perfect world, Candland said he would do away with the revenue sharing agreement and find another way to fund schools.
Currently operating on a $2 billion budget, county officials will begin heavy deliberations on the next year’s budget. Candland has called for an end to the “budget carryover” process where officials can choose to spend left over funds not spent during the calendar year.
He points to when officials in December approved $3 million in funding for sports fields, and spending $11 million from a contingency fund to pay for the burial of power lines along U.S. 1 in Woodbridge. He says those spending measures should have been tabled and discussed during the annual budget process.
“I think Chairman [Corey] Stewart likes to spend money. He’s a big government Republican. He believes that spending money is the answer to a lot of problems,” said Candland.
Candland and Stewart butt heads often while on the dias during the Tuesday afternoon sessions, regularly disagreeing on how local tax monies are spent.
Good ol’ boys?
Stewart in recent months has opted to spend more on county services to benefit residents, while Candland campaigned on promises to spend less and lower taxes. That idea of spending money for more services is something of a “good ol’ boy” system, said Candland.
“This spending mentality is part of an ‘old guard’ here on the Board in Prince William County, and that’s what I’m trying to change,” he said.
While his recent measures may have failed, it is not for a lack of his ability to build a consensus. An outspoken opponent of the Bi-County Parkway that would link Interstate 95 in Dumfries with Dulles Airport via the Manassas National Battlefield, Candland was successful in rallying the Board drop the project from its priorities list.
Last month, officials learned residential tax assessments grew much more than anticipated, but a low tax rate set in December to help guide the coming budget process would yield a significant budget shortfall in the county unless the county’s property tax rate was hiked. Commercial assessments also missed the mark and fell short of their 4% anticipated growth, netting only 3% growth for the year.
It comes after a typo led to a $5 million budget error last June.
Candland has been unusually quiet on this issue in light of the multiple budgeting mistakes.
“My job isn’t to necessarily embarrass the Board, or rub their face in everything…I’ve proposed several changes in closed session Board does not want to support,” said Candland.
First we brought independent local news to Prince William and Stafford counties. And now we’ve launched the region’s most powerful locally-maintained and insightful real estate tool.
Prominently featured at in the top main navigation section of our website, the Potomac Local Real Estate section features listings for home sales and rentals, commercial properties, land, as well as market trends and statistics for Prince William and Stafford counties and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.
It’s easy to use, includes up-to-the-minute data from professional real estate listings, and it allows private sellers and Realtors to add their listings directly to our site. With this new tool you’ll know the second something new comes onto the local market.
Being a local news site is much more than just bringing you the headlines. It’s also about providing a place for the community to gather online, to comment, to connect with neighbors, and it’s place for soon-to-be residents to learn more about our community and why we call it home.
This week, we’ve done more than just launch a new real estate section – we’ve made the news you’ve come to rely on us for easier to find by placing our content in a popular scrolling format on our homepage. We’ve reduced clutter on our site after you told us you wanted more local news and content and less noise.
We’re not done improving our site, either. In the coming weeks you’ll notice more obituary information on our site because we know it’s not good enough to cover the people in our community right now — we also need to remember those who came before us who worked hard to make our neighborhoods what they are today.
You will also see a greater commitment to community news as new editors will begin covering specific neighborhoods to find details on the news that impacts all of us. Their goal: Continue our tradition of telling good stories about the people, places, and local issues that impact our lives. I’m sure you’d expect nothing less from your award-winning local news source.
Thank you for your continued support of independent news. I look forward to continuing to serve you in 2014.
It’s been a brutal year on Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia. Yes, more so than in years past, the delays seemed to rack up on the highway that bridges the gap not only Prince William and Stafford counties but to many jobs many of us commute to in Arlington and Washington, D.C.
For nearly all of us, the highway and its delays are something we’ve become very familiar with.
The Virginia Department of Transportation told us congestion on I-95 would get worse this year, especially during the summer of 2013 when work on the 95 Express Lanes would kick into high gear.
Now in winter and heading into 2014, we can see pavement that has been laid on the new lanes that, when the open in early 2015, will bring an extension of the HOV lanes from Dumfries to Va. 610 in North Stafford. The entire facility will between North Stafford and Esdall Road in Alexandria, and will allow single drivers to pay an electronic toll to use the lanes or occupants in vehicles of three or more to ride free.
And, while that all sounds well and good, it will be even better when the lanes finally open and work-related delays for the Express Lanes project a thing of the past. Even during the holidays, I-95 in our area has been plagued by delays morning, midday, and night as work zones are set up, closing lanes and backing up miles of traffic, in some cases.
So, as we say goodbye to 2013 and welcome 2014 give yourself a pat on the back for putting up with what has been horrendous traffic congestion. And, join me in looking forward to the project’s completion and the opening of the new lanes. Let’s hope they help to improve the awful delays that keep us away from home, family, and life’s activities by giving us another option to get where going just a bit faster.