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Winning artwork to be featured on light poles in Manassas

Have you seen the banners that hang on the light poles in the Historic Downtown area of the City of Manassas and in other cities? If you are an artist or aspiring to be one, the art you create could be hanging on one of those light poles.

Historic Manassas, Inc. and the City of Manassas have launched an art contest to fill the banners in Historic Downtown with original pieces of art. The contest will be juried so that one artist will be awarded a grand prize of $1,000 and there will also be “people’s choice award” of $500. The contest deadline has been extended to Feb. 1, 2015.

This contest is part of an effort to promote art and tourism in the City of Manassas. The winning 50 pieces will be featured on the light pole banners and in a walking tour brochure that includes information on the piece and the artist. Information about the contest can be found at visitmanassas.org/banner-art-project.

The preceding promoted post was written by the City of Manassas.

City of Manassas Citizen Satisfaction Survey results are in

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Manassas ranks above average in 8 Citizen Satisfaction categories surveyed

In a survey conducted by one of the nation’s leading community-based market research firms, results showed that citizen satisfaction in the City of Manassas is significantly above national and regional benchmarks in a number of service areas. Overall, three categories stood out: the overall quality of citizen services provided; the overall quality of water and sewer utilities; and the effectiveness of communication with the public.

Categories where the City of Manassas scored significantly higher than the national and regional benchmarks include:

  • Maintenance of streets
  • Sidewalks and infrastructure
  • How safe residents feel in their neighborhood at night, in commercial/business areas of the City and in City parks
  • Maintenance of neighborhood streets
  • Cleanliness of City streets
  • Access to information about City services
  • Opportunities to participate in local government 
  • Satisfaction with residential garbage collection and residential curbside recycling

The percentage of residents satisfied with customer service is 15 percent higher than the national average. Survey participants responded more than 20 percent above the national average when asked how satisfied they were with customer service in regards to response time and customer service experience.

“Having worked with City staff for the last year, I know how our dedicated staff goes above and beyond to provide services to the community,” said City Manager W. Patrick Pate. “I am extremely proud that resident opinions show that City of Manassas staff are significantly above the nation in customer service.”

City Council and staff are pleased with the results, not only because they highlight what the City is doing right, but because the survey shows what priorities the community has in coming years. Major services that were recommended as top priorities for investment over the next few years include: overall flow of traffic and ease of getting around; overall quality of public education; and overall quality of economic development.

ETC Institute used a random sample of households within the City of Manassas for this survey. They had a goal of 400 completed surveys being returned to provide this data and received 405 surveys from all areas of the City of Manassas. To read the survey results presented by ETC Institute, visit manassascity.org/CSS.

The preceding promoted post was written by the City of Manassas.

Seniors receive holiday donations from volunteer Adopt-a-Grandparent program

Did you know, that Mary Kay Consultants all over the United States, host “Adopt A Grandparent” programs during the holidays?

About a month ago, Mary Kay Independent Senior Sales Director Ann Alexis-Hamilton began organizing in Prince William County to support the “Adopt-A-Grandparent” program for senior citizens residing at the Westminster at Lake Ridge.

“This year it came about because I have a new client, Ms. Susan Hadeka, director of nurses at Westminster at Lake Ridge and asked her if we can do the program this year. She connected be with Ms. Laura Krause, activities director at Westminster, who was excited about the program,” said Alexis-Hamilton.

Mrs. Alexis-Hamilton worked with a team of six Mary Kay Consultants, and through the giving spirit of members of the Greater Prince William Community, collected 104 gift donations to spread holiday cheer to seniors at Westminster. The largest organization to sponsor gifts for seniors was the Pi Lambda Lambda chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., with over 30 donations.

The Adopt A Grandparent program is important for senior citizens, as many may not have had visitors over the holidays, and the program creates an opportunity for volunteers of all ages, to spread joy to those who need it most.

“As a small business owner for over 17 years, I believe it is important to give back to our community,” said Alexis-Hamilton. The Adopt A Grandparent program is about giving back to the elderly with: sharing a gift, a smile, and some conversation, but most of all to share the greatest gift of all, love.”

News
Will Prince William Chamber’s new button campaign work to build pride, awareness?

i belongIf you’re a member of the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, they you want to tell the world.

As part of the organization’s continuing effort to rebrand itself as a business-focused, community-minded organization, the chamber adopted a new advertising campaign.

The “I belong” campaign invites chamber members to wear a button with the “I belong” slogan printed on them. The Manassas-based organization also encourages its members to post photos of themselves wearing the badge to Twitter using a #pwchamber hashtag. The chamber will also award prizes twice a month for the most creative posts on Twitter using the #pwchamber tag.

“Show your Chamber pride and gain visibility and recognition from January 1 – May 31, 2015,” stated an email to chamber members. Potomac Local is a member of the chamber, so we got the email, too.

This is an advertising campaign that appears to rely heavily upon social media. Many companies, especially small businesses, tend to go to social media first because of the low barrier to entry cost.

But does it work?

“The jury is largely still out,” said Katherine Carlson, managing director of Pulsar Advertising in Washington, D.C. “Going to social is not only cheaper, but it’s easy, fast.”

Carlson’s firm just won the bid to handle marketing efforts for Virginia Railway Express and has worked with other clients like Amtrak and Virginia Megaprojects’ 495 Express Lanes.

With so many ways to send and receive messages, and so many ways on the web for users to be marketed to, having a consistent message is vital.

“With the proliferation with media and messages available to anyone, branding is more important now than it was before social media,” said Carlson.

If the right audience sees the chamber’s message, recognizes its value and adopts it as its own, the “I belong” campaign could be on its way to success.

“Think of it as a Good Housekeeping seal. It’s just another moniker to say we’re apart of this community in a real way, and we’re not just here to make money off of you,” said Carlson.

The Prince William Chamber formed in 2010 with the merger of the Greater Manassas – Prince William Chamber of Commerce and the Region’s Chamber based in Woodbridge. With the February exit of former CEO Rob Clapper, Debbie Jones was promoted from within to President and CEO.

News
Expect freezing rain today

Drivers and pedestrians should be on the look out for freezing rain today.

The National Weather Service issued a freezing rain advisory for our area. It will remain in effect until 6 p.m.

Here’s the details:

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON HASISSUED A FREEZING RAIN ADVISORY…WHICH IS IN EFFECT UNTIL 6 PMEST THIS EVENING. 

* PRECIPITATION TYPE…FREEZING RAIN. PRECIPITATION MAY START OFF  AS SLEET AT THE ONSET. 

* ACCUMULATIONS…A TRACE OF ICE ACCUMULATION…ESPECIALLY ON  ELEVATED SURFACES. 

* TIMING…DEVELOPING BETWEEN 9 AM AND 11 AM THIS MORNING AND  CONTINUING THROUGH THE DAY. PRECIPITATION WILL CHANGE TO RAIN BY  EARLY THIS EVENING. 

* TEMPERATURES…LOWER 30S THIS MORNING SLOWLY RISING INTO THE  MIDDLE 30S BY EARLY THIS EVENING. 

* WINDS…NORTHEAST 5 TO 10 MPH. 

* IMPACTS…ELEVATED SURFACES MAY BECOME SLIPPERY…WHICH WILL  RESULT IN HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS. 

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A FREEZING RAIN ADVISORY MEANS THAT PERIODS OF FREEZING RAIN ORFREEZING DRIZZLE WILL CAUSE TRAVEL DIFFICULTIES. BE PREPARED FORSLIPPERY ROADS. SLOW DOWN AND USE CAUTION WHILE DRIVING.

It’s important to note freezing rain is rain that freezes on contact with a cold surface. Sleet is icy pellets that fall from the sky, and sleet is not in today’s forecast.

News
Would evening meetings equal more interaction with Prince William Board?

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors is about to set their meeting schedule for 2015.

The Board currently meets at 2 p.m. Tuesdays and tackles the business of running the county government. Whether making decisions about what gets built where, what road improvements are needed, or what the property tax rate should be – the county’s main source of revenue — these and many other items are all decided at the regular meetings.

The Board has the option of holding a Tuesday evening session beginning at 7:30 p.m. It usually does in light of a public hearing or if the business of the day couldn’t have been taken care of during the afternoon session.

Some, like Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland, unsuccessfully argued earlier this year that the Board should only hold votes during evening sessions when more people can attend the meetings or can watch them on TV or online. Night meetings would also promote more civic engagement, and it would allow more people to attend the after hours sessions, said Candland.

Potomac Local emailed each member of the Board of Supervisors asking why the meetings are held on Tuesdays. Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe responded.

“The times for the meetings predate my time on the Board, so I cannot say why those times were chosen.  I suspect that, like so many things, the time was chosen because it felt right at the time, and it never changed because there was never a compelling reason to change,” stated Nohe.

Several counties comparable in size to Prince William, like Loudoun County, Fairfax County, and Henrico County outside Richmond, all have different meeting schedules and times. Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors meets the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month. Fairfax starts their meetings at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays and meets all day long. Henrico holds only evening sessions starting at 7 p.m.

“I think everyone is pretty sensitive to the fact that we have a working population, at the same time we can’t put off all of the county business until the evening because the amount of business that needs to be covered, it would put the supervisors there into the very late hours of the night,” said Virginia Association of Counties spokesman James Campbell.

Officials know that not everyone can attend the Board of Supervisors meetings. In Loudoun County, the Board uses an e-commenting system that allows residents to submit their comments to the Board using technology.  The audio and video comments used are played for the members of the Board.

“The only issue we had with public comment was with e-comment: a system the prior board established to allow senior citizens to video or audio comments to the Board.  It was killed for a year, and then I initiated re-establishing it in 2013, but we do not play the comments live at the Board meeting.  This way Board members can review these videos and audios at their own time,” stated Loudoun County Leesburg District Supervisor Ken Reid in an email to Potomac Local.

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors allows public comment on issues during the 6 p.m. sessions. Due to multiple requests from senior citizens, the Board now allows seniors to be heard during the earlier 4 p.m. session.

No one has complained to Reid about the time and date of the Loudoun meetings, he added.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors will set their schedule at the first meeting of the New Year on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The meeting begins at 2 p.m.

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John Jenkins will have a locomotive named after him

All aboard the John Jenkins Express.

Jenkins, the longest currently serving Prince William County Board of Supervisors, is recognized for his participation on the Virginia Railway Express Operations Board. He and eight other VRE Board members who played key roles in the development of the commuter railroad since its founding in 1992 will have their names affixed to the front of VRE locomotives.

Here’s a full list of names that will soon appear on commuter trains:

  • Edwin King – Prince William County (Original Member)
  • James Hugh Payne Sr. – City of Manassas (First Elected City of Manassas Member)
  • Bernard Cohen – VA House of Delegates (Original Member)
  • Bob Gibbons – Stafford County (First Elected Stafford Member)
  • Sally H. Cooper – VDOT (Original Member)
  • Sharon Bulova – Fairfax County (Original and Continuously Serving Member)
  • John Jenkins – Prince William County (Long Serving Member)
  • Hilda Barg – Prince William County (Long Serving Member)
  • Elaine McConnell – Fairfax County (Long Serving Member – previously recognized)

The operations board approved adding the names to the locomotives at their monthly meeting this morning.

“Naming locomotives to honor those who helped establish or ensure the success of VRE is a small token of the appreciation we have for the foresight and public service these Board Members have provided in creating VRE,” said  VRE Operations Board Chairman Paul Milde in a press release.

The names that will be affixed to the locomotives belong to those who “played a key role in establishing VRE service, were early or long-tenured members, or whose extraordinary efforts contributed to its success, will be honored by having their names placed on the front of VRE locomotives.”

Virginia Railway Express trains carried more than 320,000 riders in November. Over the past year, the commuter railroad carried 2 million riders.

News
Declining birth rate no big deal for Prince William region

Fewer women in the U.S. are having babies.

The national birth rate declined in 2013 to 3.93 million births, continuing a six-year drop off. Women between the ages of 15 and 44 last year bore  an average of 1.86 babies, and that’s below the 2.1 average the National Center for Health Statistics said is necessary for a stable population.

Locally, the number of live births at Novant Prince William Medical Center in Manassas fluctuated over the past five years. The hospital was the only local medical center in Prince William and Stafford counties to respond to our records request. The hospital  averaged nearly 2,040.8 babies born over the past five years.

Over time, the numbers have remained steady with the exception of this year’s number, which accounts only for the first 11 months of 2014. Take a look at the numbers the hospital submitted to Potomac Local:

  • 2010=2,177
  • 2011=2,305
  • 2012=2,135
  • 2013=2,015
  • 2014 (through November) =1,572

The down economy is to blame for the decrease in the birth rate. Many millennials are trying to find work or move up at their current job, and that, for some, means putting off starting a family.

In other parts of the U.S., a declining birth rate spells trouble for city populations, as well as companies looking to find workers to fill jobs. In the Washington, D.C. area, things are a bit different. People keep moving here and that, at least for now, offsets any the effect of any population decrease.

“In the last two years, we’ve seen changes in what drives population growth in our metro area,” said Jeannette Chapman, with the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.

Domestic migration in the Washington area – people moving here from other places in the U.S. – has dropped off while international migration to the area has increased.

Locally, Prince William County and Manassas City has seen more cases of international migration over the past two years while Stafford County to the south has seen more cases of domestic relocation. A number of factors could play into Stafford’s case, including home prices and housing inventory, said Chapman.

The Center for Regional Analysis compares the Washington, D.C. to Houston, Phoenix, and Seattle. In Virginia, military bases have been impacted by sequestration and thousands of jobs have been lost due to federal cutbacks. 

Historically, when the economy tanks federal agencies here ramp up to find a solution to the problem, and that brings in more workers and people.

So, that declining birth rate?

“It’s not a big deal for us; that’s only part of the story,” said Chapman. “If in the longer term things continue to decline, that will change the national narrative, and that could have an effect on our economy here.”

News
Candland’s proposal to be used to craft 2016 budget

The average property tax bill in Prince William County may not increase next year as much as planned.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a plan from Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland that directs County Executive Melissa Peacor to develop a 2016 budget where the average property tax bill increases no more than 1.7%. That number is down from an annual projected 4% tax bill increase approved by the Board of County Supervisors last April. The average tax bill was to increase by at least 4% per year, every year under the old 5-year plan.

Peacor is expected to a budget to the Board of Supervisors next month. The board will approve the fiscal year 2016 budget in April.

Candland said a staggering economy and job losses throughout Virginia are just some of the reasons to keep taxes lower.

“Can we continue to sustain this level of spending?” asked Candland. “We need to balance the economic realities we see in the county, state, and the nation.”

While the average tax bill in Prince William is lower than neighboring Fairfax and Loudoun counties, Candland said average earned wages of Prince William County residents are 10% lower than Fairfax residents’ income.

County leaders in April passed a $989 million budget with an assessed tax rate of $1.148 of every $100 of assessed property value. New property assessments are due within the next few months, and that will give officials some idea of how much revenue will be coming into county coffers.

With last year’s tax increase, the county funded 25 new police officers, funded improvements to sports fields, and provided money for new libraries in Montclair and Gainesville.

“I did vote for the 4% last year for higher tax bill because someone told me you’re not going to get your library if you don’t vote for the tax increase,” said Potomac District Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, who on Tuesday voted in favor of the lower 1.7% average tax bill budget guidance.

Supervisors Marty Nohe, John Jenkins, and Frank Principi all voted against the 1.7% budget guidance.

“We were with the school board less than a week ago, and we heard them asking for some consistency, and this does not provide that,” said Nohe.

The Board of Supervisors sets the tax rate, and the county’s public school division will receive about 57% of the next year’s budget and. It it will could be substantially less than what the school division was banking on prior to Tuesday’s vote. 

“The schools and Board of County Supervisors will have to look at budgets. The school board might have to go back and reevaluate the price tag of the new high school and not build the two swimming pools, and we might have to go back and look at the $11 million price tag to bury power lines [on Route 1 in Woodbridge] and spend that money on our schools,” said Candland.

“There will be some very critical needs that, at 1.7%, will go unmet, said Principi.

The Woodbridge District Supervisor cited the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission – operators of OmniRide commuter and OmniLink local buses – which is facing a massive budget reduction that could lead to service cuts starting in 2017. Children who need mental healthcare and substance abuse patients may also go without care, added Principi.

*This story was corrected.

News
Politicians ring Salvation Army bell at Tacketts Mill

Elected leaders spent some time bringing Christmas joy to shoppers at Tacketts Mill in Lake Ridge.

Delegate Richard Anderson, Prince William Occoquan District Supervisor Mike May, and Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi all worked shifts as Salvation Army bell ringers.

Bell ringers seek cash donations to support charitably programs at the Salvation Army.

Anderson was first scheduled to ring the bell from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and may rang the bell from 1 p.m. Principi was kept scheduled to keep the holiday cheer going to the late afternoon from 4 to 6 p.m.

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No VRE service Dec. 26

Virginia Railway Express will not operate service the day after Christmas.

Federal workers were granted leave for that day.

The commuter railroad issued the following statement about their adjusted holiday schedule:

December 24, 2014 – “S” Schedule

December 25, 2014 – No VRE service in observance of Christmas

December 26, 2014 – No VRE service

December 29-31, 2014 – “S” Schedule

January 1, 2015 – No VRE service in observance of New Year’s Day

January 2, 2015 – “S” Schedule

January 19, 2014 – No VRE service in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

“No VRE service” is easy enough to figure out but if you are new to our service, we operate an “S” Schedule on certain days. The only trains that will operate on those days are those that are marked with as “S” next to its train number on the schedule. (We also implement this reduced schedule when inclement weather warrants it.) 

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What to know ahead of I-95 EZ-Pass lanes opening

Potomac Local continues its effort to keep you informed ahead of the opening of the EZ-Pass Express Lanes on I-95 from North Stafford to Edsall Road in Fairfax County. 

Here is the latest information provide to us about the switch over from HOV lanes to express lanes, which begins Sunday afternoon. The information comes to us via the form of a media briefting from EZ-Pass Express Lanes operator Transurban:

Opening Preparations

Beginning tomorrow, December 12 through Sunday, December 14, we will unveil all Express Lanes signage.  All HOV lanes will be closed starting the evening of Friday, December 12 until the evening of Sunday, December 14.

Roadway Opening

The evening of Sunday, December 14 the new roadway improvements will open including:

  • Nine-mile extension from Dumfries to Garrisonville Road
  • Third lane from Prince William Parkway to the vicinity of Edsall Road on I-395
  • All new entry and exit points

From December 14 – 28, when the new capacity is open, HOV rules will continue to be in effect.  The HOV regulatory signs will remain in place and dynamic message signs (DMS) will communicate the HOV rules. 

The new lane use management system and the variable speed limit system will be turned on.  Drivers should follow the speed posted on the variable speed limit signs. The lane use management system will alert drivers if a lane is closed to traffic.  If a red “X” is displayed above, drivers should exit that lane as soon as it is safe to do so.

For two weeks, until Sunday, December 28, the Express Lanes (new capacity and new entries/exits) will be toll-free to allow travelers to benefit from the additional capacity during the holiday season.  Standard HOV rules apply (with the exception of holidays).

Gate Operations

Transurban will assume gate operations along the entire I-95 and I-395 corridor on Sunday, December 14.  Gate transition time on the HOV and Express Lanes facilities is expected to increase due to the nine mile southern extension and new gates.  Drivers should expect delays in the afternoon transition to reverse the flow of the traffic southbound.  Ultimately, the gates transition will return to standard times experienced today.

On Monday, December 15, the gates will begin to close at 10:30 a.m. instead of 11 a.m.  This will help accommodate southbound traffic in the afternoon.

Tolling Begins

Tolling begins Monday, December 29.  All drivers will need an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex (carpoolers) to use the Express Lanes.

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I-95 EZ-Pass Express Lanes open Monday

I-95 EZ-Pass Express Lanes tolling begins in 2 weeks

Update

Drivers will not need an EZ-Pass or EZ-Pass Flex to use the EZ-Pass Express Lanes on I-95 when they open Monday. The lanes will operate under old HOV lanes rules that require vehicle to have three or more occupants between 6 and 9 a.m. and 3:30 and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The lanes will be open to traffic at all other times.

Staring Dec. 29, all drives will need an EZ-Pass or EZ-Pass Flex to use the lanes, and the lanes will be tolled at all times. Virginia State Police are required to enforce the new rules.

Original post

The new reversible EZ-Pass Express Lanes on Interstate 95 will open to traffic Monday.

The opening marks the culmination of a 2-year, $990 million effort to convert the existing HOV facility on I-95 from Dumfries to Edsall Road to new lanes that will all be electronically tolled. New tolled lanes were also built from Dumfries south to Garrisonville Road in North Stafford.

All drivers will need an EZ-Pass to use the lanes as there are no toll booths on the lanes. Drivers who carpool will need an EZ-Pass Flex that will allow them to flip a switch on the device that tells the all-electronic toll booths not to charge if there are three or more people in the vehicle.

The lanes will continue to carry motorists north in the mornings and south in the evenings.

Click here to get a map of the new lanes and see how to use them

 

Tolling on the lanes will begin Dec. 29. That will give drivers time to learn the layout of the new lanes, and construction crews and additional two weeks to continue working on the finishing touches to the lanes.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued the following statement:

“The 95 Express Lanes are an investment in Virginia’s economy,” Governor McAuliffe said.  “Not only did the project create thousands of jobs during construction and put more than 500 businesses to work, the new infrastructure will also support future economic development and job growth in the region.  The improved mobility and new access that will be provided by the project will help ensure that Virginia remains a great place to live and do business. My team and I are working every day to build a new Virginia economy, and this important project will help us advance that important goal.”

Those words came after state and local officials gathered Wednesday for a ribbon cutting ceremony to herald the opening.

Drivers using the lanes will notice variable tolling, and will be charged one price per mile of distance they travel on the lanes. While a driver’s EZ-Pass locks in the toll rate when the vehicle enters the lanes, prices to use the lanes will rise as more cars enter the lanes, and will fall as fewer cars on the lanes.

The lanes were built and will be maintained through a public-private partnership with Virginia and Transurban, an Australia-based company that will operate and profit from the lanes for nearly 100 years. Transurban also constructed and maintains EZ-Pass Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway from Springfield to Dulles Toll Road, where four new lanes, and 14 new bridges were added to that portion of the Beltway to accommodate an increase in traffic.

  • The governor also distributed key points about the project identified as benefits for commuters:

  • An expanded system from two to three lanes for 14 miles between Prince William Parkway to the vicinity of Edsall Road on I-395

  • Improvement of the existing HOV system for six miles from Route 234 to the Prince William Parkway

  • A nine-mile extension from Dumfries to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County to alleviate the bottleneck where the HOV lanes end today

  • Improved system performance through enhanced enforcement and incident response

  • New access points offering more direct connections

The new EZ-Pass Express Lanes on I-95 will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thus, tolling will be in effect at all times.

Under the rules of the old HOV lanes, drivers were required to have three or more occupants inside their car 6 to 9 a.m. and 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Drivers were then able to use the lanes freely at all other times.

 

 

 

News
Student robbed at Woodbridge Senior High School

LAKE RIDGE, Va. – On December 5, a 15-year-old victim told police that while walking on school grounds, she was approached by three teenagers, one of whom stole the victim’s phone and left the scene on foot along with the other teens. 

Here’s the latest from Prince William police; 

Strong Armed Robbery – On December 5th at 5:45PM, officers responded to Woodbridge High School located at 3001 Old Bridge Rd in Woodbridge (22192) to investigate a robbery. The victim, a 15 year old female juvenile of Woodbridge, reported to police that she was walking across school property when she was approached by an unknown male juvenile accompanied by two other female juveniles. During the encounter, the male suspect grabbed the victim’s phone and fled on foot with the other juveniles. No injuries were reported.

Suspect Description:

Black male, between 15 & 16 years of age, 5’10”, 150lbs with a thin build, medium complexion, a 2” black afro and brown eyes

Last seen wearing a light colored t-shirt and blue jeans

News
Cost of living help dwindles for Prince William teachers

Prince William hit hardest by cost of living funding cuts, says Senator 

Prince William County officials told legislators cuts to the county’s school system have taken a toll over the last five years.

In total, Prince William Schools have lost $48.6 million in education funding from state sources, said Tracy Gordon, assistant to the county executive. Most of the cuts have been from raises provided to attract qualified teachers to work and live in the area, known as “cost to compete” or cost of living adjustments.  

State Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax, Prince William) noted cost to compete cuts have been widespread in areas like Winchester and Fredericksburg, but the $11.6 million removed from Prince William’s school budget accounts for a third of all total cost of competing cuts in the state.

“Is there a realistic shot of getting this money back this year?” asked Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, At-large.

“The sad reality is we’re hunting $500 million in the out years [of the state budget],” said Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-Fauquier, Prince William). “We’ll help the county the best we can. But we remain in a difficult climate. It would be improper for any of us to sit at this table to say we’ll go back, and find that pot of money, and bring it back to you.”

Lingamfelter said, “cost to compete” is a “sound” idea and has helped many teachers move to Northern Virginia, an area with much higher property values than other portions of the state.

At the meeting, Virginia legislators did their best to impress upon Prince William leaders that money is tight and that they shouldn’t expect any new or additional funding following January’s General Assembly session in Richmond. Compounding the problem is sales taxes are lower than expected, meaning people are spending less.

Officials have also looked at eliminating a statewide tax relief on vehicles to ease the burden on state residents. But Lingamfelter warned such a cut would leave localities looking for new sources of funding.

“If they got rid of the car tax relief guess what you would be doing here? Raising taxes,” he said.

*This story has been corrected

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Should Prince William raise taxes to fill $17.7 million bus budget gap?

Average tax bills could rise by $80 to offset budget shortfall

Commuter bus service in Prince William County is heading toward a fiscal cliff.

A budget deficit of $17.7 million is looming for OmniRide commuter buses and OmniLink local buses. The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission or PRTC — the agency that operates the buses — asked Prince William leaders to help make up a budget shortfall that could lead to 1/3 of all PRTC to be slashed, starting in 2018.

PRTC expects the state to provide 10% fewer dollars than it last year. Additionally, a surplus of monies collected in the 2.3% motor fuels tax — a tax on every gallon of fuel purchased in the county — is expected to run out by 2018.

With the drop in fuel prices, and newer cars getting more miles per gallon, gas tax revenues are expected to be flat over the next several years despite Prince William’s growing population, said PRTC Executive Director Al Harf.

Prince William County is the largest funder of PRTC, as 86% of riders live in the county. The county gave $15.2 million to both PRTC and Virginia Railway Express this year, while Virginia provided $16.2 million, and the Federal Government $2.7 million.

The bus system now wrangles with the costs of maintenance, purchasing new buses to replace old ones, and has seen fewer dollars than expected from last year’s landmark transportation bill that increased sales taxes to generate an estimated $880 million in new revenue for transportation and transit. Harf says the linger affects of the recession, the impact of sequestration, and lower fuel costs are all to blame for the lower funds.

Prince William leaders have the option of footing the entire $17.7 million bill, placing the tax burden on the backs of county taxpayers.

“We would need a significant amount of funding from the general fund to accomplish this,” Prince William County Budget Director Michelle Casciato told officials in September.

Total funding would lead to an $80 increase to the average property tax bill paid by county residents. Because of a revenue sharing agreement between the county government and its public school system, education funding would automatically be increased by the move.

County leaders also have the option of diverting monies already allocated toward traffic improvement projects, such as widening Minnieville, Balls Ford, Neabsco Mills, and Vint Hill roads, and using the dollars to fund the transit service. That option would push back construction completion dates on the road projects by up to 10 years and, due to inflation, would mean the projects could cost more in the long run.

If the county picks up only some of the cost, about $13 million, then PRTC warns local buses and buses that service Metro stations in Springfield and Vienna would run less frequently. Riders could also expect large annual fare increases, rising as much as 42%, beginning in 2016.

“Once you lose a rider, you’ve lost them,” said Harf. “More people would rely on family and friends, and they would be carpooling where they are not carpooling now.” 

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors will begin working on the fiscal year 2016 budget in earnest after the 1st of the year.

Manassas and Manassas Park residents also use the bus service, but those independent cities do not contribute funding to PRTC. If the cities did, it would help to close the budget gap by $2 million, said Harf.

Traffic
Virginia Transportation Chief to Speak in Woodbridge

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane will appear at a town hall meeting in Woodbridge.

The secretary is expected to discuss several transportation projects taking place in the region, like the EZ-Pass Express Lanes on Interstate 95 set to open later this month to the widening of Route 1 in Woodbridge.

“There is a lot of investment around transportation in the Woodbridge District. We will have a Q&A with Secretary Layne and a panel discussion with VDOT, Transburban, PRTC, and PW County Transportation. We will talk about what to expect from upcoming transportation projects.”

— Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Princpi

The meeting is being organized by the Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association. It will be held Wednesday, Dec. 10 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Freedom High School in Woodbridge.

News
Many Unfamiliar with EZ-Pass Express Lanes at Opening

The 95 Express Lanes will open in December. We just don’t know exactly on which date drivers will need to be sure to have their EZ-Pass affixed to their windshields.

The two-and-a-half year project to convert the HOV lanes on Interstate 95 to toll or EZ-Pass Express Lanes, as well as build new lanes from Garrisonville Road north to Dumfries, is coming to an end.

Gov. Terry McAulliffe is scheduled to speak on Dec. 10 at the ceremonial opening of the express lanes. He’ll be joined by Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane, as well as County Board of Supervisors Chairmen Sharon Bulova, of Fairfax and Corey Stewart, of Prince William.

However, the lanes will not open to traffic until sometime after that date, said project spokesman Michael McGurk.

All drivers who use the lanes will need an EZ-Pass or an EZ-Pass Flex inside their car. The lanes will be tolled 24 hours a day, and carpoolers with three or more people inside the car will travel free with the EZ-Pass Flex. The pass be switched between a carpool mode that tells the road’s all-electronic tolling system there are three people inside the car, or to single-driver mode to incur a charge.

Toll rates will vary depending upon how much traffic is in the lanes, just like the EZ-Pass Express Lanes on Interstate 495 between Springfield at Dulles Toll Road.

New research from the builders of the lanes, Fluor-Transurban, and from the Virginia Department of Transportation, shows drivers are unprepared to use the new lanes.

Here’s more in a press release:

Only 32 percent of carpoolers have an E-ZPass Flex:

  • All drivers will need an E-ZPass to use the Express Lanes.  Carpoolers will need an E-ZPass Flex and three or more passengers to travel toll-free.
  • E-ZPass and E-ZPass Flex are available at 75 convenient Northern Virginia retail locations including Wegmans, Virginia DMVs and Giant Food Stores; at E-ZPass Customer Service Centers; online or by calling Virginia E-ZPass at (877) 762-7824.   Only 51 percent of 95 drivers know that the Express Lanes will be reversible and just over half (55 percent) understand that the Express Lanes will replace the existing HOV lanes on I-95:
  • The existing HOV lanes are being converted to Express Lanes.  The lanes will reverse as they do today.  Learn more about the lane reversal scheduleNearly a quarter of I-95 drivers think the tolling and HOV-3+ requirements will only be in effect during rush hour:
  • The Express Lanes rules of the road are in effect 24/7.  Read more about the new rules.
     
    Less than a quarter of I-95 drivers are aware of what happens at the transition area on I-395 just north of Edsall Road where the Express Lanes end and the I-395 HOV lanes begin :

  • North of the 95 Express Lanes, the rules on the I-395 HOV lanes will be the same as they are today.
  • When the HOV restriction is in effect, drivers traveling alone or with one passenger will need to exit from the Express Lanes to avoid entering the HOV lanes.
  • HOV-3+ and eligible clean fuel plate vehicles can travel in the I-395 HOV lanes as they do today.
  • For more information about the transition area just north of Edsall Road on I-395, visit:  95ExpressLanes.com/transition.

News
License Plate Reader Limits Could Hamper Investigations

A Prince William County legislator is seeking statewide uniformity on how license plate readers collect and store data that has been linked to solving crimes.

Delegate Richard Anderson told the Prince William Committee of 100 that he and Virginia State Senator Chap Petersen will submit new legislation that would address how police agencies, like Prince William County’s, collect and store photos of license plates collected from cars in parking lots and from vehicles driving on county streets.

How LPRs work

Prince William police have 12 license plate readers, or LPRs, in use. Eleven are mounted to police cruisers, and a 12th is attached to a trailer that is moved to different locations in the county.

Each unit is a camera that quickly snaps photos of license plates and stores them on a computer inside the police car. If the computer matches the license plate number with a plate that has been reported stolen, officers know to pursue the stolen car immediately.

At the end of the day, the data is transferred to a database at the police department and is kept on file for six months. Prince William Police Chief Stephan Hudson said his ability to collect and store this data had allowed his investigators to use the data to help solve crimes. He said the data has also come in handy when police need to locate missing persons.

Fears of police tracking

Frank Knaack from the American Civil Liberties Union urges caution against using the machines. He said police can create a “digital fence” around a certain area to track drivers to determine travel patterns, giving authorities a clear idea of where a driver works, shops, as well as which groups he or she may associate with.

“Cars with license plates readers can drive through parking lots and can track cars at church, and police have a good idea that you go to that particular church every Sunday,” said Knaack.

Statewide limits would address privacy concerns

That’s where Anderson’s new legislation comes in. Earlier in the year, he, Petersen, and others formed the Ben Franklin Privacy Caucus in Richmond to address such privacy concerns. Anderson wants to impose a three month statewide limit on how long police may keep the license plate data on file.

“We need to tackle the issue of what triggers the [data] collection,” said Anderson. “It should be one of two things: It ought to be with a court order, or if a crime is in progress that requires law enforcement to spring into action in a given moment, so they have the intelligence they need to solve a crime.”

Historical data important to police chief

Chief Hudson said he’s “OK” with the three-month limit but prefers keeping the data on file for six months, as his department does now. He also said obtaining a court order each time data is collected could diminish the effectiveness of how LPRs are used today.

“My concern is that with such parameters we would have no historical data. And much of the benefit to having the historical data is going back to look at something days, weeks, even a couple months old and, if it was governed by that trigger, I wouldn’t even have that information,” said Hudson.

News
Police Search for Fast Fuels Robbers

robbery-1robbery-2robbery-3robbery-4robbery-5robbery-6

Prince William police are investigating a robbery that occurred at a gas station at the intersection of Old Bridge Road and Route 123 near Occoquan.

Here is more in a press release from Prince William poilce:

Armed Robbery – On November 23rd at 6:16PM, officers responded to the Fast Fuel Service Station located at 1320 Old Bridge Rd in Woodbridge (22192) to investigate a robbery. An employee reported to police that three unknown men entered the business and approached the counter. Two of the men display handguns while the third took money from the register and a purse belonging to an employee. Following the encounter, all three men fled the store on foot. No injuries were reported.

Suspect Descriptions:

Black male, between 25 & 29 years of age, 5’10” with a thin build

Last seen wearing a black HH winter coat with a hood, tan brown pants and black & white shoes

Black male, between 25 & 29 years of age, 6’0” with a thin build and short dreadlocks

Last seen wearing a black hooded jacket over a green hooded shirt and blue jeans

Black male, between 25 & 29 years of age, 5’8” with a medium build

Last seen wearing a black long coat, red shirt, black mask and tan work boots

News
Hudson: Recent Prince William Murders Not a Trend

Chief praises police officers for hard work following murders

 

Two murders back to back, less than a week apart, has some Prince William County residents talking about safety.

On Nov. 10, a Woodbridge Senior High School student was shot and killed on a walking path just outside the school. Police said the victim was killed in a drug-related robbery. Five people, including a 16-year-old girl, were arrested and charged in connection to Williams’ death.

In the early hours of Nov. 16, Christopher Nathaniel Weaver, 19, and a 15-year-old boy were shot in Dale City. Both were taken to a hospital where Weaver died, and a 15-year-old suffered injuries that did not appear to be life threatening.

One shooting suspect was arrested the following day in Arlington, and the second was taken into custody last night in Manassas.

The two shootings were not related.

In an interview with Potomac Local, Prince William Police Department Chief Stephan Hudson says the county has seen some troubling incidents in recent days, but says crime in the community continues to be at historically low levels.

“Even with two recent murders that have occurred within five or six days of each other, we still are at a total of six murders for the entire year. Historically, over the past 30 plus years, [the number of] our murders vary every single year. They’ve gone from lows of one and two to a high of 16. So, I am not overly concerned that this represents some kind of a trend that we need to be concerned about,” said Hudson.

Statistically, Prince William is on par with having the same number of murders this year as last. A total of 16 people were murdered in Prince William in 2006, and 12 people were murder in the county in 2008. Those two years, out of the past 10, saw the most murders in the county.

The department’s policy of directing a massive amount of resources to the county’s most violent crimes immediately after they occur is what helped detectives to quickly track down suspects in the two most recent murders. (more…)

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