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Letters

Wittman legislation to withhold congressional pay took courage

Recently, I read that our defense budget was signed into law on time for the first time in 10 years and want to thank Congressman Wittman for his part in making that happen.

I’ve known Rob Wittman over six years since meeting him at a veteran’s roundtable in Woodbridge.  He discussed how continuing resolutions kick the can down the road.  The result: passing budgets that hurt the ability of our military to plan how to combat current and future threats. 

Congressman Wittman was advocating for this years before we had a Defense Secretary like General Mattis who unapologetically called all of Congress out on it. Wittman has gone so far as to introduce legislation that withholds congressional member pay if a budget isn’t passed on time. That took courage.

It’s unfortunate but sadly typical for lives to be lost in the USS Fitzgerald collision last year before most of Congress to understand what Congressman Wittman was warning all along: lack of training and too old equipment leads to loss of life. He handled the collision investigation very well, not being afraid to hold the military accountable when he needed to while also using it to finally push Congress into action. 

Now that we have a defense budget signed into law, there is no longer a question for the Pentagon how much money they will have six weeks or six months from now. They can recruit more soldiers, make necessary restructuring to combat threats, and decide how to stay ahead of adversaries like China and Russia.

Legislators should be focused on doubling VRE service in Prince William, not Metro

There has been a lot of discussion through the years about extending Metrorail from Springfield through Woodbridge to Dale City/Potomac Mills area. Three main reasons why this is a bad idea for the residents of Prince William County include:

  • Limited economic benefit relative to the high capital and operating costs
  • Long distance from the core of the Metrorail system
  • Excessive amount of transportation options available to residents of Prince William County.

If you examine most end of the line Metro stations, most include similar land use configurations already existing in Eastern Prince William County. Limited non-residential development would occur in Prince William County due to Metrorail.

Prince William County currently allocates zero dollars to public transportation (Omniride and Virginia Railway Express) from their general fund. All local funding (~$20M) comes from a 2.1% regional gas tax or the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority 30% funding allocation.

In comparison, by 2025, Loudoun County will be paying over $80 million a year just to support Metrorail operating and capital costs. This would be much higher if the drivers on the Dulles Toll Road were not covering half of the cost of the Silver Line Extension. The tax district surrounding the Silver Line stations in Loudoun County will not cover the ongoing required subsidy.

It should be noted WMATA’s only goal between now and 2045 is to maintain a state of good repair and expand infrastructure to allow for all eight-car trains. If additional funding becomes available core capacity upgrades will be the first on the list.

A better solution is to continue to invest in the Virginia Railway Express 2040 system plan. The Commonwealth of Virginia, through the Atlantic Gateway Project, has committed to implementing a fourth track between Arlington/Crystal City and Alexandria and a new third track between Springfield and the Occoquan River.

The next step is finalizing the Long Bridge Expansion across the Potomac River. The state and federal delegation should be focused on securing funding for the Long Bridge expansion so VRE service could be doubled between Prince William County and Washington DC.

Along with VRE improvements, a mix with OmniRide service expansion, Fast Ferry and Slugging are the most time and cost effective solutions for the residents of Prince William County for the next thirty years.

Based on this information, Prince William County should remove all references to Metrorail extensions (Blue and Orange) during the planned update to the Transportation Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan and other relevant planning documentation and reject any planning funding to study this idea.

Hey, Prince William County: This is how to ride a local bus.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday spent a lot of time discussing whether or not Washington D.C.’s Metro subway will ever be extended to Woodbridge

Apparently, Prince William residents have trouble mastering some of the concepts of riding something as simple as a local bus.

Here’s the text of an email OmniRide sent to its passengers today: 

All OmniRide buses have automated announcements informing passengers of the location of the next bus stop, but in order to have the operator pull over at that stop, passengers must pull the cord or push the Stop button. Generally, bus operators pull into bus stops only if someone on the bus rings the bell to get off the bus, or if someone is waiting to board at that location. So don’t be shy! When your bus stop is one to two blocks away, let your operator know that you want to get off the bus by either pulling the cord or pushing the Stop button.

Sending Courtesy reminders is helpful but we know we can’t reach every customer with our courtesy messages. So what can you do to have a smoother commute? First, please show courtesy to others!

And if a fellow traveler seems discourteous, politely bring it to their attention. They may be new to public transportation, or they might be so caught up in their day that they don’t realize the impact they are having on others.

Your cooperation is greatly appreciated and will allow everyone to have a more enjoyable commute. Remember: Courtesy is Contagious!

‘Elected leaders can and should be working at all levels to retain the unique advantages and innovations of the ACA’

Virginia’s Medicaid Expansion Keeps The Momentum Going

Millions of Virginians celebrated earlier this year when the state decided to expand Medicaid to provide healthcare to some 400,000 low-income residents who desperately need it. This was an amazing achievement, bringing to fruition the promise of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but our success doesn’t mean the health care fight is over. We need to preserve what we’ve attained and move forward.

There are few issues more critical or more personal than health care, and prospects for increasing coverage, lowering costs, and driving innovation will continue to shape family conversations, community priorities, and political races. Fortunately, we are on the right path.

Many policymakers will evaluate our health care improvements by the statistics; for example, the 20 million Americans who gained health insurance since the ACA or the 100,000 or more Virginians who can now obtain opioid addiction treatment under Medicaid. But for most people, the real measure of success is found in their own lives.[1]

For me, that centers on my son, Jay, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. Before the ACA, his access to treatment was limited. The weekly co-pay totals for all of his required sessions was $200. This caused a financial burden on us as a middle-class family. Additionally, the health plan would only cover 20 sessions per year. This was inadequate for Jay, who is nonverbal and has been diagnosed with Level 3 Autism. 

The difference from the picture after the ACA is like night and day. Today, Jay can receive all of his required treatment with no limits free of charge.  They include speech and occupational therapy sessions, in addition to the applied behavioral analysis he previously received. This will help reduce the limitations he faces throughout his life.

As a member of the Dumfries Town Council, I hear similar stories from constituents all the time: a widowed mom who was offered a free fitness membership under her Medicare Advantage health plan, so she could get active and get out of the house more often. A woman who suffered for years with undiagnosed depression until the ACA guaranteed coverage for mental health services, and scores of patients with everything from cancer to autoimmune diseases or diabetes who were screened and then got treatment likely to lengthen and improve their lives.

Virginians are glad their health plans are doing more—not only covering more services at a lower cost, but also coordinating their care, offering telehealth options to get answers to medical questions 24/7, and even providing digital health coaching. We’re pleased the health care sector is adding jobs, and a healthier workforce is building a stronger economy.

Excellent health care means a lot to families in Dumfries and across Virginia. That’s why elected leaders can and should be working at all levels to retain the unique advantages and innovations of the ACA.

[1] https://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/medicaid-program-expands-access-for-addiction-treatment-but-the-death/article_ca0ad5f9-7b95-5b10-8521-800cd12b9614.html

 

Prince William’s ‘moonshot goal’ to increase commercial tax base too ambiguous

On September 12th the Prince William Chamber of Commerce hosted its Policy Committee Meeting where we heard and engaged in a conversation with senior Prince William County Staff on the topic of the County’s Strategic Plan and more importantly, discussed the County’s “Moonshot Goal”.

The “Moonshot Goal” is to increase the percentage of commercial tax revenues to 35% of the County’s existing tax receipts. It is the only quantifiable goal in the approved plan, and it is ambiguous. The approved plan did not specify whether the goal was limited to real property taxes or to all taxes paid by businesses. The business community’s share of taxes is currently about 16% of all county real estate taxes, and roughly 24% of all general fund taxes collected.

In 2017 when this goal was first approved by the Board of County Supervisors, the Chamber’s Board of Directors was opposed to it…and, after hearing from County Staff on the “ins and outs” of the proposal, reaffirms that position.

An economic development goal for reducing the tax burden on county residents is laudable but goals should be achievable, strategic and measureable. Rather than relying on real estate taxes at a time when businesses are moving substantial portions of their infrastructure to the internet, the county needs to carefully review its policies and procedures to be sure that the government is strategically targeting those things that are important to the community and consistent with its long term goals. That will mean in large part that the county will update outdated policies and procedures to adapt to the new economy and diversify County revenue streams. In addition to the 35% goal being unattainable, focusing on a specific number for property taxes, like the “Moonshot Goal” will not create a diversified tax base, and will simply add to the cost of consumer goods and services within the community.

The 35% is a measurement, not a strategic goal. We strongly reaffirm our position from 2017 and encourage the Board of County Supervisors to revisit this issue and replace the measurement with a set of achievable, sustainable and measurable objectives for economic growth that will facilitate continued success for the business community and our residents.

Sincerely,

Betty Dean
Chairman
Prince William Chamber of Commerce

Trump tax cuts ‘will hit Stafford County residents especially hard’ on state returns

The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” signed into law last December brought tax relief to middle-class Americans across the country. However, it will have the unintended consequence of causing tax bills to rise for over middle-class taxpayers and will hit Stafford County residents especially hard given Stafford’s high rate of homeownership and burgeoning middle-class.

In a recent video posted on Facebook, Stafford County Commissioner of the Revenue Scott Mayausky explains the incompatibility issue that exists between the federal and state returns and how it will impact Virginia’s middle-class.  The video has connected with taxpayers as it was shared more than 275 times and watched 10,000 times within a 4-day period. 

At issue is the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” doubling of the standard deduction to $24,000. This change will cause hundreds of thousands of people to stop itemizing deductions and take the standard deduction. 

While this will save Virginian’s on the federal return, it will hurt them on the state return because Virginia law requires they make the same deduction status on the state return as they did on the federal return.

The video explains this process through a sample return of a couple filing jointly with $20,000 of itemized deductions on the federal return.  If that same couple takes the $24,000 standard deduction (instead of itemizing) on the federal return, their state tax bill will rise by $691.

This hidden tax increase will generate $600 million of new revenue making it one of the most significant tax increases in the history of Virginia with very few people know about the issue, or are prepared for the dramatic rise in their state income tax bill that will come due next spring. 

The video’s goal is to educate Virginia taxpayers who are largely unaware of this issue and provide transparency to state tax policies.

Eagle Scout installs medicine collection dropbox at Express Pharmacy in Lake Ridge

My name is Parth Patel, a resident of Dumfries, Virginia. I am a rising senior at Forest Park High School and a Boy Scout of America, Troop 501, Woodbridge, Virginia.

Goal:

As you may have heard that the highest rank in Boy Scout of America is the Eagle Award which includes a community service project. I am proud to inform you that I am currently pursuing to achieve this rank. The purpose of any Eagle Scout project is to help the local community in a positive way, gives an opportunity to Boys Scout to obtain a lifetime experience and develop leadership skills.

Project Details:

My project will include to purchase a medicine collection dropbox and to install it at Express Pharmacy, [Lake Ridge], Virginia. I will also be organizing a one-day event when the people of our community can come and dispose of their unwanted medication in a safe and secure disposal box located at this location. Through this event, my other scout members can educate our community the right way to dispose of their unwanted/expired medications.

Purpose of this project:

Many citizens of our community believe flushing their medication down the toilet is a safe and effortless way of disposing of but in reality, it can end up polluting our water, impacting aquatic species and contaminating our food and water supplies.

Some medications are thrown in the household trash which does not ensure that curious kids can’t get to them. There’s an epidemic of accidental poisonings from medicines from in our homes – and children are the most common victims. Human medications are the leading cause of pet poisonings, most often from trash-related toxic exposures. It is also unwise to keep those expired medications at home especially around children at home because they might find it and see those medications as candy and might try to eat it.

Project requirement:
As part of completing my eagle scout project, one of the requirements is to get the signature from a non-profit organization. I would like to request local police department to sign as beneficiary. There will be NO COST to the police department for this project.

Speeding a problem on one-way thoroughfares in Belmont Bay

An email from Belmont Bay resident Mick Long: 

“…many contracted delivery drivers (including Uber & Lyft) race through our community at much higher speeds than the 25 mph posted. Many seem to be relying on outdated GPS systems and ignore the physical posted signage, especially our one-way thoroughfares. 

Wrong way driving has become dramatically worse over the past year or so. I live on a one-way private street, so I see these problems all too frequently, especially those going back and forth looking to drop off packages to homes on Monument Square because they are too busy looking at the house numbers on Monument Avenue and get frantic because their minutes are precious. UPS, Fed-EX, and USPS train their drivers and they become very disciplined in their parcel delivery logistics. who also ring the doorbells when dropping off packages which reduces the growing problem of Porch Piracy.” 
Late last week, Mick tipped Potomac Local via email to a crash in his neighborhood where a car plowed into a house. 
 
Belmont Bay is mixed-use neighborhood located behind the Woodbridge Virginia Railway Express station. The neighborhood is also home to the new George Mason University Science Center which opened earlier this year on the banks of the Occoquan River. 

Surovell: Virginia’s hostility to unions is also not good for working people

Labor Day this past Monday was a fitting reminder for us to work harder to not only honor working people in the United States and Virginia but to strengthen our economy and supports for employees.  Virginia has a long way to go. 

Last week Oxfam America released a study that found that Virginia ranked #51 out of 51 as the best state to be an employee – yes, dead last.  This included rankings of #48 in worker protections, #49 in the right to organize, and #51 in wage policies.   This is troubling news.

Virginia has done nothing to raise the minimum wage since 2009, when Congress increased it to $7.25 per hour or about $15,000 per year without time off.  In Northern Virginia, anyone earning $7.25 per hour has to be either supported by someone else or on government assistance. 

Only 13 states, including Virginia, still adhere to the paltry $7.25/hr federal minimum wage. This means 37 states have increased their minimum wage beyond the federal and Virginia rate.

Numerous studies have shown that raising the minimum wage does not adversely affect jobs.  In fact, I have spoken to many constituents who actually commute to Washington, D.C., to earn $14.20 per hour.  If minimum wage in Virginia was higher, they would probably take jobs closer to home.

Some Virginia’s leaders tout our state’s “Best State to Do Business” rankings by CNBC, which rose to back to #4 in 2018 after declining during the McDonnell Administration.  This year, we were beaten by Washington State, ranked #2 with a minimum wage at $11.50, slated to rise to $13.20 by 2020. 

We barely squeaked by Minnesota and Colorado with minimum wages at $10.20 and $9.65.  A higher minimum wage seems to be a very minor part of being a “best state to do business” in the eyes of CNBC. 

Virginia’s hostility to unions is also not good for working people.  A recent Stanford University study found that children whose non-college educated fathers were union members earn 28 percent more over their lifetimes than children of non-union member fathers. 

Additionally, every 10 percent increase in union density correlates with a 4.5 percent increase in children’s income and other studies have found that strong union membership in communities raises wages for all workers – even non-union workers. In other words, unions increase economic mobility and opportunity for everyone. 

A recent Harvard University study found that between 1973 and 2007 the decline of labor unions explains up to one-third of the decline in male wage inequality in America.  As we debate the economic dislocation and labor disruption around the U.S., including areas like, such as Southside and Southwest Virginia, we should explore whether Virginia’s ongoing imbalance in bargaining power plays a role. 

Virginia’s last-place ranking as a state to be an employee was a function of over a dozen factors.  Virginians have no right to accommodations for pregnant workers, no protections for workplace breastfeeding, no provisions for paid family or sick leave, no prohibitions on pay secrecy practices, no collective bargaining for teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees, and no provisions for project labor agreements to ensure fair wages on public contracts. 

As a practicing attorney who receives many requests from people who feel they were wrongly fired, I rarely have good news for them.  There is minimal recourse.  Virginia’s workers have few rights – especially compared to other states.

While having a competitive business environment is important for job growth, we also must have an economy that is fair.  Today’s Virginia economy is clearly out of balance with the U.S. if we come in at the bottom, number 51 out of 51.

If we want a Virginia that produces fair wages, good jobs and economic opportunity for everyone, we have a long way to go.  A rising tide lifts all boats and providing basic protections and higher wages for all Virginians will help everyone, especially the working families of our state.

It is an honor to serves as your state senator.  Please email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any feedback. 

‘NOVAVETS is especially in need of executives to oversee and coordinate the organization’s operations’

The Northern Virginia Veterans Association (NOVAVETS) is an organization with a sole purpose of supporting veterans, transitioning military members and their families throughout the Northern Virginia region.  Located in Manassas, VA, the association is a one-stop hands-on non-profit that provides that support at no-cost to the veteran or family member.  Those in need are connected to local community resources that best meet their requirements.  Because of the vast need for services and support, NOVAVETS focuses its efforts on the most vulnerable of veterans and those with extraordinary needs.

Founded in 2015, by Retired Major Angela McConnell (PhD), who is also an expert in health services, NOVAVETS is unique in veterans support by guiding the client through the vast and often confusing network of available resources until the problem or issue is resolved.  Relying on a cadre of support specialists, which include military retirees and health care experts, NOVAVETS utilizes pre-screened and verified service and support partner companies and entities to fill the veteran’s need.  Since its founding, NOVAVETS has assisted hundreds of veterans and family members, ranging from veterans needing mental and other health services, to families facing immediate eviction, to obtaining transportation to a veteran’s doctor appointment, to home and yard care help, to hospice care assistance, and to meeting the recreational needs of the severely injured.  Despite the overwhelming successes achieved in coordinating care and assistance to the veterans, the demand continues to grow.  Relying exclusively on volunteers to fill its ranks of supporting the needs of the association, NOVAVETS is especially in need of executives to oversee and coordinate the organization’s operations.  These positions are ideally suited to retired military members, military spouses, or retired professionals.  Compensation is knowing that one made a difference in a hero’s life.  Contact NOVAVETS at 703-659-0788 or www.novavets.org.

David Bice is a retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General and is Chairman, Board of Directors, NOVAVETS.  He lives in Woodbridge, VA.

Dr. Steven Walts, Superintendent of Prince William County Public Schools, welcomes students back

A back-to-school message from Dr. Steven Walts, Superintendent of Prince William County Public Schools:

We enthusiastically await the arrival of approximately 91,000 students on the first day of the 2018-19 school year. Our educators and support staff are prepared and passionate about ensuring each student learns, grows, and excels.

Our commitment to serving individual needs is evident in this school year’s opening of Independence Nontraditional School. This unique, state-of-the-art school facility that combines the former New Directions and New Dominion Alternative Education Centers, as well as PACE East, provides all students with greater access to courses and Division resources.

Most any teacher will tell you that different people learn in different ways. That’s why I am thrilled to be opening a new school that focuses on meeting the needs of students who can reach great heights when given the right opportunities.

Completion of additions at Lake Ridge Middle School and Pattie Elementary School, and improvements to a third of other schools, will mean better learning space and comfort for staff and students Divisionwide. Renovations include a variety of upgrades, such as HVAC updates, partial roof replacements, new carpeting and flooring, painting, lighting, and parking lot paving, and much more.

The Pattie addition frees up space to make the Washington-Reid building a pre-K center. That will give some of our youngest learners valuable educational experiences in classrooms designed specifically for them. The early start pays dividends that last a lifetime.

Divisionwide, we’ll build on the strong foundation of teacher and learning successes we celebrated last year. Twenty-two of our schools earned 2018 Virginia Index of Performance Awards for academic achievement, nearly twice the number received just two years ago. Our 2018 graduates were awarded $74 million in scholarships, up 133 percent since 2016. And, PWCS was one of only five first-place winners among the nation’s large school divisions in the 2018 National School Boards Association Magna Awards competition. Our Advanced Programs for All initiative was recognized for helping all students, especially those in previously underrepresented groups, to take and succeed in rigorous advanced coursework.

Integration of technology into every course at every level prepares our students to be future-ready. Our growing Career and Technical Education programs open many avenues for success. Last school year, CTE students passed more than 9,500 valuable industry certifications. Some programs helped prepare students for lucrative employment in trades like welding, construction, and automotive work. In 2018-19, students can also take courses in Electricity levels I and II, Computer Game Design, and Cybersecurity Network Systems.

Of course, school safety is on everyone’s mind; and we’ve invested heavily in prevention and preparedness to keep students safe and secure. We’ve enhanced the physical measures built into many school structures. A county-funded pilot program will help us hire retired law enforcement officers as armed security to supplement current police who work as School Resource Officers, and our Division-employed School Security Officers. In combination with training for any eventuality, we’re working to minimize security threats by adding 13 social workers, another mental health specialist, a psychologist, and three additional high school counselors.

Of course, security concerns, and other challenges, often overshadow all the great news happening every day. As I visit with community members, parents, and school employees, I frequently hear a desire for more of the positive.

In response, we will bring you more web stories, social media, and other opportunities to see demonstrations of student knowledge, skills, accomplishments, and their readiness for further education for the 21st century workforce. You’ll also discover more about the great teachers and staff preparing them. We will bill them as Positively PWCS, with a visual look to spotlight them and ongoing opportunities for you to share great things you’ve learned about.

For now, I wish each of our students, staff, parents, and community members a wonderful new school year — a year filled with great results that are Positively PWCS.

Recent vets town hall seemed like it was for Democrats only

VFW, flag, u.s.

As a U.S. Air Force veteran, I attended an event for vets hosted at VFW Post 1503 in Dale City.  The Town Hall was on Wednesday, July 25, 2018. 

I didn’t know this event for Vets was actually for Democrats only.  I say this because Prince William County senators Richard Black and Richard Stuart, and Tim Delegate Hugo (all three veterans of considerable military stature) weren’t at the Town Hall. 

They weren’t invited.

All of the Delegates in attendance (except Lee Carter) were Democrats who never wore a military uniform and aren’t veterans.  To be fair, a few PWC Democrats (2 Senators and 2 Delegates) were absent.

Why did the guest speaker, Deputy Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, Jaime Areizaga-Soto, speak as if all the new legislators were part of the veteran bills, which were discussed?  In effect, they took credit for legislation which Republican delegates achieved for vets during the past several years. 

That drives lots of vets to conclude that the July 25 Town Hall was a partisan event.

My husband (USAF Retired) and I (USAF vet) pay attention to what legislators do — and don’t do — in Virginia’s General Assembly.  We knew that none of what Prince William County Democrat Delegates talked about at the July 25 Town Hall was their own work.

None of the Democrat Delegates at the recent town hall put up a disclaimer or gave credit where credit is due – and credit rightfully belongs with many Republican members of past and present Virginia General Assembly sessions. 

Such information can be found very easily at virginiageneralassembly.gov.

We need more addiction treatment programs and less incarceration

Last year, more than three Virginians died, on average, to an opioid overdose every day.

While past drug epidemics have tended to hurt certain socio-economic groups more strongly than others, the opioid epidemic is devastating individuals from every race, gender, and economic background.

Fortunately, Virginia is beginning to wake up to the reality that we cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this crisis. As a public defender, many of my clients are the people we read about in the statistics – people accused of nothing more than using drugs, but sometimes facing years in prison.

Thankfully, we are recognizing that opioid use disorder (OUD) is not a personal failing where the user should be incarcerated, but rather a health disorder that must be met with treatment.

During the last legislative session, we took two important steps in fighting the opioid epidemic through treatment rather than incarceration. Most importantly, Democratic and Republican leaders in Richmond came together to expand Medicaid to cover 400,000 more Virginians.

Medicaid currently helps high-risk populations through the Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services initiative launched last year. Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond already has documented positive results, including a 31 percent decline in emergency department visits for individuals who are receiving this assistance over the first five months of the program.

With more individuals getting insured due to Medicaid expansion, more people than ever before will have access to addiction recovery programs. Medicaid expansion will also bring them into the overall health care system in which they can get treatment for mental health, pain management or other issues that could put them at risk of developing OUD.

Second, the General Assembly took steps to increase OUD prevention measures. I was proud to vote for a bipartisan bill last session that ensures safer opioid dispensing practices. These new regulations, paired with increased education and awareness, will enable more patients and doctors to seek alternatives to opioids so that they can build better, safer pain management plans.

Luckily, not just the General Assembly is waking up to the reality that we need more treatment programs and less incarceration. Insurers are leading by monitoring usage and alerting prescribers and pharmacies when patients demonstrate risky prescription-fill patterns, enabling proactive interventions.

Healthcare stakeholders have also worked with the Virginia General Assembly to raise the reimbursement rates for OUD treatment. As a result, more patients receive treatment through a managed care system and find alternatives to opioids.

Many insurers are now including addiction services, ensuring greater access to pharmaceutical-based treatments, such as Suboxone, which has proved to be effective when used as part of a rehabilitation program. They are also lowering access barriers to naloxone, the overdose “antidote.”

In short, OUD prevention and treatment initiatives are gaining momentum across the commonwealth. The battle to protect our residents from addiction is far from over, but with the help of so many stakeholders, we’re developing, validating, and rolling out programs that will enable us to overcome this crisis and save lives.

Public transit is still underutilized. So, how could OmniRide grow by becoming innovative?

This summary of the Masabi Research report from April 2018 was presented to the PRTC Board of Commissioners at its meeting on June 7, 2018.

Summary: “Key Factors Influencing Riders in North America: The emerging urban mobility ecosystem.”

Masabi issued a Google Surveys poll in the fall of 2017 to a diverse group of over 1000 US residents in order to gain an overview of the trends taking place in regards to public transit ridership across North America. The survey included both people who use public transit services and those who do not. All respondents, however, did have access to public transit services. Those who did not have access were excluded from taking the survey.

The survey was conducted to isolate the macro trends that are currently impacting public transit ridership and to indicate subgroup trends taking place, which might highlight behavior occurring and may spur others to conduct more in-depth research.

Topline findings include:

• Citizens are mostly optimistic about public transit services
• Public transit is still underutilized
• Convenience is the top priority for passengers when choosing to ride public transit
• Ridesharing is connecting public transit for many, facilitating multimodal journeys
• Convenience enablers attract riders (combining modes of transit through an app, mobile ticketing and location tracking)
• Private car ownership vs. ridesharing and public transit: The use of shared mobility services vastly increases the likelihood of riding public transit, pointing to a growing urban mobility system.

This report states that convenience, more than cost and necessity is the number one driver behind public transit ridership across all of the respondents. Riders with multiple options for transportation – the ones that are most rapidly reducing their reliance on public transit – are concerned first and foremost with convenience, not cost or comfort. While this means public transit agencies are vulnerable to losing riders to more convenient options, it also means that even minor improvements in convenience can boost ridership numbers.

Per this report, the bad news for public transit agencies is that their ridership numbers are indeed being impacted in some capacity by the increasing popularity of ridesharing services – nearly 10% of all consumers with access to public transit are using ridesharing on a weekly basis. The good news, however, is that there’s a major opportunity to play to the trend of combining ridesharing and public transit by creating first/last mile partnerships.

The report concludes that agencies can take a lesson from some of the convenient features that ridesharing apps provide, like location tracking and seamless payment, and deploy them relatively easily within their own systems. Increasing ridership by boosting convenience would have a positive impact on street congestion, while ridesharing can serve to replace personal vehicles in the first/last mile and in places underserved by public transit.

So what? How could OmniRide grow by becoming innovative?

The report’s findings clearly paint a picture of urban transit that is growing increasingly complex. Given what we know about the importance of convenience, it’s clear that many consumers who are not strictly motivated by price are combining public transit and ridesharing.

While fare reductions and service hour changes could certainly be cost prohibitive, technology changes are relatively inexpensive to implement and have also measurably increased ridership based on the data in this report. OmniRide is currently in the process of implementing a real-time arrival and location tracking application, but could also benefit from a mobile ticketing solution and first/last mile partnerships.

There is much more potential moving forward for interoperability between public and private services to enable full first/last mile journeys with public transit at its core. Not to mention the fact that relatively small changes in convenience – the addition of location tracking or convenient ticket purchase options, for example – could result in a major ridership boost for OmniRide in the short term. Increasing ridership, even marginally, is a must for OmniRide for the sake of our congested county.

Through better public/private partnerships and a more integrated transit system in general, it is possible to reduce overall congestion while enabling growth in Prince William County by:
• Increasing the use and ridership of OmniRide, starting with easier to deploy, consumer-facing features that increase convenience and build goodwill
• Recognize that OmniRide has been suffering from years of investment neglect, but that immediate changes can be made to start moving things in the right direction
• Facilitating partnerships between different modes of transit to increase efficiency
• Moving towards a more integrated transit model with closer partnerships between public and private organizations

There is no reason to be focused on one transportation mode or another. Instead, improving the current situation should be about facilitating seamless mobility and enabling consumers to use the best mode for each situation, thereby increasing convenience. This is absolutely critical to converting the riders who aren’t using public transit every day out of necessity – a huge growth opportunity that OmniRide can start taking advantage of right now.

‘The Virginia economy has truly started to perform again’

Last week, Governor Ralph Northam announced that Virginia finished the fiscal year with  $551.9 million more in revenue that we projected when writing this year’s budget.

First, the good news is that most of this surplus is due to increased tax revenue from payroll withholding taxes, not one-time revenue sources like capital gains or tax avoidance strategies related to the recent changes in federal tax laws.  The Virginia economy has truly started to perform again.

However, it is important to keep these numbers in context.  The state’s General Fund has been under significant stress over the decade since the Great Recession and automatic federal spending cuts caused by a process called a “sequester.”  In the nine years, I have served in the General Assembly, this is the second fiscal year that the Commonwealth has experienced revenue growth equal to or greater than the historical average.

Because of our state Constitution, other state laws and the budget, all of these  “new” funds are already allocated.  Our laws require that 10 percent or $55 million go to the Water Quality Improvement Fund and that the $500 million balance be contributed to Virginia’s Revenue Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund, which before the 2018 General Assembly session had dropped to historically low levels due to frequent, sluggish revenues.  Bond rating agencies had also expressed concern about the lower balances and had indicated that our AAA bond rating could be adversely impacted without significant contributions.

While everyone would love to have a tax cut, the General Assembly has enacted dozens of tax cuts over the past two decades, including car tax relief, estate tax repeal and removing the sales tax on food.  These tax cuts have completely offset the effect of any tax increases that passed.  As a result, most General Fund programs have been starved.   

Here are some examples.

Virginia’s per pupil, elementary-secondary education expenditures are the 15th lowest in the nation and our teacher salaries are the 13th lowest.  Virginia’s meager state-funded preschool program is still in its infancy. 

Virginia theoretically set a goal for the state to support 66 percent of the cost of attending college, funding that actually existed when I attended James Madison University from  1989 to 1993.  The state now only covers about 33 percent of the cost.  This has caused tuition at our state-supported institutions to skyrocket so that tuition rates at these colleges have become the fourth highest in the United States of America.

There are 10,000 families on Virginia’s waiting list for Medicaid waivers.  These are families with fully disabled juvenile and adult children who are incapable of living independently.  A Medicaid “waiver” allows them to live at home or in group homes funded by the Commonwealth.  Many families, such as military families, move to Virginia only to learn that our state is not supporting these services, services that are basic in most states.

State employee salaries continue to lag behind the private sector.  Recent reports have concluded that state employees would need a 26 percent pay increase to reach private sector parity.  State attorneys’ salaries are 90 percent lower than comparable private sector salaries.  Until this year, the Virginia State Police had not had any new trooper positions authorized in over a decade. 

Environmental enforcement in Virginia is severely limited by inadequate staffing.  Former Governor George Allen cut employees by 20 percent during his term and the Department of Environmental Quality has never recovered.  We struggled to find funds this year to pay for actual staff at the newly-created Widewater State Park in the 36th District.  The state has been sitting on the 1,000 acres for 30 years but has not had the money to open the park.   

Transportation is funded entirely separately by completely different streams of taxes mainly related to transportation such as gas taxes, annual fees and sales taxes on vehicles.  We were only able to restart maintaining our roads and investing in new transportation projects after we increased taxes in the 2013 General Assembly session. 

At the end of the day, the new funds are good news, but there are dozens of state-funded programs which are desperate for fresh funding. Please continue to provide your feedback as to how we should prioritize spending if we are fortunate enough for revenue to continue increasing.  You can reach me at scott@scottsurovell.org.

It is an honor to serve as your state senator.  

Old Harbor Drive commuter lot could become a park

Occoquan District Supervisor, Ruth Anderson, is aiming to increase the green space area within the district as it has the least amount of green park space, per acre, of all the districts in Prince William County.

The unused commuter lot at the corner of Harbor Drive and Minnieville Road looked like the perfect start to accumulate more park space. Supervisor Anderson devised a team with Prince William Parks and Recreation, The Green Scheme (a non-profit out of Washington, D.C.), and Keep Prince William Beautiful (a local PWC non-profit) to make this a reality.

Prince William Parks and Recreation is instrumental in the planning process for this park, ensuring more green space in the county for the residents to enjoy. The Green Scheme was contracted to design the garden and park space.

Keep Prince William Beautiful is conducting community outreach and data collection for the town halls and community surveys. In order to move forward with the project, Supervisor Anderson is hosting two town halls on Thursday, July 12, and Thursday, July 19, both from 7-9:00 pm at Lake Ridge Baptist Church, to share information about the project and ask for input from the residents in her district.

We encourage those in the surrounding areas to attend and share their wants and ideas, but all residents are welcome to join! The collaborative effort of these community partners, along with input from the community, will drive this project forward so there is another park for all to enjoy.

Letter: Give Naloxone not only for first responders, but also to those who are susceptible to an overdose

As a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, I was heartened last year when Prince William County created a veterans treatment docket.  Upon returning to the U.S., many of the men and women that I served with now experience post-traumatic stress and other health problems that may lead to opioid abuse.

Also, as a law enforcement officer, I can share with you that I am not only concerned about veterans, but also the lasting impact of the opioid crisis in our communities. This epidemic has increased our mortality rates and has lead more individuals who suffer from the disease of addiction to commit fraud and other crimes.

As a result, the criminal justice system has had to deal with this crisis head-on and often without the needed resources. One potentially life-saving resource is Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

With the passage of Medicaid expansion, Virginia now has more flexibility to get the residents the mental healthcare they need, fund programs to prevent use and provide access to drugs like Naloxone. I hope that we will be able to innovate and find creative ways to get this drug not only in the hands of first responders but also to other to individuals who are susceptible to an overdose.

Much like AED defibrillators have shown the ability to save a life during a cardiac arrest, the drug Naloxone should be accessible to prevent an overdose. 

Virginia’s physicians have been responding to?this epidemic by co-prescribing Naloxone to individuals who are considered at-risk. Medicaid expansion was a start, but I encourage everyone to vote this year to send leaders to Congress who will increase Medicaid and Medicare funding, so residents can get the care they need.

It is my hope that our Senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, will support co-prescription guidelines for life-saving drugs and treatment, so our states have both the resources and flexibility necessary to combat the opioid crisis. 

Joshua L. King is a resident of Prince William County and lost to fellow Democrat Jennifer Caroll Foy in the 2017 Democratic Primary Election.

‘Three to four business tenants since 2016…depend on our private lot to do business’

Thank you for your community publication that provides local news online. Upon reading the PotomacLocal.com May 31, 2018 article, below is some information we feel important to say in regard to our 9409-9413 Private Parking Lot.

The gate/fence design that was approved by the city is designed to allow for emergency access. Thank you for posting the January photo of the City approved gate/fence design at the end of your article.

The neighbor’s tenant, Shining Sol Candle Company, have their Center Street business property to dispose of their trash, and to do their business. Their business crate loads have been as large as a typical crate when I spoke to them May 2 trespass and as large as two crate loads at a time in a prior to May 2nd trespass.

City business large loading/unloading happens in the City of Manassas frequently, so the opportunity to check their City loading/unloading options have been present.

Although our property is private, with private property signs in our lot, adding a gate/fence like other private businesses have is apparently not out of the ordinary.

Three to four business tenants since 2016, without gap, depend on our private lot to do business, so it is important that our small business private parking lot
rights are protected.

Together, we are thankful for our City, and the opportunity to offer our business services, and for our private parking lot story told in Potomac Local.

New budget expands Medicaid, funds judges, schools

Last week, the Virginia legislature, with my support, took several major steps forward. First, we agreed to expand Medicaid, health insurance for disabled and low-income Americans, so that now, over 36,000 people in the 36th Senate District receive their health care from Medicaid. 

This includes over 24,000 children, children whose parents now have no health care.  Starting Jan. 1, 2019, that will change.                

Medicaid expansion will provide health care to between 300,000 and 400,000 Virginians and create 30,000 new jobs, many of which will be right here in eastern Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford Counties.  It will also save taxpayers $180 million every two years by shifting charity care at state teaching hospitals and prison health care to Medicaid. 

All of us pay for uninsured people who must resort to costly hospital emergency rooms for their care.  Providing Medicaid coverage can help people avoid hospital emergency rooms for non-emergency care and will help limit insurance premium increases.

Virginia will pay 10 percent of the cost of this program by a new tax on hospitals.  This coupled with revenue from federal tax legislation resulted in $900 million available to appropriate in our budget and we made significant investments.

Second, we helped education.  We approved an additional $105 million for Fairfax County ($575 per student), $94 million ($1,057 per student) for Prince William County and $18 million for Stafford County ($613 per student) over the next two years.  The new budget also funds a three percent teacher salary increase and raises funds for state-supported preschool by $9 million.  The budget also increases financial aid to higher education by over $22 million.

Third, the budget gives a much-needed two percent salary increase to state employees and a five percent pay increase to state troopers and deputy court clerks and an additional merit-based salary increase to long-time state employees.  We funded 1,700 Medicaid “waiver” slots or mechanisms to provide services to intellectually or developmentally disabled adults and invested over $15 million new dollars in our mental health system.  Fourth, we restored $180 million to our “Rainy Day” Fund. This will maintain the state’s financial integrity, which was recently questioned by our bond agencies.

After nine years, we ended the scourge of vacant judgeships by funding all judicial vacancies effective July 1, 2019, including three in Fairfax County and one in Prince William County.  We also funded the shortfall in court-appointed attorney fee money and provided funds to start new Drug Courts and Mental Health dockets – allowing people to receive treatment in lieu of harsh punishment.

I succeeded in having six of my budget amendments funded including the four judgeships in the 36th District.  The newly-opened Widewater State Park in Stafford County will finally have staff, six new state park employees.  

Virginia will provide nearly $400,000 for much-needed technology upgrades at historic Gunston Hall on Mason’s Neck.  Making Neabsco Creek navigable is now more likely because of my efforts with Delegate Luke Torian to put Neabsco Creek first in line for funds from a brand-new state dredging fund.  This will save 1,000 boat slips, 50 jobs and three marinas which were threatened with closure because the Coast Guard unexpectedly designated Neabsco Creek as unnavigable. 

This budget was a long time coming.  We first debated Medicaid expansion in the 2013 session and since that time, we have effectively relinquished nearly $10 billion in federal funds which could have helped to stabilize our economy and more importantly, saved some lives.  Fortunately, we have now put politics aside and passed a budget which will change lives.

This was one of the most rewarding weeks of my public service since I was elected nearly nine years ago.  This protracted budget battle resulted in major investments in people and changed lives for hundreds of thousands of Virginians.  I am proud I could help forward these advancements.

Please email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any questions.  It is an honor to serve as your state senator.

Commencement 2018 is a cause to celebrate Prince William County Public Schools

Congratulations to the nearly 6,000 new graduates of Prince William County Public Schools. We’ve watched you learn and grow into amazing young adults. You have reason to be proud. And our community can take pride in the School Division that gave you the promising start to bright futures.

New grads who began their education in PWCS had the benefit of full-day kindergarten. The early exposure to reading, writing, and literacy sparked the unmistakable glimmer of discovery on the faces of thousands of kindergarteners. 

Surprisingly, even some better-funded Virginia School Divisions don’t offer universal full-day kindergarten. But in PWCS, that investment lit the flame of lifetime learning that now burns in our graduates. Take pride in that, as well as in our commitment to expanding educational opportunities for preschoolers. 

Whatever our grads’ future directions, their PWCS journey introduced them to science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. Our commitment to STEAM supports robotics programs at every school. So many new grads were on teams that won regional and even international acclaim, building valuable knowledge and skills along the way.

Thanks to exposure to biotechnology, engineering, IT, or other STEAM areas, some grads are likely to become tomorrow’s tech entrepreneurs or to study for careers in medicine, engineering, and cyber technology.

Other new grads will be future educators, military leaders, linguists, diplomats, public servants, visual and performing artists, or pursue great careers not yet envisioned.

Through PWCS Career and Technical Education, many graduates built valuable skills in areas as varied as welding, culinary arts, cabinet making, and cybersecurity. Whether heading directly to the workforce or to further education, these grads are future-ready. Be proud.

Want more points of pride? Consider this: In 2008, just 83.3% of PWCS students graduated high school on-time. We’ve increased that every year since. Our 2017 on-time graduation rate was 91.8%, far above national levels, and even that of well-funded Fairfax County Schools. Had the rate remained at 2008 levels, about 500 fewer students would have earned diplomas this year.

Our increased numbers of grads are also reaching higher. This year, PWCS earned national honors for helping all students—especially those from previously underrepresented groups—take and succeed in rigorous AP, Cambridge, or International Baccalaureate classes.

Nationally, 20% of grads pass these advanced courses. All PWCS high schools beat that, with their grads achieving between 20.2% and 50.7% advanced program success. Many PWCS grads got a further boost by earning college credits in high school. Reason for pride? You bet.

Thinking “our schools could still do better.” You’re right. 

As in districts nationwide, the performance of PWCS students from some demographic groups lags behind overall populations on certain measures. We’re committed to changing that, and have made progress.

On SAT scores, our Hispanic students beat national averages by 77 points. Black PWCS students beat the nation by 84 points, and Virginia by 57. Meanwhile, on-time graduation among black PWCS students is better than the overall student rate. 

English learners have made big leaps too. The need for better programs to meet their needs once prompted a federal lawsuit. PWCS implemented improvements that now make us a model for other districts. With more than 120 languages spoken in our schools, both our latest grads and continuing students reaped real rewards.   

So, congratulations to the class of 2018, and to the thousands of teachers, administrators, and support staff who helped make their commencement the start of something great. We’re proud of all of you.

We’ll be working even harder to make the education of future students truly World-Class. There will be plenty of reasons for pride at graduations to come.

Shining Sol: ‘We would never purposely infringe, or abuse anyone’s right to conduct business or to utilize their own property’

Upon reading the article on PotomacLocal.com (a site which we love), I just wanted to clarify a few important details and provide a couple visuals, so readers can see exactly the issue at hand on the day Pete and I (Deron) were trespassed from the property behind our building.
 
I want to make an important note and say that everyone at the City of Manassas government level – from the various departments we’ve spoken to, as well as the Manassas City Police and Historic Manassas, Inc, have been nothing but helpful and concerned about the situation.
 
With the way Downtown Manassas is laid out, it is indeed our neighbor’s property, so in many ways hands are tied on a solution at this time. I also want to say that we are friends/friendly with all of the various tenants who have occupied the neighboring building, past and present, and we have had no complaints from them – quite the contrary.
 
It is true that we have been asked to stay off the property in the past, but it is usually in the context of “the parking spaces are for my tenants and they need to be able to park at any time they wish.” To the best of my knowledge, in all but one case, we have never (and never would) block access to the parking spaces, so there was never any issue from our viewpoint.
 
There was one time where a pallet was delivered prior to our arrival at the shop, and it took up half a parking space. Mind you, this was at a time when the building was in transition and there were no active tenants (that I recall), besides Mrs. McCall herself.
 
We would never purposely infringe, or abuse, anyone’s right to conduct business or to utilize their own property. That would not be neighborly, especially in a tight-knit Downtown environment where it benefits everyone to work together.
 
When we do get a pallet shipment, which at this point is pacing every 1.5-2 months, it is generally broken down and moved inside within 15-40 minutes (depending on the number of boxes and weight of boxes on the pallet). Rarely will we not start loading it in within 5 minutes. 
 
In response to the various cars and plates that were complained about – not all of those are attributed to Shining Sol, as various other surrounding businesses and general patrons have been at the receiving end of police and tow calls. When we do utilize a car for business purposes it generally involves loading 5-10 boxes into a trunk (while the car is running, and not pulled into a space) in the space of 2-5 minutes. That’s why there are never any cars to tow because we (and others) are never there long enough to be towed. 
 
We have tried for well over a year to be as best of a neighboring business as possible, and I think we have achieved that by most standards. We lend a hand whenever asked, we help cross-promote, and we are always community driven in anything we do. It’s hard to come to a resolution when other parties are not willing to be neighborly and accommodating in any way, shape or form and to me, that’s a sad thing to see in such a small town.
 

The general location of our pallet when delivered (red square).

Optional inclusion, location of pallet after being trespassed – in which we were still reported to the police for “blocking access”. Upon arrival, no action was taken by the police officer.