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Gainesville

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.) 

Gas leak closes Buffalo Wild Wings in Gainesville

A Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant closed this morning at 11:20.

A gas leak was reported at the restaurant in Gainesville, according to a woman who answered the phone

Fire and rescue crews were spotted outside the building shortly after the restaurant closed.

Those who work at the restaurant did not know how long it would take crews to repair the gas leak, or when the eatery would reopen for business. 

No injuries have been reported. 

Jacobs served with GOP chairman long before being tossed out

Scott Jacobs [Photo: Mary Davidson]

Scott Jacobs [Photo: Mary Davidson]

Scott Jacobs is no longer a member of the Prince William County Republican Committee.

The group dropped him from their member list on Tuesday prior to debate featuring Jacobs and two other candidates hoping to fill the position of Brentsville District Supervisor.

Jeanine Lawson is the official Republican candidate in the race, unanimously chosen to run for the seat at a mass meeting of Republicans earlier this fall. Jacobs failed to meet proper filing deadlines imposed by the committee and was not able to seek the nomination of the party.

Prince William Republican Committee Chairman Bill Card on Thursday described Jacobs as a man who wasn’t active in the county Republican committee prior to his campaign, and as someone who was seeking to take advantage of Republican branding.

Here’s a portion of the story that appeared on Bristow Beat:

…Chairman Bill Card defended the committee’s decision when speaking with Bristow Beat Thursday. He said the decision was appropriate because Jacobs, “violated our trust, and he violated the letter and the spirit of the agreement in which he joined us.”

Card said that although Jacobs lived in Brentsville almost his entire life, he only joined the Prince William Republican Committee this year.

“I didn’t even know Scott Jacobs until January. He came to us seeking our brand. He came to us because he wanted an R by his name,” Card said.

In addition to not meeting the application deadline, Card said the committee was concerned with some of Jacob’s other behaviors such as posting campaign signs before the election board sanctioned such forms of political campaigning.

And, while Jacobs said he embodies Republican ideals, Card disagrees.

“We believe in following our word, and keeping our word, and being honest and upfront with everyone,” Card said.

Documents on file with Prince William County Government state both Card and Jacobs served on the 2012 committee that formulated the county’s strategic plan to guide the community over the next five years in areas like economic development, public safety, and transportation. Those committee meetings took place more than a year before January 2014, the time Card told a reporter he had first met Jacobs.

When asked about his participation in the strategic plan meetings, Card emailed the following statement to Potomac Local:

I went to the initial meeting and one other meeting of that committee.  They determined to hold the meetings on Monday evenings.  Our Monthly Prince William County Republican Committee meetings are generally held on the fourth Monday of each Month and my Executive Committee Meetings (of the Prince William County Republican Committee) are held on Monday evenings as well. 

After missing so many of the initial meetings when I did return for one I found that I was hopelessly behind, and I didn’t return.   

If I did meet Jacobs, he didn’t make an impression as I don’t recall.

Jacobs said he sat beside Card at the very first strategic planning committee meeting, and he corroborated the claim that Card missed some meetings.

“We did meet one another there, and he was there for more than one meeting,” said Jacobs.

The Republicans issued a statement to the press Tuesday about Jacobs’s removal from the GOP committee. While he continues to run as an independent, Jacobs said he remains a deeply rooted conservative.

The committee took issue when an audio recording surfaced of a campaign worker making a phone call to a voter in who lives in the district and described Jacobs as a Republican. It was the impetus for his removal from the group.

“This is a company that our campaign called and hired to make phone calls for us,” said Jacobs. “I listened to the phone calls on couple different occasions, they say I’m a Republican, and I am. “We certainly asked [the hired company] to clearly state that I am an independent candidate.”

Voters will go to the polls to decide on who the next Brentsville District Supervisor will be during a Special Election Dec. 23.

Brentsville candidates differ on Bi-County Parkway, oppose Metro expansion

brentsvillecandidatedebateVirginia Railway Express extension, commuter bus expansion popular 

Metro to western Prince William County doesn’t appear to be a popular idea.

The three candidates seeking to be the next Brentsville District Supervisor said bringing the heavy commuter rail service west from Vienna is a non-starter.

“I don’t know why we’re talking about metro; It’s not in the strategic plan so I don’t think it’s a good use of time to even talk about it,” said Eric Young, a Democrat.

His Republican opponent Jeanine Lawson agreed.

““I do not want metro to Prince William County,’ said Lawson to an applauding audience. “We have better transportation solutions than Metro.”

A better idea is to expand Virginia Railway Express service to Gainesville, as well as increase the number of commuter buses on Interstate 66, the candidates said.

“If we can put more buses on the road, that is a great solution before extending VRE to Gainesville,” said Scott Jacobs, an independent.

All three candidates spoke about improving transportation in western Prince William at Tuesday night’s Brentsville District Candidates Debate, organized by this news organization in partnership with Bristow Beat. Each seeks a seat on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors vacated by Wally Covington, who is now a county judge.

The Bi-County Parkway, a skeleton of a hotly-debated road project in 2013 that would link Interstate 95 in Dumfries to Dulles Airport via Manassas, was once again a part of the discussion.

“Brining high paying jobs to district, if we’re really going to make that happen, we need to provide thoroughfares that don’t exist,” said Jacobs, who called the parkway a “value proposition and said businesses outside Prince William are watching and waiting to see if the highway will be built before deciding to relocate to Prince William.

The highway as it’s proposed would use the existing roadway of Route 234 from where it begins I-95 and ends at I-66. The road would be extended through a portion of Manassas National Battlefield Park, and also would connect drivers to Dulles Airport.

Lawson called the proposed highway a “developers road” and said there “is no study to prove the Bi-County Parkway would bring economic development.”

Lawson said a better use of regional transportation dollars would be to improve the interchange at I-66 and Route 28 in Centreville.

“Study after study does show the congestion is still east-west. If you fix that Route 28 interchange on the curve, that will alleviate a lot of the north-south traffic on Route 28,” said Lawson.

There are plans to add two new express toll lanes in each direction on I-66 similar to what will open on I-95 in Fairfax, Prince William, and Stafford counties next week. The plan also includes express bus service.

Young claims traffic at Dulles Airport is diminishing, however, does say the airport is important to the region’s economic growth.

“If we want Dulles Airport to be a part of our economic growth engine we’ve got to tie in somewhere…soon,” said Young.

Voters who live in Prince William County’s Brentsivlle District will head to the polls Dec. 23 for a Speical Election to decide who will win the open seat. Click here for more information about the election, if you are eligible to vote, and where to vote.

Brentsville candidates differ on development, want larger businesses in Prince William

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Brentsville District Board of Supervisors candidates debate

The candidates differentiated themselves early on the in the debate. However, on the issue of broadening Prince William County’s light commercial tax base, it was easy to see how much all three agreed.

brentsvillecandidatedebateJeanine Lawson, Eric Young, and Scott Jacobs submitted to questioning Tuesday night at the first and only scheduled Brentsville District Candidates Debate organized by this news organization, in partnership with Bristow Beat, and hosted at Linton Hall School

Voters who live in the district will head to the polls Dec. 23 for a special election to choose a new county supervisor following former supervisor Wally Covington’s resignation from the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

Development 

Young, a Democrat and political newcomer, said he had not and will not accept any money from commercial or home developers. Many blame developers for overcrowded classrooms and clogged roadways.

“I don’t work for them,” said Young.

Jacobs, an independent, disagreed, and has accepted money from real estate developers.

“The developers are the real risk takers in the community. I don’t know why everybody frowns on that. Just because you take a contribution from someone in the development issue doesn’t mean that you’re their patsy,” said Jacobs.

The Republican Lawson said she accepted campaign donations from two developers. If elected, she said she would work to roll back developers’ influence in local government.

“The developers are not these evil people – they’re business people. They deserve a seat at the table in the dialogue of development, but they certainly don’t deserve to be the chair at the table of discussion, and that where they’ve been,” said Lawson.

Schools

Prince William County has the largest number of students per classroom in the Washington, D.C. region. Packing so many students into one room inhibits learning, said Young.

Lawson placed blame on developers for overcrowded schools.

“The overzealous development has created the crowding problem in our schools. We need more managed growth and to stop rubber-stamping all development that comes down the road,” she said.

Jacobs said paying teachers a higher salary is the most effective tool to not only decrease class sizes, but to attract and retain high-quality educators to the region.

‘Economic development is not working’

Where the candidates had their differences, all agreed the county needs to attract more large commercial businesses. The place for them, all agreed, is the Innovation Business Park in the Brentsville District.

“Economic development is important, but what we’ve been doing to attract new business in the targeted industries…it’s not working,” said Young. “We’re going after businesses that don’t want to be here because we don’t have a value proposition for them.”

Jacobs called for more involvement from the Board of Supervisors in the county’s office of economic development.

“We need to out there an incentive these large businesses… we need somebody that can get in there and get these business centers on the right side of the fence and deal make with these folks,” said Jacobs.

Prince William has been largely successful in luring retail businesses, including a new Cabelas store that is slated to open soon in Gainesville.

“Retail growth is not going to pay the mortgage bills. It’s not going to get you off 66. We’ve got make better efforts for high-paying job growth in the Innovation Business Park,” said Lawson.

The polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 23. Click here to get more information to see if you are eligible to vote in this Special Election and where your polling place is located.

After Christmas, NOVEC to use trees to brighten homes

Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative will accept evergreen Christmas trees, wreaths, and garland at its technical center at 5399 Wellington Branch Road, Gainesville, VA 20155, near I-66 from Dec. 26 to Jan. 12. Customers may leave greenery in the front parking lot in the area designated by orange safety cones. Greens must be free of all decorations, metal ornament hooks, and light strings.

“Most people agree that it’s more fun to put up and decorate a Christmas tree than to take one down,” says Junior Martin, of NOVEC’s right-of-way department. “But cut trees and greens need to go before they become so dry that they become a fire hazard.”

NOVEC tree crews will chop the greens into wood chips. They will deliver the wood-chip mulch to interested Co-op members at no charge when right-of-way crews are working in nearby neighborhoods. Members interested in free wood-chip mulch should complete the request form at www.novec.com under Customer Services, then Products and Other Services. For more information about obtaining mulch or recycling holiday greens, contact NOVEC’s right-of-way department at 703-335-0500 or 1-888-335-0500, extension 1633 or 1661, or via e-mail: novecrightofway@novec.com.

Christmas trees will illuminate NOVEC homes long after the holidays

NOVEC Energy Production has started using chipped greens and other wood waste collected at the South Boston Recycling Center as fuel for the Cooperative’s renewable-energy biomass plant in Halifax County, Va. The recycled greens are helping to generate clean energy for NOVEC customers.

Previously, the recycling center was burning wood waste in the open. Fred Mistal, a NOVEC Energy Production consultant, came up with the idea of NOVEC partnering with the town to make good use of the piles of brush and wood collected daily by the South Boston Department of Public Utilities.

“I thought burning it in the open was not the most environmentally sound way to dispose of it,” Mistal said.

The center brought in an enormous chipper on Dec. 1 to transform a 90-day stockpile of wood waste into chips small enough to be used as fuel at NOVEC’s plant. Approximately 10 tractor-trailer loads of chips were delivered to the biomass plant where the chips will be used to generate electricity.

Because of the partnership between South Boston’s recycling center and the Co-op, Christmas trees will still be illuminating NOVEC homes long after the holidays.

Brentsville District Debate Tonight

brentsvillecandidatedebate
Candidates for the Brentsville District Board of Supervisors seat will debate the issues tomorrow night.

The debate will be held Tuesday, Dec. 9 at the Linton Hall School on Linton Hall Road in Bristow beginning at 7 p.m. Candidates will each be faced with questions on the following topics:

  • Development and housing
  • Rural Crescent
  • Schools and education
  • Bi-County Parkway / transportation
  • Business and economy
  • County resources
  • Public safety
  • Transparency in government

All three candidates seeking the seat – Republican Jeanine Lawson, Democrat Eric Young, and independent Scott Jacobs – are expected to appear at the debate. It is the only debate schedule before the Dec. 23 special election.

The special election follows the resignation for former Supervisor Wally Covington on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Covington was appointed a Prince William County judge and the new job precludes him from holding the Supervisor position.

The debate will be moderated by Stacy Shaw, executive editor of Bristow Beat, and Uriah Kiser, publisher of Potomac Local. The two independent news sites worked together to organize the gathering.

More than 30 individuals submitted questions for the candidates via the Potomac Local website. Those questions have been reviewed, and some added to the list of questions that will be asked directly to the candidates. Some of the reader-submitted questions were duplicates or similar to other questions asked so some were condensed into one question to be asked of the candidates.

The debate style will be similar to that of a presidential debate. Each candidate will be asked a specific question and will have three minutes to respond. The two other candidates will each have one minute a piece to rebut the candidate’s response.

The debate will be held inside Linton Hall School’s auditorium. Drivers coming to the debate will be directed to park their vehicles in the side parking lot outside the auditorium’s entrance.

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

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.

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.

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…)

Beer Boon: Craft Brewers Now Welcome in Prince William

Restrictive zoning ordinance amended

It is now legal to open a craft brewery in a shopping center in Prince William County.

In what seemed like a happy hour session, that last call of the night for the County Board of Supervisors was to amend zoning laws that once prevented small craft breweries, like Bad Wolf Brewing in Manassas, from opening in commercial or retail district.

Unlike bars or restaurants, most craft breweries stick to serving only beer. New legislation signed earlier this year by Gov. Terry McAuliffe now allows these small breweries that were once banned under Virginia ABC laws.

“We’re always trying to catch up with the market,” said Nick Evers, with Prince William County’s planning office.

Like small wineries, craft breweries are growing in popularity and have sprung up in Manassas City and Stafford County. Recently, Bad Wolf Brewery in Manassas chose to expand its operation in that city. But not before exploring their options to expand at Tacketts Mill in Lake Ridge only to be told no due to the old zoning law.

“We’ve already lost potential business in this development area,” said Occoquan District Supervisor Mike May.

Small craft breweries allowed to make 10,000 barrels per year, and are no longer restricted to being located in industrial zones in Prince William. For brew masters that grow their ingredients for their beers on farms with two acres of land or more, those breweries can make 15,000 barrels of beer per year, said Evers.

But it’s not all Miller time yet for the Supervisors on this issue. As the Board voted to allow small craft breweries, they also voted to revisit the issue to refine the language that states exactly what types of alcoholic beverages may be brewed in the county.

Chairman Corey Stewart, At-large, said the language in the new law does not address breweries that make alcoholic cider, or Mead, a drink rooted in ancient history throughout Asia and Europe made by fermenting honey with water.

“Yeah, it’s coming up. They make Meade,” said Stewart.

Craft breweries will be allowed to host beer tastings at their facilities but will need to obtain a permit for events with more than 100 people in attendance.

Trummer’s and Uncle Julio’s to Open at Promenade

Photo from Virginia Gateway's Facebook page.

Photo from Virginia Gateway’s Facebook page.

Expect to see Trummer’s Coffee & Wine Bar and Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande to join the list of new businesses that have opened a location at the Promenade at Virginia Gateway in Gainesville.

More information from a Peterson Companies press release:

Peterson Companies announced today that Trummer’s Coffee & Wine Bar and Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande will open new locations at Promenade at Virginia Gateway. The two latest additions join the growing roster of upscale shopping, dining and entertainment destinations at the 300,000 square foot lifestyle center that opened in April 2014 in Gainesville, VA.

The 1,400 square foot Trummer’s Coffee & Wine Bar will feature a robust coffee menu, unique European coffee creations, house-made pastries, fresh fried Beignets, open-faced sandwiches, cheese plates, soups, salads, specialty cocktails and wine by the glass. This is the next concept from the owners of Trummer’s on Main, an award-winning restaurant in Clifton, VA, and Cupcakes Actually. The new Gainesville restaurant will be located near the Plaza, next to Francesca’s, and will open December 2014.

“Trummer’s Coffee & Wine Bar will be modeled after European Coffee Houses that have been around for hundreds of years in countries such as Austria, Hungary, Italy and France. By day it will be a fabulous spot to plug in your laptop and sip coffee with European pastries. By night, stop in for a light dinner and fabulous wines” says Victoria Trummer, co-owner of Trummer’s Coffee & Wine Bar and Trummer’s on Main. Adding, “Promenade at Virginia Gateway is the perfect location for our second restaurant, and we look forward to joining the Gainesville community.”

The 8,100 square foot Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande will be its fifth location in the state. The popular Mexican restaurant serves authentic, house-made Mexican dishes with the freshest ingredients. Uncle Julio’s at Promenade will offer its traditional tacos, enchiladas and tamales, along with specialties like marinated and mesquite grilled beef and chicken fajitas, ribs and jumbo shrimp. The new Mexican restaurant will be located adjacent to BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse and will feature a full bar serving signature drinks like The Swirl, Julio’s Skinny Guavarita, Passion Fruit Margarita and more. Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande at Promenade will offer outdoor dining and plans to open in summer 2015.

“These new restaurants will nicely round out our current mix of offerings at Promenade, further solidifying it as the premier shopping and dining destination in Gainesville,” stated Taylor O. Chess, President of Retail for Peterson Companies. Adding, “We’re thrilled to bring these two popular, local and award-winning restaurants directly to the Gainesville community.”

Youth Scouting Membership Declines

The number of Girl Scouts is on the decline nationally, but that isn’t the case in Prince William County.

The number of Girl Scouts “remained steady” in Prince William, while the numbers of girls joining the ranks of the scouts has declined 6% in the last year, down from 2.9 to 2.8 million Girl Scouts nationwide. Overall, the membership numbers have fallen 27% from its peak of 3.8 million in 2003.

There were 3,192 Girl Scouts in Prince William County last year supported by 1,000 adult volunteers. The 102-year-old organization prides itself on maintaining its core values while educating girls in the changing fields of science, technology, and math, commonly known as STEM.

“We remain committed to our mission: building girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place. Girls continue to learn new skills and earn badges, participate in the outdoors and provide service to their community,” Girl Scouts spokeswoman Nancy Wood told Potomac Local.

It’s not quite the same story for the Boy Scouts in Prince William. Their membership numbers fell nearly 2% last year, a bit lower number when compared to the 2.5% decline in membership seen in Boy Scout troops across the U.S.

The Boy Scouts have also embraced STEM education as part of their curriculum, but the Boy Scouts also knows activities for participants must also be fun.

“We have been working on a number of projects to bolster the numbers of young men and women in our program,” said Ben Hazekamp, a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America National Capital Region. “We are working on new units at schools that currently do not offer a scouting program, so that we can offer the scouting experience to every youth. We are also working on several strategic partnerships through our Explorer’s program, which offers young men and women the opportunity to explore potential careers from the ages of 14 to 21.”

Another program open to Boy Scouts came about from a partnership with Prince William police, where boys get to explore the field of community policing.

There are 4,774 active youth members in the Boy Scouts organization in Prince William. It’s an average of 2.5 children to every one adult, according to Hazekamp.

The Boys Scouts recently held a fundraiser dinner honoring two women in our community, Ernestine Jenkins and Melissa Robson, awarding them the “Good Scout” award. The dinner served to raise awareness of scouting and also raised $10,000 for the local organization.

Winter Warm-UP Drive Benefits Local Students

Withfall in full swing and early morning temperatures near freezing, the Prince William Chamber of Commerce would like to remind you that there are many children who need our help to stay warm this winter.

Michelle Rao, of Laser Quest Corporation, co-chair of the Chamber’s Education & Innovation Committee, said that while many coat drives are conducted over the holidays, often-times local children lack warm clothing underneath. To meet this need, each year the Committee organizes a Winter Warm-UP online clothing drive. For only $10, donors can purchase a “kit” containing a hat, gloves and fleece, and sweat shirt.

The Committee, with the help of students from Manassas Christian School, then distributes these warm clothing “kits” to Title I schools in Prince William County and the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. The goal is to keep kids focused on learning by meeting one of their most basic needs; the need for warm clothing during cold weather months.

“We believe that strong business and strong community go hand in hand. These children are our future workforce, our future leaders. It is important that we let them know this is a community that values their education and stands ready to help them reach their full potential,” said Debbie Jones, President & CEO of the Prince William Chamber.

Last year, the Chamber raised enough money to purchase 501 kits through the program. This year, with the generous contributions from Lockheed Martin and the Prince William Education Association, the Education & Innovation Committee is hoping to exceed last year’s contributions for Winter Warm Up. All residents, community groups and businesses are invited to participate and help meet the goal and make a difference in the lives of local students.

Both long-time members of the Committee, Denyse Carroll, Prince William County Public Schools and Jamie McNealy, Invent Now, Inc, helped collect donations from attendees at the Chamber’s recent Cuisine de Commerce luncheon. They were pleased to report that in just over an hour, members of the local business community had given enough to purchase 10 kits just by pooling their pocket change.

To donate online, visit PWchamber.org and look for the Winter Warm-UP graphic in the homepage slider. Checks can also be mailed to the Chamber Headquarters at 9720 Capital Court, Suite 203, Manassas, VA, 20110, c/o Winter Warm-UP.

For questions about the Winter Warm-UP or other community outreach activities of the Prince William Chamber, visit PWchamber.org and click on the tab labeled “The Chamber” or call 703-368-6600.

Police: Drunken Man Tries to Bite Hand

GAINESVILLE, Va. – On October 19, police say an intoxicated man was arrested after he refused to leave a 911 caller’s home as well as resisting arrest and trying to bite an officer’s hand. According to the report, there were no injuries after the incident.

Here’s the latest from Prince William police:  

Attempted Assault & Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer [LEO] – On October 19th at 10:50AM, officers responded to a residence located in the 12800 block of Thornton Dr in Catharpin (20143) to investigate a disorderly call. The caller reported to police that the accused, a known acquaintance, was intoxicated and refusing to leave the residence. Officers arrived and made contacted with the accused outside of the home. The accused was placed under arrested and refused to cooperate with police. At one point, the accused attempted to bite one of the officers on the hand. No contact was made and no injuries were reported. The accused was eventually detained without further incident.

Arrested on October 19th: [No photo available]

Brian Edward LISI, 38, of 4389 Canterbury Ln in Gainesville

Charged with attempted assault & battery on a LEOresisting arrest and intoxication in public

Court date: December 2, 2014 | Bond: held WITHOUT bond

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