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Occoquan Local

Updated: Prince William cancels evening activities

Prince William County Public Schools canceled all evening activities tonight. 

Here’s full information in a statement from the school division: 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015: After School and Evening Activities Canceled-Normal Dismissal today. 

All Prince William County Public Schools divisionwide after-school and evening activities are canceled for tonight. All after-school and evening activities including night school, GED, and adult education classes, are canceled this evening. SACC and the Next Generation programs will close at 5 p.m. School will continue to operate on a normal schedule for the remainder of today.  

A School Board meeting that had been scheduled for 7 p.m. is also canceled. 

On the Prince William County Government side of the house, tonight’s meeting of the planning commission is also canceled. All cases will be rescheduled for Feb. 18, according to a press release. 

 

Manassas First Friday February: It’s the ‘Souper Bowl’

  • Historic Manassas, Inc.
  • Address: 9431 West Street, Manassas, Virginia
  • Phone: 703-361-6599
  • Website: http://visitmanassas.org/
manassas, souper bowl, festival

Historic Downtown Manassas is putting on the Soup for First Friday February.

On Feb. 6 from 6 to 9 p.m., city restaurants are pairing up with downtown merchants to offer a soup for sampling. Five-dollar wristbands allow participants to sample the soups from each location and vote to name a champion of the “Souper Bowl.”

A list of participating merchants for Manassas First Friday is available at visitmanassas.org.

Inspired by the success of the monthly event concept held in other localities, First Friday in Historic Downtown was created by the Historic Manassas, Inc. promotions committee to enhance tourism and entertainment offerings in the City of Manassas. The initial First Friday event was held in February 2014 and has grown and evolved. Some months feature roving musicians and caricature artists, while other months feature sidewalk art or special foods, like this month.

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

Region to readying to welcome 12,000 athletes for Fairfax World Police & Fire Games

Prince William County is getting in on the action during the Fairfax 2015 World Police and Fire Games.

Dubbed the Olympics of public safety personnel, the games will take place June 26 to July 5. More than 12,000 firefighters and police officers currently serving or retired, from all over the globe, are expected to descend apron the area. They’re expected to bring with them some 30,000 spectators, according to Fairfax 2015.

Of the 53 venues where the games will take place, to include baseball, basketball, cycling, clay shooting, motor cross racing, tennis, and karate just to name a few nine will be held on the Fairfax campus of George Mason University.

In Prince William, here’s a list of competitions being held in the county:

  • Prince William Forest Park – Cycling time trials
  • Prince William Ice Center in Dale City – Ice hockey 35+
  • Quantico – Rifle range bore

Other venues are scatted throughout Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. Participants will register for the competition and will gather during the competition week at an athletes village in Reston.

Unlike Olympic athletes who have travel expenses paid for, athletes in these games must pay the cost of their own travel. At an information meeting for the games earlier this month, organizers asked area businesses to offer discounted items and special offers for athletes to entice more to come.

Country Inns and Suites off Prince William Parkway in Woodbridge will serve as the official transportation hub for athletes who stay in the county. Eight buses will take athletes to competition areas each morning and return them at night

Fairfax 2015 officials said they expected 55,000 hotel nights to be booked at area hotels. The Country Inn in Woodbridge is offering a special room rate for athletes, but no rooms have been booked yet.

“We haven’t seen a whole lot picking up yet, but it’s still a little early,” said Rebecca Anderson, who handles group sales for the hotel.

These latest games will take place following the most recent World Police and Fire Games that were held in Belfast, Ireland, and drew 7,000 athletes to the games.

For this year’s games, volunteers will also be needed to assist the athletes and spectators. “We need volunteers for parking, helping familes, we need ambassadors of Fairfax County and this whole region,” said Kim Palmese, director of workforce for Fairfax 2015.

Would closing Prince William schools in zones mean fewer snow days?

It’s been a rough start to the New Year for the Prince William County Public School division.

On Jan. 6, it snowed heavily across portions of Prince William and Fairfax counties as a clipper system “over performed” and peppered frozen precipitation across the area, resulting in more snow than forecasters originally thought the storm would bring.

Schools in Prince William and Fairfax were not canceled, and that led to delays and children being stuck on buses en route to school. It led to outrage among parents and students who took to social media to denounce the school division’s decision not to close schools.

Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Walts issued a public apology for not closing schools.

On Wednesday, snow fell again, accumulating more this time in our region’s southern counties like Stafford and Spotsylvania. Prince William picked up a dusting of snow, and this time school was canceled. Canceling school for a dusting of snow drew the ire of some, proving once again that you cannot (especially the school division) please everyone.

Last night at a meeting of the Prince William Committee of 100 at the Northern Virginia Community College’s Woodbridge Campus, the question was asked “would it be better for Prince William County to divide the county into a western, central, and eastern zones,” and then close schools by zones in the event of inclement weather?

The question was directed to David Cline, associate superintendent for finance at Prince William schools.

Cline said other schools systems, neighboring Loudoun County, tried to split that county into zones, but it didn’t work. A similar plan in Prince William, he said, probably wouldn’t work, either.

“Two days ago, there was snow in Dumfries on the I-95 corridor and there was nothing on Bull Run Mountain,” said Cline.

During a usual snow storm, the mountain in the western portion of the county sees more snow than the east side of the county.

It would be easy to close schools in zones if all schools offered the same programs at each campus. However, since different language, arts, and technical classes are offered at specific school sites, and because some school buses transport children to their respective schools throughout the county, Cline said closing schools by zones wouldn’t make much sense in the long run.

After McDonalds robbery, young mom shown path to a degree

degree, credit, mcdonalds

Amercian National University (ANU) student Jazmin Lopez works toward her medical associates degree.

ANU provides young mother flexibility, path to medical assisting degree     

Jazmin Lopez, 20, of Manassas, knew that she needed to make a change in her life, and ANU offered her an opportunity to work toward her degree in a growing field.
Her neighbor was the first to recommend American National University, which has a campus in Manassas located on Liberia Avenue.

“They were promoting the school [at Gold’s Gym], when [my neighbor] met a recruiter from ANU,” Lopez said, continuing, “She was giving me information, but I wasn’t so sure about going to school.”

Lopez had made an appointment to meet with the recruiters on the campus, but still wasn’t sold about pursuing her degree.

Then, one night while working at a McDonalds, she was robbed.

“I wasn’t  speaking at the moment,” Lopez said of the experience, which traumatized her. “I thought it was time to change, and turn my life around,” Lopez said, prompting her motivation to get out of the fast food industry and earn her degree.

A few days after the incident, Lopez did meet with an ANU ad visor about the school’s opportunities for her. The robbery proved to be a turning point in her life that made her want to seek new opportunity and a higher education.

“The recruiter asked me why it took me so long to finally decide to go back to school. And I enrolled that same day…I thought it was really a great idea, because it’s only five minutes away from my house. And it caught my eye because they have really small classes, which means more attention for us as students,” said Lopez.

For her, the flexibility of the classes and assistance that the school has provided her, have allowed her to continue her education as a working young mother.

While still working at McDonalds, Lopez is currently obtaining her Medical Assistant degree, as a member of the class of 2016.

credit, mcdonalds, degree

This Manassas woman was robbed while working at a McDonalds. It was then she decided she need to change her life. She went to ANU in Manassas for a better opportunity.

Used tires are mysterious. New Cooper Starfire Tires cost about the same

starfire-tire-3starfire-tiretoyo-tiresstarfire-tire-2

Cooper Starfire Tires offer superior life and performance for just a few dollars more than the cost of a used tire

Instead of buying a used tire that you might have to replace sooner than later, consider a new Cooper Starfire Tire.

It’s a great option for someone looking for an inexpensive tire that will help keep their vehicle on the road longer and their occupants of the car safe.

Cooper Starfire Tires are available for multiple makes and models of vehicles. They’re manufactured in Asia and designed in the U.S. to compete with premium brands without the higher price tag of comparable tires.

The tire offers high-performance ability, improved grip and road handling, with an improved overall tire life.

Cooper Starfire Tires are great for drivers who may have purchased a vehicle that is more costly to maintain than first thought, but are still looking for a quality tire that delivers great handling and a quiet performance on the road. With the Starfire option available, drivers should think before purchasing a used tire.

Typically, drivers have no idea what type of life the used tire had before they obtain it. Used tires could be six to eight years old, perhaps older, and have spent the majority of their life as a used tire strapped to a vehicle. While used tires may look good, the rubber can be worn down or degraded after years of sitting idle. Some used tires may also be missing tread and show signs of wear.

Purchasing a Starfire Tire costs about $30 more than what a used tire might cost, but a new tire, on average, will provide three times the life of a single used tire. The price of a Starfire Tire is up to 30% less than other newer tires.  There are many Starfire Tires produced for SUVs, trucks, and the popular Honda Civic and Toyota Camry models.

Hometowne Auto Repair and Tire in Woodbridge, Virginia is now an authorized Cooper Tire dealer and offers a full line of Starfire Tires.

Teen wins NYC trip with “Say I Won’t” video with Manassas City Police Department

#SayIWont, manassas city police department

Captain Trey Lawler and Chief Doug Keen stand behind Mark Johnson.

In December, City of Manassas resident Mark Johnson had an idea for the #SayIWont video contest put on by Grammy Award winner Lecrae Moore and Reach Records. The video contest asked participants to make a 15 second video showing how “you’re not scared to be different.” Mark’s video featured members of the Manassas City Police Department.

Mark Johnson had the idea, in light of current happenings in other areas of the country, to show a positive relationship between the Manassas City Police Department and a City resident. His video shows him coming into MCPD Roll Call and encouraging the officers about to go out in the field.

Mark went to Osbourn High School in the City of Manassas. After a rocky start, including being expelled from school, Mark went back to Osbourn to finish high school with an advanced diploma. When asked why he chose the Manassas City Police Department to feature in his video, Mark said he remembered the great conversations he had in high school with Officer Cahill and he used that contact to make the video happen. 

On Dec. 12, while attending the Manassas City Police Department holiday luncheon, Mark received a phone call from Reach Records saying he had won the national video contest and had won a trip to New York City to accompany Lecrae Moore to a Brooklyn Nets game.

“We are honored that Mark chose the MCPD to feature in his video,” said Chief Doug Keen from the Manassas City Police Department. “Mark Johnson’s video sheds a positive light on relationships with police officers and those relationships are something we want to promote in the City of Manassas. We congratulate Mark on his award winning video.”

Johnson traveled to New York City in December.

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

Occoquan, Virginia fans: Own of piece of the town

Occoquan, Virginia

Occoquan Town Government sells old items on auction website 

At first glance, you might think the town is for sale.

Road signs noting the corporate limits of the tiny Town of Occoquan, and signs noting town streets like Poplar Lane and Ellicott Street are all for sale on the town’s auction website.

For now, it’s just the old signs for sale.

The auction site is an outlet used by the town to sell things it no longer needs like office desks and work trucks. The road signs, however, are unique and have piqued the interest of residents. They’re the type of signs you might see on the wall at a neighborhood restaurant, in an old auto garage, or an antique shop.

We were in the in the process of cleaning out maintenance facility and found these items,” said town manager Kirstyn Barr. “Instead of holding on to them, we decided to put them out to bid because we thought people might like to have these things in their house.”

Occoquan is a destination in Prince William County. Located on the river of the same name and just off Interstate 95, tourist flock here for craft shows and to stroll through streets lined with small shops and art galleries.

Two of the signs for sell date back to before the current Route 123 bridge opened. Signs that state “Occoquan Corporate Limits” and a sign that states “Occoquan” with a right arrow were used in to direct traffic on the old bridge.

At current bids of $20 each, both signs remain the most popular items in the auction so far. The “corporate limits” sign had nine bids Thursday night, and its auction was set to close in seven days.

Other items on the auction site include a desk and a cassette recorder that was used to capture the voices of councilmembers during Town Council meetings. A new Mp3 audio system was purchased earlier this year to replace the tape recorder.

Recordings of Town Council meetings have yet to be made available on the website, but residents can request to obtain to recordings from town officials.

Picture your art here to win

Winning artwork to be featured on light poles in Manassas

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

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

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

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

City of Manassas Citizen Satisfaction Survey results are in

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 2.22.00 PM

 

Manassas ranks above average in 8 Citizen Satisfaction categories surveyed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But does it work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

Opening Preparations

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

Roadway Opening

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

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

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

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

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

Gate Operations

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

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

Tolling Begins

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

I-95 EZ-Pass Express Lanes open Monday

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

Update

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

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

Original post

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued the following statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Improved system performance through enhanced enforcement and incident response

  • New access points offering more direct connections

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

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

 

 

 

Scoggins running for Occoquan seat, says county needs to better prioritize funding

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Campaign for Board of Supervisors a first for Scoggins

Donald Scoggins will toss his name into the hat seeking the Republican nomination to be the next Occoquan District Supervisor.

Scoggins will seek the seat to be vacated by current Supervisor Mike May, who announced he’s running to become the next Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney. Scoggins will face competition from fellow Republican John Gray who also wants the seat, and the results of a June 9 Primary Election could be the deciding factor which man will go on to run for the seat in November.

“I’m going to run as a Republican. I’ve been a Republican for over 50 years, and I’m not going to change now,” said Scoggins.

He’ll also face competition from Democrat and former Town of Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta whom he calls a “formidable” opponent.

“I know Earnie Porta,” said Scoggins. “I respect him as a candidate.”

A Vietnam veteran, former real estate broker, and soon to be retired federal employee, Scoggins has his eye on how Prince William County develops. The Occoquan District on the eastern side of the county is nearly fully developed, but whoever wins the seat will have a say on how the largely rural western side of the county grows.

“I want to make the rural crescent is maintained as much as possible, and I want to make sure we don’t overburden he taxpayers with over development,” said Scoggins. 

On transportation, Scoggins said the county needs to reevaluate its priorities and decide what road projects need to be funded. In the face of a looming transit funding crisis where the funding of some projects could be delayed, Scoggins some project may have to be removed from the books.

“Instead of doing everything that is planned, we have to look at what the numbers are, and we need to bring in staff and make educated decisions,” said Scoggins. “We can’t do everything, so maybe we have to lower our sights on what can get done given the current economic climate.”

Scoggins has been active in several non-profit organizations to include the Prince William Committee of 100, and has been a Prince William GOP Committee member for the past four years.

Scoggins has been married for 32 years. He has two adult sons, one who graduated from Virginia Tech and the other from University of Michigan.

John Gray campaigning for Occoquan District seat

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John Gray will seek his party’s nomination to be the next Occoquan District Supervisor.

If elected, the Republican would replace Mike May who announced he would seek the job of Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney.

Gray ran against Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, At-large in 2011 as an independent and lost. Since that election, Gray has remained an active participant in local politics.

He’ll likely face competition from within his own party as Don Scoggins said he will run for the Occoquan District Seat. Democrat and former Town of Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta will also run for the seat.

Gray works as a CPA. Naturally, the top issue facing the county residents is taxes, he said. While he won’t run on a platform of lowering them, he does propose placing a cap on the amount of property taxes collected.

When property assessments come in and they’re higher than what they’ve planned on them being, [the county] collects more revenue in the form of real estate taxes,” said Gray.

Higher teacher pay 

His fix: factor in the amount of over-collected taxes from last year into the coming year’s budget. That would result in a tax decrease for residents, said Gray.

Teacher pay is another top issue Gray said his campaign would focus on. Prince William teachers don’t make enough, he said.

“We’re getting what we’re paying for,” said Gray, noting Prince William County is falling behind when it comes to living wage increases to attract and retain qualified teachers in the county’s public schools.

The Board of Supervisors is the county’s taxing authority but does not have a say on how the county’s School Board spends their funds. If elected. However, Gray said he’ll keep a close watch on the construction of the county’s 13th high school.

“I’ll make sure we don’t spend our money on things like a school pool and a black box theater that doesn’t improve the quality of our childrens education,” said Gray.

He referred to the county’s 12th high school, now under construction off Route 234 near Hoadly Road. It will have an aquatics facility and black box theater, and with a price tag of nearly $100 million, it will be one of the costliest high schools ever to be built in Virginia.

Picking a fight with Peacor

Gray would also immediately pick a fight with Prince William County Executive Melissa Peacor, if elected.

“I don’t like the direction she’s leading the county. Every time she needs something funded, [the Board of County Supervisors] find some fund to do what she wants,” said Gray.

He cited the $12 million cost to bury power lines on U.S. 1 in Woodbridge to complement a the road widening effort funded by the state. The burial costs were not factored into the current budget approved by the Board of Supervisors in April.

The funds allocated for the power lines burial came from a reserve fund dedicated for transportation projects, and the recommendation to bury the lines came not from Peacor but from the Board of Supervisors, which asked for her professional recommendation on how to proceed, said county spokesman Jason Grant.

Its important to also note Peacor works at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors, added Grant.

Don Scoggins will challenge Gray for the seat, and the challenge could lead to a Primary Election on June 9.

The General Election will be held Nov. 3, 2015.

Gray has been married for 43 years and has lived in Lake Ridge for 28 years. He is a Marine Corp veteran, and has served  as president of the Lake Ridge Property Owners Association. 

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.

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