When Chairman Stewart first introduced a $600M bond package, I wanted to be excited. After all, it included $55M in road projects for North Woodbridge, $42M for an aquatic center on Route 1 and millions for trail and accessibility improvements in our parks. However, as I dug deeper, not only were there strings attached, nobody could tell me where those strings led. Starting with the fact that the capital costs and land costs were an unknown for the included projects.
What Are The Long-term Costs?
Additionally, the parks projects did not include operating costs or number of full time employees (FTE) that they would add to our budget, year after year. When projects were finally provided, they disproved the narrative that some of the parks projects would “pay for themselves.” At the low end, net operating expenses would cost taxpayers $50k annually at Howison Park, and up to $2.65M at the indoor track. While I believe we should invest in community amenities, it is disingenuous to not acknowledge the ongoing costs. These projects are far from revenue neutral.
Then comes the question of paying for debt service on the bond and ongoing operational costs. Nobody wants to state the obvious: This bond would obligate a new board to raise your taxes, or to cut core services such as education and public safety. We already have waitlists for substance abuse treatment, mental health services and housing programs. This is not the time to add to our service deficit.
Prioritizing Our Schools
Notably missing from the $600M proposal was any money to address the 206 trailers that serve as makeshift classrooms in Prince William. These portable classrooms, full of distractions and isolated from the building, lead to lower test scores. Trailers also do not adequately protect our children in the event of a disaster, and can present long term health risks due to poor air quality. Our students deserve better.
When I asked that we prioritize education and student safety over an $84M hydraulic track, I was presented with a toothless resolution implying that the tax increase triggered by the bond might enable us to move children into real classrooms. But it offers no certainty.
The public may reject the bond—whittled down to $396M after Chairman Stewart punished dissenters, as those of us who wouldn’t sign on to a half-baked bond resolution saw projects stripped from our districts. Even if it does pass, the projects in the bond are designed to pave the way for new residential development, further exacerbating classroom overcrowding. In short, this bond referendum in no way guarantees that we will move students into a more secure school setting.
My Promise, Moving Forward
Moving forward, I promise two things. First, I will continue the fight to properly fund our schools and get all Prince William students back in the building where they belong. Secondly, I will push for transparency on the bond referendum. It is irresponsible to ask taxpayers to vote on a nearly $400M bond package without providing the tax implications of the debt service and of long term operating costs. Before you vote, you deserve to know what these projects will mean for your bottom line, as well as for the children of Prince William County.