The biggest issues that emerged were the Winter’s Branch bike trail, which some area residents oppose, and schools funding — particularly dollars to replace the aging Baldwin Middle School and build a new facility to house school administration in one central office.
On the bike trail issue, which dominated the seats at City Hall, many residents said they wanted the project out of the budget once and for all while some said the project made sense for the city’s walkers and bikers. The trail is a 2,600-foot extension of an existing trail and would connect the Georgetown South and Wellington communities, allowing users to access Old Town Manassas without crossing onto the street.
In March, the issue split City Council, 3-3, and Mayor Harry “Hal” Parrish II (R) had broken the tie by voting against it. But at a budget session in April, City Council member Mark D. Wolfe’s (R) “no” became a tentative “yes.”
He asked city staff to work with residents to find a less expensive and controversial plan. Council members J. Steven Randolph (I), Andrew L. Harrover (R) and Sheryl Bass also backed that plan.
But that hasn’t sat well with residents of the Wellington community, where the bike plan is proposed.
“On March 5, we thought we successfully killed and buried this project,” said Nina Gribov, a city resident. Part of the proposed trail would run through her property, she said. “On April 11 it was resurrected from the dead.”
Residents say they worry about increased crime as a result of the trail, while city officials say that there is no indication bike trails in the city or elsewhere see more problems.
A minority of others were more enthusiastic about the bike trail. “This gives a way to go from one end of Prince William County to the other and enjoy historic Manassas,” said Rick Holt, a Bristow resident who bikes throughout the area.
Wolfe said in an interview that the extension has been in long-term plans for “a long, long time” and his vote directed city officials to come up with a better alternative before more money is spent.
“I’m not smart enough to presuppose an answer,” he said.
Another meeting on the issue is scheduled for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall.
Other teachers and parents told City Council they have made the wrong decision in blocking funds for a new Baldwin Elementary School. The city School Board has unanimously backed a new building — as well as a new building to house the school’s administration.
City Council has to approve those funds and has not done so.
Tim Oshiki, a parent of a second grader at Baldwin, said city leaders were ”putting a band-aid on a gun-shot wound” with continuing repairs to the aging structure, which teachers said has problems with air conditioning and basic maintenance.
“If we fail on this now ... the cost is going squarely on the shoulders of our children,” Oshiki said.
Wolfe, who has campaigned on schools issues, said he would back a plan for new facilities if he was presented with a detailed plan from the School Board rather than a request for $3 million without many details. “We need a comprehensive plan to deal with our facility issues,” he said.
Councilors have tentatively backed a $1.19 real-estate tax rate, which would result in a $96.4 million general fund budget. The rate also means an average tax bill of $2,934, a $12 average residential increase for city residents.
The final budget is expected to be adopted in May.