If there is an upside to the fiscal crisis in Manassas Park, it is a sense among many residents that the money was well spent.
“I don’t think anybody is really happy about paying more property taxes,” said Mark Mullins, 52, a father of two who has lived in Manassas Park for 17 years. “But a lot of the upgrades were needed. You’ve got to pay for it somehow.”
The community center, a project city officials say might not have been built had the housing crash hit six to eight months earlier, has turned out to be the most popular new amenity. It offers two full-size basketball courts, a workout room, an indoor pool and a spacious outdoor dog park.
“The investments needed to be made,” Mayor Frank Jones said. “The good thing is the city has infrastructure now, and the citizens will be served well for decades.”
The question is whether housing prices will recover fast enough for the city to absorb its increasing debt costs.
Last year, Zumwalt, the city manager, drew up a long list of potential “hard steps” to help close a $1.2 million budget gap. They included temporary pay reductions for city workers, furloughs and canceling the Fourth of July fireworks display.
In the end, city leaders increased water rates but didn’t have to take any of the hard steps. Manassas Park ended the last fiscal year $2.1 million in the black.
Feeling optimistic, city officials recently approved the first raise for Manassas Park employees and teachers in several years. Some City Council members have even talked about lowering the property-tax rate in the near future. But the number crunchers say not to count on it.
“I doubt it will be possible,” Zumwalt said. “Unless we have some extraordinary developments.”