Many Prince William County residents would see a real estate tax increase to fund additional police and firefighters, upgrade school fields, buy voting machines and hire school resource officers to safeguard the county’s middle schools, according to a budget plan proposed Tuesday by County Executive Melissa S. Peacor.
The county’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal, which supervisors will mull over in the coming weeks before adopting a final budget and real-estate tax rate in April, would mean a general operating budget of $969.6 million.
Further, the average real estate tax bill would increase 4 percent to $3,449, which comes at a tax rate of $1.201 per $100 of assessed value.
The budget proposal covers $2.5 million for 15 new school resource officers in the next year for the county’s middle schools, which would have full-time officers in place by December 2015. County high schools already have officers, but the proposal offered no funding for the county’s elementary schools, which do not have dedicated officers.
More officers at county schools is a priority for Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) who at one point sought to cut those positions but has advocated for them since a gunman killed children at a Newtown, Conn., school in December.
“People want to do something, and this seems to be the most direct way to improve school security,” Stewart has said.
The budget proposal also includes $1.6 million for 10 additional police officers but is short of the 25 officers per year the county funded before the recession in 2008 to keep up with population growth.
Peacor also sought to address concerns about the lack of available firefighters, particularly in the eastern end of the county. Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) had raised the issue of several fires along Route 1, where the first responding units were from surrounding counties because the county lacked adequate staffing to send its own units.
While the county has some of the equipment necessary to respond to area fires, there often aren’t enough volunteers – who primarily work nights and weekends to supplement career staff – to staff them, Principi said.
Peacor’s proposal addresses some of those concerns by adding 12 firefighters to staff a ladder truck 24 hours a day at a cost of $1.3 million. Similarly, the proposal adds $650,000 for a new ambulance that would serve western Prince William, which often isn’t able to deploy more advanced ambulance units for serious emergencies such as heart attacks.
The budget also provides upgrades to middles school playing fields – a request that has long been sought from school and youth athletic groups that have complained about the deteriorating condition of county fields. The upgrades would cost $513,000.
The county said they would also work with school officials to provide more access for athletic groups outside the school system.
New voting equipment was on the minds of many during the November presidential election, as county voters battled long lines and allegations of voter suppression in some precincts. Peacor’s proposal would replace one-third of the county’s older voting machines at a cost of $500,000. The proposal also adds $102,000 for two senior assistant registrars.
Principi said he was pleased with Peacor’s proposal. “For my one-eighth of the board, I think it’s a very reasonable ask of the Prince William County taxpayer,” he said, pointing to the fulfillment of “critical unmet needs” such as adequate fire staffing.
Peacor’s proposal will most likely be changed in the coming weeks. Stewart has said he wants a flat tax bill this year, and Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville) has also sought deep cuts. Other supervisors, however, have offered their own plans, and Peacor’s budget will serve as a template for ongoing budget discussions. The board is expected to advertise a real-estate tax rate next week; that rate can be lowered before a final budget is adopted, but it cannot be raised.
The board is scheduled to adopt its fiscal 2014 budget April 23.