Prince William County Executive Robert S. Noe Jr. yesterday proposed a $157 million budget that would raise spending next year by 17 percent, including dramatic increases for transportation, but would not raise the tax rate.
Noe said the county is able to accommodate the budget growth without a tax rate increase because revenues from taxes on business property and from sales taxes, particularly from the new Potomac Mills mall in Woodbridge, are both up.
"We've talked about economic growth being the goal, and it's been the goal of the board for a long time," Noe said. " . . . The first significant revenues from economic development are being realized."
The other side of the growth coin, however, is that population increases continue to place new demands on Virginia's sixth largest jurisdiction, particularly on the county's badly strained transportation network.
Noe's budget calls for $3 million for transportation, up $2.2 million over last year. Transportation historically has been the responsibility of the state, but Northern Virginia jurisdictions are increasingly taking it upon themselves because of the state government's failure to keep pace with expanding needs.
Of the $3 million, Noe asked for $2 million for costs associated with a multimillion-dollar road bond expected to be put before Prince William voters in the fall. The money would go, among other places, toward the cost of selling bonds and to the design of road projects, so that they could be implemented immediately if the bond referendum passes.
Prince William voters have a history of rejecting bond proposals, but recent surveys of county residents indicate a new willingness to take on debt. The shift in sentiment, residents and officials say, is motivated by a boiling frustration over maddening daily traffic jams.
Also included in the $3 million is funding for additional commuter buses, and money to begin planning for a bypass on Rte. 234, one of the most heavily traveled secondary roads in the county.
As in previous years, the largest portion of the proposed budget is for Prince William's school system, the third largest in the state. Noe's fiscal blueprint gives the schools $75.5 million, $3.3 million less than what school Superintendent Richard W. Johnson had asked from the county in the proposed school budget unveiled last week.
Other major spending items include 111 new county job positions, 183 fewer than was requested by county agency heads, and $1.78 million for a 4 percent pay raise for all county employes. Noe also is asking for increases in human services spending, including money for a health clinic in the Dumfries area that would provide prenatal and maternity care.
On the revenue side, the county's position is clouded by the loss of $2.4 million in federal revenue sharing funds.
Also, officials said, the effects of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction law on Prince William remain largely unknown. Already, the law has led to a 4 percent funding cut for the county's Office of Aging.
"It's really a big unknown. We're just kind of reacting to things as they happen," said Deputy County Executive Lawrence D. Hughes.
In other action yesterday, the supervisors approved the reappointment of controversial School Board Chairman Gerard P. Cleary by a vote of 6 to 1.
Cleary's reappointment had drawn fire at recent public hearings primarily because of his opposition to making public Johnson's contract, which until earlier this month the board had kept secret.
John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco) the only supervisor voting against Cleary's reappointment, said he based his vote on comments from citizens at public hearings.