The Prince William County supervisors have agreed that their credibility ws damaged by a recent spat with the School Board over an $8.4 million loan application to fund badly needed repairs at county schools.
"The credibility of the Prince William government suffers when we put out the wrong message," said Edwin C. King (D-Dumfries), whose motion to allow the School Board to apply for a state loan failed when it was not seconded at a Jan. 12 supervisors meeting.
"We could've done the same thing with a two-by-four," King said.
The seven supervisors, along with County Executive Robert S. Noe Jr. and three other county officials, held a retreat Friday and Saturday at Airlie House in Fauquier County to discuss the needs of the county and the goals of the board.
The supervisors' action Jan. 12, which surprised school officials, who had expected no opposition to the loan application, dominated much of the first day's discussions.
The supervisors, by rejecting the School Board's request to apply for the loan, was sending out a message that the supervisors were in control of county finances, Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D-Occoquan) said.
"The responsibility of balancing and allocating the resources is our job. And we did that."
The $8.4 million in Virginia Public School Authority bonds would have paid for a new roof for Woodbridge High School, air conditioning at eight schools and an asbestos removal program.
"Maybe they don't understand what our message was," Supervisor Hilda Barg (D-Woodbridge) said.
"They just have to wake up, then," Supervisor Robert L. Cole (D-Gainesville) retorted.
But King, noting that the School Board has a better image with the public, said, "We are the ones who catch the biggest hell when we lose credibility."
Supervisors agreed that their image with the constituents could be better and that more effort could be made by the board to educate the public.
"Unequivocally we need to do a better job of communicating with our staff, the community, the media and with our own agencies," Seefeldt said.
"Transportation is in the forefront of our constituents' mind. It is intrinsically related to our credibility and intrinsically related to the county's economic development," Seefeldt said.
"We've just got to do our job and our credibility will arise."
Getting the job done will mean finding at least a partial solution to what supervisors concluded in the second day as an "overwhelming" money problem facing the board in the next four years.
"I am just awed by what we need to do," Cole said.
"The documented needs far surpass our ability to pay for them," Seefeldt said at the conclusion of the retreat.
The supervisors, however, fell short of suggesting higher taxes, opting instead for such financing plans as seeking more proposals from developers and pursuing more lease purchasing options to fund major capital projects and public services.
"I've learned that from the vision that we've set for ourselves, there is a need for a tax increase," Barg said, but quickly added that the public ws unwilling to approve such a measure after taxes were cut last year.
Last year, an election year, the supervisors cut real estate taxes by 12 cents, from $1.42 to $1.30 per $100 assessed value.
Supervisor William J. Becker (R-Brentsville) said the cut was probably the last one the county will see.
"I don't think we will ever be able to reduce taxes again."
The supervisors, who went on a similar retreat four years ago, said they wanted to "get away" from distractions to talk frankly about county issues.
And talk they did, for more than 12 hours Friday and Saturday on various subjects, from teamwork and leadership to image problems and better relations with other county agencies.
Guiding the discussions was Richard Dunsing, a management consultant from the University of Richmond's Management Institute, titute, who has moderated similar sessions for various city governments, including Richmond and Virginia Beach officials.
"We came as individuals," Supervisor Terrence Spellane (I-Coles) concluded at the end of the retreat. "But now we're going to work as a team."
The retreat cost the supervisors at least $2,500 in county funds, Deputy County Executive Larry Hughes said.