The growth that Manassas residents see at work and talk about all the time may soon manifest itself in a way they can feel -- in their pocketbooks.
Officials in the city of 20,500, which has more than doubled its population since 1970, are asking residents to support a $109 million capital improvements plan that they hope will provide more classroom space, ease traffic and support recreation during the next five years.
Next week, Manassas residents will be given the opportunity to voice their opinion about whether the city should double its debt in order to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding populace.
The $109 million plan is broken down into two categories -- $69 million for general government operations (roads, schools, etc.) and the remainder for utilities and airport improvements.
A public hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday for residents to discuss the city's method of establishing $34 million in debt, which includes:Seeking to sell $16 million in general obligation bonds to be used for general government projects.
Applying for a total of $24 million from the State Literary Fund and the state Virginia Public School Authority.
The remainder of the $69 million requested for general government would be paid for through city revenue. The city would seek bonds later for the utility improvements.
"When you grow the way we have, it puts pressure on the infrastructure to provide the services," said council member John Weber.
City Manager John Cartwright put it more simply: "The community needs so many things."
And according to council member Maury Gerson, "If there wasn't a sense of urgency we wouldn't be looking at doubling our bonded indebtedness."
That the City Council and staff are aggressively pursuing bonds as a means of funding the most essential aspects of the capital improvements plan is a sign of the changes that have taken place, Gerson said.
"For many years Manassas was an ultra-conservative, pay-as-you-go type of community," said Gerson, who serves as chairman of the city finance committee. "Now people realize that you can't pay as you go. We have a relatively young populace who realizes that you can't just have crowded schools and congested roads. And they realize they have to pay for it."
The plan may not necessarily draw rave reviews from at least one segment of the business community. The project has prompted city leaders to consider development of a hotel-motel tax.
If the city tried to pay for the plan through only real estate taxes, residents would face a tax rate increase of 40 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value for the coming fiscal year and 63 cents the next, Gerson said. With the package the city is proposing, residents can expect a 5- to 10-cent increase in the next financial year, which begins in July, he said. Each penny increase generates about $120,000 for the city.
Gerson said Manassas has one of the lowest tax rates in the area at $1.16 per $100. Prior to becoming a city in 1975, Manassas was included in the county tax structure and had a $1.80 rate. The city leaders immediately began reducing the rate.
"They should not have taken the rate down so quickly, as we look back," Gerson said.
The city will emphasize, Gerson said, that paying for bonds over an extended time allows future residents to pay their share for the "essential" services they will use as opposed to having all the burden fall on current homeowners through a tax rate increase.