Prince William's supervisors have to make many unpopular decisions in their work, but they always begin their meetings by making at least a few people happy.

How? They give out awards for everything from devoted service to winning a Little League championship.

Since January 1989, the Board of County Supervisors has voted 146 times to give commemorative plaques to county residents, staff members, and even a dog.

Some of their votes have in fact resulted in multiple awards for as many as 33 individuals, such as the county's Senior Olympics delegation, so that totally the county has handed out nearly 250 individual awards over the last 22 months.

"We commend people for a noteworthy act and for the honor it brings to the county," said Supervisor John D. Jenkins.

"Perhaps {when they learn of the commended act}, people will believe that Prince William is the good place to live that we believe it is," he said.

Jenkins, who has sponsored 17 commendations since January 1989 -- more than any other supervisor in that time period, said he most enjoyed commending a Dale City couple, Al and Millie Meulhaus, on celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. "They were so genuinely appreciative that it sticks out in my memory."

Prince William resident Jack Kooyoomjian, who has received several commendations from the county for his work on land-use questions, says, "You get a warm fuzzy feeling that at least somebody recognized and appreciated the work."

Obviously, the commendations aren't without benefits for the supervisors who dispense them.

"It's a political thing to some people . . . . You get your name in the paper and you reward your supporters," said Edwin C. King (D-Dumfries), who has sponsored only six commendations in the last 22 months. "I don't think you ought to commend everybody."

Each supervisor uses his or her own criteria in nominating recipients.

As prices go these days, the cost of providing cheer is pretty cheap.

The blank forms cost 5 cents apiece, the gold-colored seals cost 6.4 cents apiece and the special envelopes go for 19.1 cents, for a total cost of 30.5 cents per award, not counting the staff time devoted to composing the commendation, according to county spokeswoman Susan Mack.

In the fiscal year that ended in June, the county also handed out 144 wooden plaques, costing a total of $1,758 plus $14.98 for the forms and seals, Mack said.

Many of the 58 commendations proposed by the county staff went to departing employees.

"It's the main departure gift that is official," said Police Chief Charles Deane.

Other commendations are used to reward volunteers for out-of-the-ordinary deeds.

"We do a lot of commendations . . . . We have a very formal volunteer program," said Library System Director Richard W. Murphy.

"Because these are unpaid people, we try to make sure they realize how important they are to us."

Said King, "My very favorite commendation {was when} there were two employees of ABC Disposal, the garbage pickup service, who found a bag of cash and returned it . . . . Recognizing those kinds of good citizens is a good technique."

And then there was the November 1989 commendation honoring Canine Jesse, a police dog who had to be destroyed.

Canine Jesse and his partner, Officer Gary L. Pittman, had won both regional and national awards in their four years of working together, so when the German shepherd developed cancer, police officials wanted to honor the team for their years together.

The police knew Jesse's death "would be a tough time for the officer, who becomes as attached to his canine partner as a citizen would be to his pet," Deane said. "This particular team had been involved in several significant arrests of criminals who had fled the scene."