Now that a slow-growth plan is in place, the fight for chairman of Prince William's Board of County Supervisors is turning on quality of life--whether the county is a good place to live.

In their third and most heavily attended debate last week, Republican challenger Sean Connaughton attacked Democratic incumbent Kathleen K. Seefeldt's leadership as lacking "accountability" and failing to foresee the effects of growth--high taxes, inadequate roads and crowded schools.

Seefeldt (D-At Large), who is seeking a seventh term on the board, defended Prince William as a "great county to live and work in and raise your families"--and touted her efforts toward getting ordinary citizens involved in county government.

A third challenger for board chairman, libertarian Robert McBride, said he would contract out many county services to private companies to improve efficiency.

Wednesday's two-hour forum at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1503 in Dale City also featured candidates for the 51st House District--in which GOP incumbent Michele B. McQuigg is fending off a challenge from Democrat Virginia M. Stephens--and the 29th Senate District race, which pits Robert S. FitzSimmonds III (R) against six-term Democratic incumbent Sen. Charles J. Colgan.

About 70 people attended the forum.

Such issues as roads and who will pay for them, crowded schools, how to stop gangs and HMO patients' rights dominated the debate among the candidates for state office.

Seefeldt, calling her campaign a "continuation of discussions underway for a long time in this county," recalled how an executive of America Online Inc. told her that Prince William's quality of life figured heavily in the company's decision to build a facility here.

"That almost says it all," she said, noting that the county has set aside more than $230 million to build new schools over the next five years.

But she found herself fending off attacks from Connaughton that she has allowed low-end town houses to swamp the county and has failed to lure enough commercial business--two reasons Connaughton said Prince William has the highest tax rate of any county in Virginia and can't build schools and roads fast enough.

Connaughton, a lawyer, also called the controversial $70 annual trash fee imposed this year to eliminate deficits at the county-owned landfill "a fiasco" created by inefficiency. And he claimed that the county failed to hold anyone accountable last year when appraisers contracted by Prince William entered homes without permission to assess property.

"We've got to try and go in a new direction," Connaughton said. "We should be doing better."

Seefeldt noted that the county has added 3,400 new jobs in the past 18 months and has lured several small high-technology companies here. She acknowledged that the assessor program failed. "We admitted it. It was stopped," she said.

Questions about leadership and the effects of growth also threaded their way through the statewide candidates debate. Stephens decried the county's crowded schools and temporary trailer classrooms and pledged to get more schools built. And she said recent legislation aimed at making HMOs more accountable to patients fails to allow patients to sue their health care providers.

She questioned McQuigg's leadership, criticizing the one-term incumbent for voting for a bill--ultimately defeated in the General Assembly this spring--that would have allowed students to bring unloaded guns onto school property. McQuigg said that the bill landed on her desk minutes before the vote and that she misunderstood it.

McQuigg, a former Occoquan supervisor known for her aggressive door-to-door campaigns, stressed that she can fight best for what her constituents want--money for roads and schools. "No one understands the constituents like I do," she said.

Colgan highlighted his record as a 24-year veteran of the General Assembly, noting that his influence and high ratings among good-government groups have helped bring hundreds of millions of dollars in state road money to Northern Virginia.

But FitzSimmonds, who is casting himself as a fiscal conservative, is counting on a Republican takeover of the Senate to cut his opponent's power in Richmond. "Just by that very nature, Colgan's influence will be diminished," FitzSimmonds said.