New Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean Connaughton called yesterday for increased commercial development, more local jobs and renewed efforts to lure tourists to Prince William County in his first "State of the County" address.
The brief and informal remarks at the start of the Republican chairman's first board meeting came after the board elected Mary K. Hill (R-Coles) vice chairman, replacing L. Ben Thompson (R-Brentsville). Hill is in her second term on the board.
Connaughton's address echoed many of his campaign themes, which stressed remedies for the effects of two decades of development in the fast-growing county.
"These issues are not insurmountable obstacles," said Connaughton, a political novice who ousted Democrat Kathleen K. Seefeldt Nov. 2 on a "smart growth" platform. "They are challenges we must address head-on."
Connaughton, 38, began his remarks with a nod to the board's successes in the last year. He cited quality-of-life initiatives to clean up blighted neighborhoods, the elimination of personal property taxes on motor homes and camping trailers, the creation of 2,324 high-tech jobs and efforts to cut red tape for builders of commercial projects.
Also last year, the county expanded the Police Department's role, authorizing the hiring of 18 new police officers and 20 fire and rescue workers and negotiating contracts for a new police communication system.
A major new road broke ground, the last segment of a bypass around Route 234 between Route 28 and Brentsville Road. A new homeless shelter and an expanded juvenile detention home opened. The county secured financing for a $17 million high school--Prince William's eighth.
But Connaughton noted that the extra police presence is a sign of increased crime that must be carefully monitored and mentioned other areas of worry. Prince William's commercial tax base--boosted by a data center under construction by America Online Inc.--still falls short of the 25 percent mark local officials are hoping for. A new commitment to providing a safety net for the county's less fortunate residents needs attention, Connaughton said. And with children spilling from crowded classrooms into 150 trailers, the board must work with school officials to stop crowding from worsening, he noted.
Instead of driving on congested roads to jobs outside Prince William, residents need to be lured by new, diverse businesses to work where they live, Connaughton said. More business also will lower the county's tax rate of $1.36 for each $100 of assessed value, the highest in the commonwealth.