The Prince William Board of County Supervisors this week carved up a $20.5 million surplus from fiscal year 2005 and designated money for land acquisitions for new schools, a property tax reduction, transportation improvements and a rainy day fund.
The surplus and its designated applications were nothing new, but the amount of the surplus was. When the board approved the county's $765 million 2006 budget in April, the estimated surplus for 2005 was $15 million and the board announced where the money would go. Tax bills still rose, but the extra money helped reduce taxes from a proposed rate of 92.4 cents to 91 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The revenue came in a little higher than estimated, said David Tyeryar, county budget director. But, he said, the county's budget staff used resolutions, previous discussions by supervisors and county policy to guide them on where to place the extra money.
At Tuesday's board meeting, Supervisors John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) and W.S. "Wally" Covington III (R-Brentsville) and a handful of their constituents challenged the choices. They tried to persuade other supervisors to spend about $750,000 to improve equipment at a Gainesville fire station and another $100,000 to improve roads on Bull Run Mountain.
James Hendley, 74, of Gainesville said that the area's fire station is ill-equipped, and that firefighters must travel from Dale City to help with major emergencies on the western end of the county. "I'm an old guy. I might fall. I might get hurt. I want heavy equipment," he said to a bit of laughter.
Residents living on Bull Run Mountain described the difficulty of driving up narrow, potholed roads. They want the money to improve the roads so that the roads will meet state standards to be maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
By the end of a lengthy discussion, the board unanimously voted to give $3.3 million toward transportation improvements, $5.2 million for real estate tax reduction, $7.6 million to the rainy day fund and $4.4 million to the school district for site acquisitions.
But the debate was "spirited," Stirrup said. "I realized I was against long odds."
A majority of the board stood firm, and Supervisors Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) and John H. Jenkins (D-Neabsco) frequently reminded Stirrup, a conservative Republican with an anti-tax platform, that he voted against the budget in April.
"You've got to support the tax rate to create the revenues," Jenkins said.
Stirrup said that just because he did not support the tax rate did not mean he did not have the right to ask where the money should go, using a pie metaphor as he looked at a pie chart Tyeryar was showing the supervisors.
"This is the eleventh hour and to try to make a change . . . I just think that pie is already cooked," Jenkins said.
Supervisor Corey A. Stewart (R-Occoquan) said there was nothing wrong with going back and reexamining the board's previous directions to the budget staff. "At the time that we did that, we did not know the numbers," he said.
Covington suggested taking half of the $3.3 million designated for transportation and dividing it among the seven magisterial districts. The supervisors could use the money on projects in their communities, he said. "I was looking for some compromise," he said.
Caddigan said there is already a fund similar to that and that it is up to supervisors to use the money wisely.
When the board approved the spending, Supervisor Sean T. Connaughton (R), board chairman, directed the budget staff to look into whether the county could create a fund specifically for transportation improvements that supervisors would request for their magisterial districts.