2021 State of the County Remarks (Chair Ann Wheeler)

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Provided by Prince William County

The Chair of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors delivered the annual State of the County address on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, to open the first Board meeting of the year. A copy of her remarks is below.

In other business, the Board chose Potomac District Supervisor Andrea O. Bailey to serve as Vice Chair of the Board for 2021. The Board also chose Woodbridge District Supervisor Margaret Angela Franklin as Chairman Pro-Tem for 2021.

More information about the Board of County Supervisors is available at pwcgov.org/bocs.

2021 State of the County

“This year’s presentation feels different than last year’s address. Living through a pandemic that has created the largest public health and economic crisis most of us have ever seen has certainly created challenges. However, there have been so many positive things that have occurred this past year, as well. We must not lose sight of the light that came out of the dark.

I wish to begin today by acknowledging the work of my colleagues on the Board: current Vice Chair Victor Angry and Supervisors Andrea Bailey, Kenny Boddye, Pete Candland, Margaret Franklin, Jeanine Lawson and Yesli Vega. We have been able to accomplish a lot together, and I appreciate your leadership and service to all residents of Prince William County.

To the employees of Prince William County, under the leadership of County Executive Chris Martino, I want to thank each of you for your public service, guidance and commitment to our community. Our County successfully weathered the storm last year because of extraordinary efforts of all of our County employees and for that, I say thank you.

In 2020, we opened the year as a new book that had the vision of embodying an inclusive, welcoming community that would be well-known and respected by its residents, neighboring jurisdictions and the rest of the Commonwealth of Virginia—a place where we could showcase the blending of the strengths of our past with a vibrant and technologically forward-thinking future.

Instead, that book started off differently than expected, and the past year presented many challenges as it proved to be a difficult chapter, not only in our County’s history, but our nation’s. Ultimately, we succeeded in making many changes in the right direction because we continued to dream big, worked together and stood strong for the future that we all collectively seek for Prince William County.

For the past 10 months, our community has been plagued by the global pandemic. While this time has been universally challenging, your County government has continued to serve as a beacon of light during this dark time working to manage and mitigate the impact of the Coronavirus on our community.

In March, we declared a local emergency to provide guidance and direction within days of the federal emergency declaration by President Donald Trump and the state of emergency declaration by Governor Ralph Northam.

Since then, our Emergency Operations Center has worked tirelessly to provide a coordinated, regional response in alignment with the executive orders instituted by our governor.

This forced us to explore new ways of conducting business to be of service to the community. Even with facilities being closed, employees working remotely, and precautionary safety measures put in place, our County employees found new and creative ways to serve our residents. Whether it’s curbside service at the library, virtual programming for members of the senior centers or helping businesses understand how they can better advertise with signage, our County employees continued to meet the needs of our community. Additionally, through established partnerships with community organizations, we have leveraged our collective talent and reaffirmed ourselves as #PrinceWilliamStrong. To note, since the start of the pandemic:

  • Nearly 10 million pounds of food have been distributed to the community through the Prince William Feeding Task Force led by the Prince William Food Rescue program, an affiliate of ACTS.
  • The Testing Taskforce administered more than 19,000 free COVID-19 tests and provided culturally affirming information sheets and personal protective equipment to vulnerable populations.
  • Rent, Mortgage, and Utility Relief Programs have funded 288 households in excess of $2 million.
  • We utilized a grant for the purchase of over 4,000 Wi-Fi hotspots to increase access for virtual learners.
  • We awarded more than $4.6 million in Small Business Micro-Grants to 640 impacted businesses.
  • And while the work to help our community continues, new work to address the pandemic begins. The Prince William Health District, with the support of our Emergency Operations Center, is just starting the long, arduous task of vaccinating our population. This is the light at the end of the tunnel and our path back to normalcy. But it will take time.

As we stepped outside of our normal ways of governing to provide crisis management, we also made time to move our County forward in so many important ways.

  • We invested in a robust 2020 Census outreach campaign, which produced a five percent increase in the self-reporting rate from 2010.
  • We more than doubled the number of early voting locations, to include drive-up voting and ably handling voting in record turnout numbers.
  • We expanded the pilot of the co-responder unit in the Police Department and formally established it as a viable program, which has been hailed as a model program throughout the Commonwealth.
  • We restructured the budget to put more money towards serving the most vulnerable in our community, to include homeless services and community services.
  • We opened a state-of-the-art compost facility, which will extend the life of our landfill by more than a decade and have a positive impact on our environment.
  • We adopted the County’s first climate resolution, to address an ever-worsening threat and to protect our community for future generations to come.
  • We established the Parks and Recreation Master Plan and saw our Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department become accredited, joining a group of only 12 other Virginia agencies and only one percent of parks and recreation agencies nationwide.
  • We secured hundreds of millions in various funding sources for regional transportation options near County gateways, moved forward with a solution for Route 28 and received state funding to study the extension of the Metro Blue Line to Prince William County.

During all that time, we saw the expansion of our commercial tax base. We saw the establishment, retention or expansion of 40 businesses with another 73 in the pipeline. This will ultimately have a capital investment totaling $2.4 billion. Prince William County is only beginning to get a sense of what is really possible when we strategically invest in economic development and then can finally provide critical services and infrastructure from the expanded tax base to our many residents.

During this year, your local government rose to the challenge of our time and has begun our recovery. Careful planning was needed to manage a reduction of expenses, and our sound financial decisions over the last year led to the reaffirming of our AAA bond rating. We have responsibly managed $82 million in CARES Act funding, and we had a bond sale in May with a new historical low rate of 0.46%, which yielded $6.5 million in savings for the County.

So what does our future hold? We know that the recovery from COVID-19 will be long as we need to continue to help our most vulnerable residents and those businesses most impacted by the devastation of the pandemic. But recover we will.

Last year, we sowed the seeds of our next chapter. Many of the following items will come to fruition and chart the course for our County’s future:

  • We will finalize our County’s Strategic Plan based upon numerous engagements with the public and public strategic planning sessions. This will help us fund our priorities.
  • We will complete the Comprehensive Plan, which will guide our future decision making in land use, transportation and amenities.
  • There will be the hiring of an Equity Officer, which will help with our commitment to further the inclusion of an equity lens across all our County operations,
  • With the adoption the County’s first climate resolution last year, we can begin to address climate change as an ever-worsening threat.
  • And finally, with the creation of the Racial and Social Justice Commission, we can begin to constructively address the concerns expressed through the racial and social upheaval we saw reignited last spring and summer.

This is the legacy that this Board will leave in our community. A legacy that supports investment into our business community. A legacy that supports growth that is in the best interest for all those in the community. And a legacy that stands for inclusiveness and equality for all. I urge all of us to work together to leave a legacy that we are proud of.

I am sure that over the years we will continue to refine our vision as time progresses, and as new challenges come up. The future of Prince William County looks bright as we work together towards the best future for all the County residents. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Board, County staff and each of you to help create that future. Thank you.”

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