Prince William Officials Discuss State Legislative Priorities

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Provided by Prince William County

During a public meeting between the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and the Prince William Delegation to the Virginia General Assembly, the Board laid out their state legislative priorities. The Board asked the delegation to support bills and budget amendments that will bring money to the county for education, transportation and public safety during the 2015 session of the General Assembly in Richmond.

With regard to public safety, a key priority for the Board was that the state budget appropriate the state’s $21 million portion of the funding for the new 204-bed expansion at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center.

The Prince William County-Manassas Adult Detention Center is currently operating at more than 150-percent capacity. The recent closing of state correctional facilities forces regional and local jails to take on inmates who would normally be held in state prisons. Those state-responsible inmates contribute overcrowding in the regional jails. The state-responsible inmates also cost the county money since the state only reimburses the county at about 10 percent of the full cost to house them. The state is also leaving prisoners in local and regional jails longer, adding to overcrowding and higher jails costs. The Board is asking the state reimburse the jail a larger percentage of the cost of housing state-responsible inmates.

Tracy Gordon, Director of Legislative Affairs, noted that “Our Board has approved its share of the funding for the project with the understanding that the state will continue funding its share. Any change to appropriations from the state at this juncture would create an undue burden on the local government.” The delegation agreed and expressed their intent to support the state maintaining its portion of the funding.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st, asked county staff to put together a fact sheet on jail overcrowding, state transfers of prisoners and reimbursements that the delegates could use to present their case in Richmond.

Sen. George L. Barker, D-39th, agreed that the delegation could use documentation to back up all of the requests from the Board. “If we’re going to sell it, we’ve got to have all the backing behind it and be able to answer the questions. If we can’t answer the questions, we’re not going to be successful.”

Another growing area of concern is the per diem rates paid by the state for housing inmates. In 2010, they reduced the per diem from $14 per inmate to $12. The Board requested the delegation support efforts to restore the per diem rate, which is a state responsibility that is creating a growing reliance on local tax dollars to support.

With regard to education, the board recommended restoring the Cost of Competing Adjustment (COCA) for support staff in schools. The School Board made the same request of the delegation during its own meeting with the state delegation last week.

Money for COCA has been in place since the 1980s, and gives schools a stipend to offset the higher-than-average cost of housing in Northern Virginia. While teachers have continued to receive the allowance, funding for a stipend for support staff was not included in the Fiscal 2014-2016 Budget. Full funding would bring about $11 million to the Prince William County school system.

“The cost of living is obviously higher in Northern Virginia than most other localities in the Commonwealth,” said Gordon. “The state recognizes this and adjusts the salaries for Northern Virginia teachers and state employees. However, they eliminated the COCA for support staff and now pay all localities the same amount of funding for those positions. This forces Prince William County Schools to use money on support staff salaries that previously was able to be used to support other school needs.”

In transportation, the Board called upon the delegation to send funding to county for secondary road maintenance. New state money for maintenance isn’t expected to come to the county over the next several years, even though new transportation funding measures were approved by the 2013 General Assembly. The state hasn’t provided Prince William County any money for secondary road construction since 2010.

Sen. Richard H. Stuart, R-28th, asked the Board to get figures on how many roads need repairs, how many roads need to be built and how much everything would cost. “Before we go down this path, I think it would be wise to analyze the numbers and say ‘What does this really mean to Prince William?’”

Transportation funds available under the state’s Six-Year Improvement Plan would allow for a study of long-term alternatives for safety and congestion enhancements for the Route 28 corridor in Prince William County. The availability of the funds has been delayed, and the Board called upon the delegation to help get the funds released.

The Delegates agreed to sign a joint letter to the Commonwealth Transportation Board asking that the funds to do the study be released.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors recognizes mass transit as a way to relieve traffic congestion in the Northern Virginia area. The Board asked the delegation to allocate the transit agencies a fair share of any revenues produced by possible increases to the wholesale gas tax. The county would use any increase in funding to support the commuter trains through the Virginia Railway Express and the bus transit through the Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission.

Lingamfelter reminded the Board that the state is facing $500-million deficit and that money would be hard to come by in the coming years. But Lingamfelter went on to say that the “challenge” of a budget shortfall wouldn’t deter the delegation from working to bring money to the county. “We’re going to fight very hard … but I hope you understand that the environment that we are in right now is very serious and it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to find money … but that’s not a reason not to go fight. We’re in your camp. We’re part of your team. We’re going to fight for your priorities.”

Prince William Chairman Corey A. Stewart thanked the delegation, that also included Sen. Charles J. Colgan, D-29th, Del. Jackson H. Miller, R-50th, Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-13th, Sen. Richard H. Black, R-13th, Del. Luke E. Torian, D-52nd, Del. Richard L. Anderson, R-51st, Del. David J. Ramadan, R-87th, and Del. Michael T. Futrell, D-2nd, for coming to the meeting.

“You’re doing a great job and I truly feel we’ve got the best delegation in the Commonwealth. We sincerely want to hear from you on how we can help you when you get down there. On behalf of the Board, and the citizens of the county, thanks for all your hard work.”

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