How the ferry will keep homeowner property taxes high in Prince William County

A commuter ferry on the Potomac River might provide transportation services to 500-600 passengers a day, but it will have an unfortunate side effect on the 400,000 residents of Prince William county.

The ferry, if developed, will help keep Prince William as a bedroom community.  We are currently a colony that provides raw material (office workers) to economically-thriving job centers in Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, and DC.  If we focus our limited funding on improving the commute to jobs in other places, then Prince William residents are doomed to high property taxes.

Why?  Prince William will house the workers who commute, and the children of those workers – and pay for the schools for those children.

If we stay as a bedroom community, Prince William property owners will shoulder the tax burden for teacher salaries and building/replacing schools.  Meanwhile, property taxes from office buildings in other jurisdictions – where Prince William commuters work – will subsidize costs for DC, Arlington, Fairfax, and other school systems.

Officials in those counties are well aware that office buildings pay hefty taxes, but don’t require K-12 schools.  Over the last decade, Arlington County got 40-51% of its property taxes from commercial property.  In Prince William now, commercial property pays closer to 15%.   Over 56% of the county’s budget is spent on the schools, and homeowners pay 85% of Prince William property taxes.

The closer-to-DC communities are, in part, economic rivals competing with Prince William to attract businesses.  Those jurisdictions will continue to benefit at Prince William’s expense until we recognize that spending our tax dollars to improve commuting so we export workers to other jurisdictions is economic suicide.  Our priority should be to increase the tax base of Prince William, rather than facilitate the export of commuters via interstates, via rail/bus, and potentially via ferry.

Most, or all, of a commuter ferry’s costs will be carried by Prince William residents.  Unlike VRE, all ferry stations will be in Prince William, so there’s little reason for other counties to contribute towards the $4 million in annual operating costs, after an initial $30 million in start-up costs.  Other counties share VRE costs because they share in benefits from VRE services, but don’t look for Fairfax, Stafford, or other counties to contribute $$$ for any ferry operations that benefit just Prince William.

(OK – maybe the Navy will pay for a separate Quantico-Indian Head-Fort Belvoir route for military personnel. Hold your breath…)

Imaging spending $30 million now, plus $4 million more every year, to improve transit INSIDE Prince William.  Imagine establishing local job centers with more-convenient bus service to Prince William neighborhoods, rather than enhancing property values in other jurisdictions.  If we transit inside the county between Woodbridge/Gainesville and points in-between, we might incentivize companies such as SAIC to locate more offices here.

After 20 years of investing in Prince William instead of a ferry to DC, we could put at least a dent into the economically-destructive commuting patterns of today.  We could stimulate jobs INSIDE Prince William, increase the percentage of property taxes paid by commercial property, and reduce the costs to homeowners.

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