Treating Taxpayers Like Hamsters

Anyone who has ever worked for a government agency knows that blame allocation is an art form.  When something goes wrong, it’s helpful to have someone else to blame.

The elected supervisors in Prince William County typically create excuses such as “those politicians in Richmond/Washington are at fault.”   It’s also good sport to assign blame to Judge Dillon and his rule.

Occasionally, you will hear supervisors talk about getting “caught up” with previous land use approvals that overloaded schools or roads.  “Supervisors who came before me approved too many houses in that area, and now we have to spend money to deal with the previous zoning decisions.  Don’t blame me for this tax burden…”

Amazingly, this excuse has been trotted out most recently to justify the Avendale proposal.   Taxpayers are getting treated like hamsters, forced to spin the wheel and cough up new taxes to support old development… while supervisors approve new development, in places that will require new roads and new schools and new taxes that will burden the next generation.

The standard party line is that Prince William needs to build New Vint Hill Road now, because  previous supervisors approved new subdivisions on Linton Hall/Vint Hill/Bristow roads years ago.  Bad planning back then is why local schools are overcrowded and traffic on Route 28 is a mess now.

And while supervisors expect county residents to swallow this excuse yet one more time… some of those same supervisors want to approve 295 more houses at Avendale, and return to the dumb growth pattern of extending subdivisions further into the Rural Area.

The initial Avendale development would add 193 new students to Nokesville Elementary, Marsteller Middle, and Brentsville High School – all of which are already crowded above capacity.  Future expansion of Avendale, plus likely rezonings to add new housing on adjacent properties, will make the problem worse.

As for roads – the developer at Avendale is proffering only 25-30% of the cost for New Vint Hill Road.  (The ratio depends upon how you want to value the right-of-way being proffered.)  Taxpayers are eating the rest of the cost for a new $$$multi-million road.  The new road is required because, in an earlier planning cycle, supervisors pushed the Development Area boundaries southwest so new subdivisions could be built on Vint Hill and Linton Hall and Route 28.

How can taxpayers get off this hamster wheel?  One part of the solution is simple: supervisors need to steer new development to places inside the boundaries of the Development Area.

Supervisors need to stop creating the demand for expensive new public infrastructure in the Rural Area.  It’s a bad strategy for supervisors to provide windfall profits to preferred developers, while raking off a small percentage of those profits for proffers.  Supervisors should reject – immediately – all proposals to alter the Development Area boundary.  County taxpayers get a raw deal when developers buy land cheap in the Rural Area, then get supervisors to change the land use classification to allow new subdivisions.

The concentrate-new-development-in-the-Development-Area solution falls into the “duh” category – or “d’oh!” if you’re a fan of Homer Simpson.  Still, some of our elected officials hope to fool residents yet one more time.  They are claiming that we need the proffers from Avendale to fix the problems created by earlier developments.  (Shh – pay no attention to the new problems we’ll create with new subdivisions such as Avendale.)

If you’ve lived in Prince William for a few years years, you’ve probably seen our politicians perform this song-and-dance routine at least once already.    Even if you just moved here, you can understand the silly short-sightedness of this approach.

As part of the solution, county supervisors could re-affirm the Rural Area/Development Area boundary as soon as next week.  That’s when they consider the Land Use Chapter update to the current Comprehensive Plan.  Of course, the supervisors could put Avendale back on the agenda and approve that shining example of dumb growth.  That would put taxpayers back on the hamster wheel, and start a new cycle of the blame allocation process.


6 comments so far

  1. Al Alborn on
  2. Al Alborn on

    Perhaps it’s time to consider a change in focus. While focusing on protecting the environment is certainly a worthy goal, perhaps you (“We”, or people concerned about the environment) would be better served by changing the process upon which the survival of our environment depends. We continually have the same conversation about failures of our Governance process. Let’s change the process. I specifically recommend considering following Florida’s lead regarding Proposition 4 (previous post) and explore proposing an Amendment to the Virginia Constitution. Florida’s Amendment 4 gives voters veto power over changes to your community’s master plan for growth (thus taking that decision out of the local Government’s hands.) This is logical since impacts to the environment concern and effect everyone (i.e., everyone is a stakeholder). You’ll find the instructions for amending the Virginia Constitution on my blog

    Perhaps we should stop having the same conversation about what’s wrong with the system and fix the system.

  3. Mom on

    At this point, changing the process is as good an idea as any. As many are aware, the Transportation and Land Use Chapters of the Comp Plan are on the agenda for Tuesday. I having looked at the Transportation Chapter it would appear that the Planning Commission is thinking ahead and proposes the following:

    ” All new residential and non-residential developments are expected to maintain LOS “C” or better for roadways and intersections currently operating above LOS “C”, and not deteriorate roadways and intersections currently operating below LOS “C”

    Planning Staff of course isn’t happy with ensuring that traffic possibly gets better or at least doesn’t get markedly worse and suggests that LOS D remain as the relevant threshold for which to evaluate level of service for roads.

    Again,continuing to do the same thing over and over again except in this case expecting no different results. It is obvious that the Planning Office doesn’t have the residents’ best interests in mind so perhaps it is time to put such issues directly in the hands of the voters.

  4. Al Alborn on

    Sooooo… do we really want to start a movement for a Florida style constitutional amendment? Just opening that box would change the tone of future discussions (probably in a good way) as Government bodies and developers look for ways NOT to justify such an amendment.

    I would be willing to be part of that party.

  5. Mom on

    Sounds like one hell of a party, first round is on mee.

  6. Al Alborn on

    If you are offering to join this “party”, ask charlie for my email address and drop me a line. I’ll buy the second round… Charlie is invited.

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