Prince William County and the Gainesville District in particular have undergone dramatic changes over the past twenty years. The certainty under which many purchased their homes has disappeared as a consequence of dozens of Comprehensive Plan Amendments and rezonings that have resulted in incompatible land uses, increased traffic, overcrowding in our schools and significantly higher residential tax bills to pay for requisite infrastructure. Many of those changes have dramatically impacted County residents quality of life, commuting times and drained resources that should have been targeted to the crumbling infrastructure in many parts of the County, particularly schools in the eastern magisterial districts.
Our current Board of Supervisors hold forth massive data center expansion as the Golden Goose that will address all of the County's fiscal woes and reduce the residential tax burden. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although data centers will provide some measure of increased revenue, historically, those revenues have not offset increased County spending. Additionally, most data center development outside of the Overlay District will result in the significant expenditure of additional County funds on infrastructure to support those data centers, infrastructure that is largely not subject to proffers. Further, most of the newly proposed data centers will require additional transmission lines and substations the construction cost of which is borne by the Utilities and passed on as rate adjustments and riders to the ratepayers, a subtle form of "tax increase" resulting from Board of Supervisors actions. Data Center developers and their attorneys claim that they will bear the cost of the substations, Dominion Power has categorically denied that such is the case.
Prince William County has adopted the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) analysis for residential growth in households between 2020 and 2040. As one might infer, the study was conducted before the pandemic and recent interest rate increases. I would argue that the pandemic is a game changer and that projections calculated prior to the pandemic are of limited value now. Nevertheless, Prince William County has revised its plans for the construction of 30,000-40,000 additional housing units that may or may not have a demand. The policies that have been adopted and are currently under consideration ignore the drastic market changes brought about by the pandemic. Moreover, they largely ignore much of the unbuilt inventory, recently approved dwelling units and the capacity envisioned by many of the recently approved Small Area Plans.
As a result, the current Board of Supervisors supports the introduction of massive new residential development, primarily in the Gainesville and Brentsville Districts. The plan calls for many of the housing tracts to be far removed from public transit and on two lane secondary roads. Thus, as constituted, the plan will make it difficult to construct affordable housing, limit transit options, increase local and regional traffic congestion and mandate an enormous investment in new roads, schools and other infrastructure to support that development. As previously noted, increased investment of the County's limited resources will likely lead to higher residential taxes and the diversion of even more funding for existing infrastructure needs in the County.
As a Prince William County taxpayer I have to question why Prince William County routinely cedes its sovereignty with respect to issues like development and transportation to a regional board that has no accountability to the taxpayers.
One of the unnoticed impacts of the County's development plan is the impact it has on our transportation network and plans for infrastruture spending. While the Board of Supervisors consistently maintains that they have removed the Bi-County Parkway from the plan, nearly a billion dollars of road construction projects that would enable or are part of the proposed Bi-County Parkway are contained with the Digital Gateway, most notably, the Battlefield Bypass and the Route 29 Alternate Road. Similarly, hundreds of millions of dollars are being expendended on the widening of the 234 bypass and the construction of Interstate Grade intersections. If the Bi-County Parkway is indeed not in the plan, then why is the County building it piecemeal?
With respect to the residential component of the Board's plan, the sprawl that is envisioned will require massive investment in rural road improvements and will lead to increased congestion on the collector and arterial roads. That doesn't sound like a plan for succes to me.
Although the Board of Supervisors has little direct authority over the education of our children, it does have oversight of the School Division's budget. Since 1988, the Board of Supervisors has entered into a “revenue-sharing agreement” with the Prince William County School Board, an agreement that transfers 57.23% of the County's general fund revenues to the School Division with little to no oversight. I believe the agreement has outlived its usefulness as it provides no meaningful way for the County Board of Supervisors, if willing, to address issues regarding our children's education. Similarly, with no controls in place on this fixed rate transfer, the revenue sharing agreement likely provides insufficient revenues to the actual educational process and teacher compensation while allowing for profligate spending on increased administrative positions, programs, equipment and facilities that have little meaningful impact on our children's education or mental health. If any member of the Board of Supervisors is sincere in their concern for our children's education, it is time for them to end the revenue sharing agreement, focus on the issues at hand and pursue a more vigorous review of the School Division's budget, a strategy and exercise that all neighboring jurisdictions engage in.
On November 17, 2020, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors adopted Climate Mitigation and Resiliency goals and authorized the creation of a Sustainability Commission. I am an appointed member of that advisory body which is charged with advising on potential enhancements to the Community Energy and Sustainability Master Plan (CESMP), which is to serve as the roadmap for the county to reach its climate mitigation and resiliency goals.
In the course of the past year, the Sustainability Commission has forwarded several resolutions to the Board of Supervisors with its recommendations for actions, including concerns regarding the draft Comprehensive Plan and the Digital Gateway CPA. To date, Chair Wheeler has refused to place those resolutions on the Board's agenda, effectively denying the Board of Supervisors the opportunity to discuss the merits of the findings in the resolutions and rendering both the Sustainability Commission and the adopted Climate Mitigation and Resiliency goals as little more than greenwash.
Upon investigation, I have also found that there are significant questions regarding the County's compliance with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act as enacted at Article 2.5. § 62.1-44.15:67 of the Code of Virginia. The public record indicates that the County has consistently failed to report RPA violations and land disturbances to the Department of Environmental Quality and in some cases the Environmental Protection Agency. Several of the County's actions and waivers may put Northern Virginia's water supply at extreme risk.
THE COUNTY BUDGET AND TAXES
For decades Prince William County has relentlessly increased spending and the tax burden it places on its residents, while spending little to no effort on analyzing waste, fraud and abuse. Given current rising prices, interest rates and rampant inflation that are tightening taxpayers finances, now is the time for a review of all County spending and programs before adding further initiatives funded on the backs of the taxpayers. I have identified several areas of budget that require an analysis of their return on investment or continued necessity in a rapidly changing world. Prince William County should not rely on Pre-Covid models that do not incorporate the new realities of trends such as increased telecommuting, diminished demand for office space and the decentralization of both government and private offices. Those realities pose a markedly different outlook for the County, particularly in the realms of transportation and housing supply. Further, several recent decisions by the Board of County Supervisors may threaten the County's AAA Bond rating. Should the County lose that rating, the cost increase will be significant and likely borne largely by the residential tax base.
It is without question that the County must increase its commercial tax base to reduce the burden currently borne by residential taxpayers. That being said, anything, anywhere, anytime development is not a reasonable course of action. Although data centers are front and center in the discussion of economic development, I and those that have worked closely with are not opposed to data centers, we are simply opposed to locating them in areas lacking the requisite infrastructure or on parcels where they would be incompatible with surrounding existing residential development.
I also do not believe in placing all of the County's eggs in the data center basket. Prince William County must establish and maintain a diverse commercial tax base that includes support for the small business community. Basing the County's economic development strategy almost exclusively on investment in data center development is the equivalent of having invested all of your personal wealth in a string of BlockBuster stores the day after Netflix launched their service. The rapid rate of technological change is likely to significantly reduce the demand for hyper-scale data centers in their current configuration, a likelihood that is noted in many of the data center industry's own publications and engineering journals.
Further, this year's legislative agenda in Richmond contains several bills that might substantially change the amount of and manner in which Computer Peripherals taxes are collected by the County. If such legislation is enacted, the County's projected data center revenue stream could be significantly reduced.