Prince William Courthouse

Deputy Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Tara Mooney recently had to juggle a lot of cases.

In one day, she said she had to leave a murder trial to sprint to two preliminary hearings before returning to the trial in shortly later, while her colleague covered in her absence. That’s just one example of a stretched-thin office she said is in danger of not not adequately serving victims or defendants.

“They all deserved my very best, not my multitasking trying to do my best,” she said.

Mooney’s anecdote was one of several heard by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors during a public hearing Tuesday evening on its proposed budget for fiscal 2022, which starts July 1.

County Executive Chris Martino has proposed a $1.35 billion budget, along with a $1.02 billion six-year Capital Improvement Program. The capital program includes $224.8 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

The budget comes with a potential 7% increase in real estate tax bills for county homeowners because, although the tax rate isn’t proposed to rise, higher assessments will drive up bills.

Tuesday’s hearing drew 49 speakers, with 28 in person and 21 online.

They included 17 attorneys who came out in support of increased staffing for the commonwealth’s attorney’s office after an earlier board work session. Judges, court clerks, public defenders and prosecutors said more positions are needed to keep up with an increase in caseloads.

“We are in desperate need for employees,” said General District Court Judge Robert Coleman.

Martino’s budget includes funding for two additional staffers in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office and pledges to add two more each year for the next five years. Prosecutors and some defense attorneys said that is not enough.

“We ask for these resources because the resource we need the most is time,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kathryn Pavluchuk.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth said in just Prince William Circuit Court, attorneys are dealing with about 20,600 cases in 2020, compared to 7,600 in 2000.

“We cannot continue this trend,” she said. “We cannot keep up with the number of cases coming in.”

Ashworth presented four staffing options to avoid severely cutting services. She said that the “bare minimum” would be 12 attorneys, six administrative staff and five case managers. By adding that number of people, the office would still be able to prosecute only felony cases, state-mandated cases and misdemeanor domestic violence and drunken driving cases. Other cases would not be able to receive a dedicated attorney because there’s not enough manpower. 

“Getting out of all misdemeanors except domestic violence and DUI is going to be hard on a lot of people,” she said.

James McCoart III, whose father is the namesake of the county’s administrative building, said as a defense attorney he sees the struggle facing the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

“I am in the trenches every day with them,” he said. “Whatever they’re asking for, give it to them.”

Three speakers supported a larger pay increase for police officers, and one called for adequate funding for all county departments.

Twelve people spoke against the potential tax bill increase, with many decrying wasteful spending.  Only four people spoke in favor of the budget as presented.

Nine speakers called for creating dedicated positions to address climate change and sustainability.

The real estate rate has been advertised at $1.125 per $100 of assessed value, but rising property values are expected to increase the average residential homeowner’s tax bill by $306, according to county staff.

The budget proposal says residential real estate values increased by an average of 7%, while commercial real estate values dropped an average of 4.5%. The increased assessments would result in an effective tax increase for residential properties, but a drop for commercial.

For example, a home valued at $400,000 in 2020 would be worth $428,000 for tax purposes in 2021, at a 7% increase. If the real estate tax rate remains the same, the homeowner’s taxes would go up from $4,500 to $4,815.

Budget Director David Sinclair has said the real estate tax rate would need to drop to around $1.05 per $100 of assessed value to avoid the effective increase. Reducing the rate, he said, would cut proposed revenues by $51.2 million, of which $29.3 million would come from the allocation to the school division, with the other $21.9 million going to the county’s general fund.

The personal property tax, which primarily applies to vehicles, is advertised to remain at $3.70 per $100 of value.

The spending plan calls for a $1.60 tax per $100 of value on business computers and peripheral equipment, a 25-cent hike over the current rate. That levy primarily applies to data centers. The proposal also includes a 30-cent per pack tax on cigarettes, which would be a new tax estimated to generate $3 million in revenue.

The board will hold another work session on the budget March 16, followed by another public hearing in April. The board is scheduled to adopt the budget in late April.

Nolan Stout covers Prince William County. Reach him at nstout@insidenova.com or @TheNolanStout on Facebook and Twitter.

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(13) comments

Henry Howell

Good Prince William is run by competent Democrats who have done more to reign in criminals, while protecting civil rights.

Diego

You mean let most criminals out on PR bond. Last year there was a felonious assault defendant (presumption against bond by statute) who was arrested on a Wednesday or Thursday. Let out on “supervised release” on Friday and Monday committed MURDER in Fredericksburg. Don’t read about that stuff in the papers. It might make the C.A.’s office and the courts look bad. Gotta protect them politicians and judges.

Hawkeye10

I'm not even sure where to begin, there's a lot that needs to digest and sink in on this unfortunate issue...

What does it say about County government as a whole when we have a C.A. office that is surviving on on its last leg in its final hour? What a smack in the face not only to the hard-working folks and the people they represent, but the tax-payer themselves. You start to wonder, where are and were the Real priorities all along?

What this report unfortunately failed to mention was a private practice lawyer who provided a good overview of whats going on in Fairfax county. Last year, the prosecutors office stepped back and stop proving services for misdemeanors, mostly traffic cases and appeals to circuit court. Ill paraphrase some of the lawyers points:

As a result, It has become very difficult to resolve minor cases Almost every single case in Fairfax is now a trail. Police are put on the spot making them prosecute cases, and Judges are getting involved with prosecuting cases from the bench.

They are doing so in an effort to move the dockets forward. The minor cases are the cases that create other issues in the court system. If these cases are not resolved in a reasonable manner, then these cases end up getting appealed to circuit court, set for a jury and end up taking up more time and resources.

This is whats happening in FFX. It has led to a lack of police morale because law enforcement for them is becoming adjudication in the courts. It has led the C.A. to lead a training program to train police to adjudicate these cases. It has led to victims being not represented in court. Judges are taking up valuable time dealing with minor cases.

As a result, this disrupts the efficiency of the courts and its cases. Resources are spread extremely thin. The court cant operate in the best interests of its citizens. If we want the C.A. to provide for serious cases, they need to provide for the minor cases also.

The workers of PWC C.A. office and many others really did'nt have a choice to come and present the facts to the board. The question is, can the board Legitimately provide to fund the C.A. office? In other words, can they budget Accordingly with the money they already have? It seems the board had other "high-ticket items" on their list, and it seems that the raise in real-estate appraisals became their way of getting their cake and eating it too, when all along, they could have done the responsible thing and cut else where.

C.A. department all the way, whether or not you agree or disagree with Mrs. Ashworth. Shes just doing her job as she was elected to do so.

John Dutko

All good points. Good write-up.

Hawkeye10

I appreciate it, thanks.

[cool]

Diego

Can’t equate FFx County with PWC. The loony Commonwealth’s Attorney in FFX was elected with Soros’s money. Ashworth, to her credit, didn’t take money from Soros.

Hawkeye10

The attorney who presented the points I shared was trying to explain what can and will occur in PWC if the C.A.'s office isn't fully-funded. I'm encouraged I was able to listen to whats going on straight from the horse's mouth, its certainly no joke. Their manpower is very thin right now. Talk about the un-sung heroes, its these peoples jobs to seek justice and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, and all of the supporting roles that go a long with that. They need more resources to stay efficient or else our courts will be a three-ring-circus, to of no fault to Mrs. Ashworth, her deputy attorneys, the judges, the support & admin staff, and the citizens.

Diego

So the Commonwealths Attorney has what? 24 attorneys? And they want 12 more. An increase of 50%. AND they want to represent fewer victims in court by not appearing in most misdemeanor cases. Huh??? How the heck did Ebert manage all those years to cover ALL the courts and help ALL the victims WITH FEWER attorneys? As Brad said the voters of PWC get the kind of government they deserve. Vote for big spending, big government politicians, get higher taxes and less service. The legislature already made marijuana possession a civil prepayable offense. That would be reducing the prosecution’s docket considerably. So now if you get the crap kicked out you by your neighbor, Amy Ashworth’s folks are going to throw you on the mercies of the court system without any guidance?

REAL NICE! It can only result in more findings of NOT GUILTY. The criminals skate. The taxpayers get a bigger bill.

John Dutko

-The caseload has nearly tripled to over 20,000 for the year for the attorneys involved (up from 7000 in 2000)

-Due to the high amount of cases, the defense usually pressures the defendant to take the plea deal, even if they could beat the charge, because of the time and effort needed to properly work the case.

-Court appointed attorneys are paid by the government and is usually tied to the number of cases they represent. So it would behoove them to maximize the amount of plea deals in order to make the most amount of money.

-If a person is found NOT GUILTY, then that is the verdict. They are not a criminal; they have not been sentenced.

Wayne S.

Here it comes. Amy riding the democrat coattail. We'll now see more dismissals of felonies allowing criminals to walk free. Nice job folks of PWC.

John Dutko

People are entitled to an attorney according to the 6th Amendment of the Constitution and further enshrined by the Supreme Court Case Gideon V Wainwright.

By limiting funds to hire more defense attorneys, it denies the defendant a fair trial as more plea deals are negotiated.

toomanypeople

I urge everyone to watch these County Board meetings on TV. Chris Martino sits there on his $350,000 butt not contributing anything while Anne Wheeler conducts herself as an all-knowing indifferent bureaucrat. There are a few other board members that shouldn't have been elected, too. The Board is DYSFUNCTIONAL.

Brad London

Democrats thrive on taking your hard on money because they think that they know better than you do on how it should be spend. You get what you vote for.

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