In 2006, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors really impressed me. The county developed a list of suggested investments in roads, libraries, and parks, and asked us what we would like to do. Staff rolled out an intensive education program consisting of public meetings and mailed a fact sheet to all County residents providing detailed information about the bonds, their ultimate use, and the bond process.
On Nov. 7, 2006, three questions were on the ballot: roads, libraries, and parks. All three passed overwhelmingly. That’s the way government should work. Ask us what we want and don’t want.
Hats off to our local government for asking what we want again.
On May 21, Prince William’s government held its first public hearing at the Hylton Performing Arts Center about a new $600 million bond proposal. Two proposed bond referendums were discussed: mobility (roads) and parks (sports complexes, a new fitness center, park and trail improvements). Merchant Hall was crowded. After the proposed referendums were presented, the public hearing began. Passionate speakers spoke for and against the referendums in general and specific projects therein. It appears that the proposed 2019 bond will undergo the same public information process as the 2006 bond proposal. That’s good news.
The mobility bond referendum strikes me as a timely initiative. When I moved to Prince William in 1988, its population was 202,000. Our population is now approaching 500,000. Traffic dominates every discussion. It affects commuters and those who live and work in the county.
As for the sports complexes in the parks bond referendum, I really haven’t read or heard any public groundswell of demand. These are designed as multi-use arenas to support a variety of community sports. Futsal, pickle ball and Frisbee golf are on the long list of sports that were mentioned. Every high school sports stadium is a track field with numerous facilities to support events. The 13th and 14th high schools are in the pipeline. It would seem reasonable to me to distribute amenities among these new high schools supporting school-sponsored sports to reduce costs and traffic congestion. Whichever community gets these complexes, if the bonds are approved, will also get a “traffic magnet.”
Multipurpose sports complexes in Prince William appear important to some people. The question is, are they the most important use of our tax dollars?
I’m not so sure. Personally, I wish the same emphasis would be given to STEM education and training plumbers, carpenters, electricians, auto mechanics, and other skilled trades. A bond referendum for a couple of technology and trade education complexes would get my attention. Maybe it’s time for our local unions to start advocating for their trades and training to balance the well-organized sports organizations who want facilities at taxpayer expense.
The cynical might think that the parks bond was crafted to create a conundrum for voters. It mixes two expensive, controversial projects, the sports complexes, with what I expect will be very popular countywide trail projects and open-space and park improvements. These look like “sweeteners” to get approval for the sports complexes.
In my opinion, there should be three bond referendums so residents can distinguish between parks and sports complexes. They simply aren’t the same.
Transportation improvements are an unquestionable priority. They are a “must do.” The sports complexes are a luxury. They are a “maybe.” I fully support the former but am reserving judgment on the latter until I learn more. I encourage everyone to pay attention and vote their preferences in November.
Three bond referendums would give us easier choices. After all, it’s our money.
Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.