Connaughton: County in ‘enviable position’

Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large, gave his state-of-the-county address for 2002 on Tuesday, calling the county healthy, with a strong real estate market, high levels of consumer spending and a vibrant business sector.

“This situation puts us in an enviable position in this time of uncertainty,” he said, referring to a national economic slowdown after the events of Sept. 11. “We were disciplined and deliberate in our fiscal approach to governance. … We were prudent in our revenue forecasting, choosing a conservative approach to prepare for an expected slowdown.”

But a watchful eye will be kept on the General Assembly, which has already announced a $1.3 billion deficit for 2003.

So far, the county’s efforts at tight budgeting have been “nothing short of remarkable,” Connaughton said.

In 2001, the county continued to build schools, roads and other critical infrastructure, receiving the second-highest marks given by bond-rating agencies.

“We accelerated the phase-in of the tax-trigger plan and reduced the tax rate by another 4 cents, [to $1.30],” Connaughton said. At the same time, the county increased its cash reserves to historic levels.

Connaughton also noted some dramatic changes revealed from the 2000 census.

The population increased almost 31 percent since 1990, he said. While the median age of residents is 32, a third of the population is under 18 and residents over 65 comprise only 5 percent of the population — less than half the national average. Most of its households are families (77 percent), which is significantly above the national average. In the meantime, the county has grown in racial diversity.

While demographics have shifted, income levels have risen dramatically. The median household income rose to $68,667, putting Prince William in the top ten in the nation among large jurisdictions.

Jobs are also on the rise. More than 80,000 people work here, Connaughton said, with the largest employer being the Quantico Marine Corps base followed by Prince William County Schools. Top private sector employers are Lockheed Martin and Potomac Hospital.

Real estate assessments for 2001 showed that the average value of an existing home was $156,900, and a new home, $232,900.

In 2001, the county announced 34 economic development projects, 29 of those in targeted industries. Those brought in $66 million. The county also transferred property in Triangle to the United States Marine Corps as the site of the future Marine Corps Heritage Center.

The county began construction of two new middle schools, one in Brentsville and one in Gainesville. Another elementary school was started in Dumfries. The county also received Time magazine’s High School of the Year Award for Stonewall Jackson High School and witnessed the opening of the University of Northern Virginia campus and headquarters.

This year, the county also established the Prince William Health Authority.

Public safety remained a top priority. The first countywide fire levy was established, and 20 new police officers were hired.

In the category of transportation, the county completed the widening of Cardinal Drive and Old Bridge Road; extended Freedom Center Boulevard to Wellington Road; and finished the Liberia Avenue extension from Prince William Parkway to the Va. 234 Bypass.

Connaughton also recounted the toll of Sept. 11. Nineteen county residents were killed in the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Approximately 450 employees were involved in emergency operations on Sept. 11. About 75 people provided mutual aid to Arlington, Fairfax and Alexandria.

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