Supervisors postpone sales-tax endorsement

Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton brushed off attempts by two supervisors Tuesday to elicit an endorsement from their peers regarding the referendum that would raise the sales tax by half a cent if passed.

Supervisors Edgar S. Wilbourn III, R-Gainesville, and Hilda M. Barg, D-Woodbridge, said supervisors know what the referendum entails and that a stance would initiate informational meetings with constituents. Residents would be better served if the board made its position known now rather than two months before the election, they said.

The board will make its decision at a meeting Sept. 10.

Connaughton’s unlikely ally has been a leading dissenter on recent board scuffles: Supervisor John D. Jenkins, D-Neabsco, who was the first board member to go on record supporting the referendum. Jenkins said voters now are not as focused on the issue as they will be in September since the election season traditionally begins after Labor Day.

“I don’t think we need to tie the chairman’s hands as he negotiates with the NVTA,” said Jenkins, referring to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority on which Connaughton serves as Prince William County’s representative.

Northern Virginia’s 41/2-percent sales tax would increase by a half percent next July 1 if voters in its nine jurisdictions as a whole approve the increase on Nov. 5. The NVTA would control the $5 billion generated from the tax increase over 20 years.

The NVTA is considering a proposal by Arlington County board Chairman Chris Zimmerman to distribute funding among jurisdictions by formula so jurisdictions are assured they get their fair share.

Prince William County, with 11.8 percent of the region’s sales tax revenue and 15.4 percent of its population, would get 18.2 percent of the tax’s $2.75 billion in bond funding, or $500 million, and 13.7 percent of its pay-as-you-go funds that could range between $1.4 billion to $2.2 billion over the 20 years, said county legislative liaison Dana Fenton.

“It’s something that gives us assurances,” Connaughton said.

Arlington has proposed that half of all the referendum revenues go to mass transit, and Connaughton, R-at large, said the authority generally accepted his motion to include High Occupancy Vehicle lanes as part of that category at its first meeting last week.

Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison III, R-52nd District, a representative on the NVTA, said Arlington’s half-transit requirement is unclear to him. He said if it applies to bonds and pay-as-you-go funding — the entire $5 billion package, it would not allow the NVTA to adapt to changing traffic patterns and population shifts over the next 25 years.

“To me, it was not very clear and I hope we can nail that language down soon,” he said.

Rollison initiated the legislation that led to the referendum for Northern Virginia voters.

Connaughton said informational meetings for voters are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 4-6 at three county schools.

Barg questioned whether three meetings are enough to educate the nearly 300,000 residents in the county.

Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan, R-Dumfries, asked why local jurisdictions are being asked to endorse and sell the referendum — isn’t that the job of state delegates and senators who passed the referendum bill?

Supervisor L. Ben Thompson, R-Brentsville, questioned why the board could not take a stand on the referendum in a special board meeting soon after the NVTA’s Aug. 7 meeting. Connaughton said he will be on a plane to Italy within an hour of the NVTA meeting and will be gone for two-and-a-half weeks.

A county board meeting cannot be held electronically, said board attorney Sharon Pandak.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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