Prince William chair candidates talk economic development, Metro, bond questions

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Attracting new business and fixing traffic nightmares were the hot topics at the latest debate for the four candidates running to be chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

The forum Tuesday at the Manassas campus of the Northern Virginia Community College was hosted by the college and Prince William Chamber of Commerce.

The ballot includes Republican John Gray, a Lake Ridge certified public accountant, and Democrat Ann Wheeler, a former energy consultant, as well as independent candidates Muneer Baig, founder and CEO of Manassas-based cyber security firm SYSUSA, and Don Scoggins, a former real estate broker and government employee.

The group discussed how they would lead as the chair of the board of county supervisors, which overseas annual budget planning, sets policies for the county and serves as a member on local and regional boards.

Scoggins said economic development is a priority for him as a candidate. He said the county staff need to search for businesses to attract to Prince William and could seek out public-private partnerships. He said he’s not in favor of raising taxes.

Gray said he would try to lower tax rates to attract businesses to the county. He said the county needs jobs, because currently it’s a bedroom community.

Wheeler said she would make the school division a priority for the county’s budget. She said she would also focus on economic development and create a small business incubator. With different leadership, she said the county can attract more businesses.

Baig said the county needs to market itself so people know there are technology-related businesses and other business here in the county. He also said the county needs high-speed internet across the county.

Candidates also discussed the idea of extending the Metro to Prince William.

Gray said he doesn’t support the idea and asked how the county would pay for the project. He also said the idea would export jobs to other places. He said he does support other transit, such as Virginia Railway Express and Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission.

Wheeler said while it may take years to bring Metro to the county, she would like to study the idea. She said if no one starts examining the idea, it will never happen.

Baig said Amazon choose to locate its second headquarters in Crystal City because of its access to transit. If the Metro was extended to the county, people could ride south to be employed in the county, he said.

Scoggins said he supports extending Metro to the county and he would study the idea to see how it could be done, because it can help improve the local economy. He said accessibility in the county is an issue. He also said he supports bus rapid transit.

Candidates also discussed the upcoming bond questions. Voters will consider spending up to $355 million to pay for road projects in the county, including $200 million for the Va. Route 28 bypass/widening project, $50 million for Devlin Road widening, $70 million for Minnieville Road and Prince William Parkway interchange, $15 million for Old Bridge Road and Gordon Boulevard intersection and $20 million for Summit School Road extension.

Voters will also weigh a $41 million request for parks projects, including $6 million for Howison Park improvements, $6 million for new Neabsco park development, $6 million Fuller Heights Park expansion, $20 million for countywide trails and open space development and $3 million for Hellwig Park improvements.

Wheeler said she would vote for both. She said road congestion affects quality of life for residents.

Baig said he would vote yes for both, noting traffic in the county is a nightmare and parks are also about quality of life.

Scoggins said he would vote for the road bond referendum, but not the parks bond referendum. He said the county should wait until evaluating land use, such as where future schools need to be built. He said he would also like to see an economic development component to the parks bond referendum.

Gray said he does not support either of the bond questions, because he said the process was not well vetted. He said the new board should have been able to decide which projects should be on the bond referendum. He said the transportation bond referendum started at $600 million and was narrowed down to $355 million. He said the process was as if “they threw it against the wall” to see if it stuck.

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