What will make things better?

My commute this morning it took me nearly an hour to drive from my home in Leeland Station to Courthouse Road in Stafford County.  I typically use 95N for my morning commute, however with the construction of the HOT Lanes 95N between exits 136 and 143 during my morning commute is almost always a snails pace and typically takes 35-50 minutes.   

This morning I decided to take Rt. 1 north to see if the commute might be a little better.  It wasn’t.   Traffic was smooth sailing until around Stafford Hospital when I came to stand still as cars waited to get through the Rt. 1/Courthouse Rd intersection.  The root cause for the traffic delay was essentially commuters trying to get onto 95N at the Courthouse Road interchange.

The good news is a new interchange at 95 and Courthouse Rd. is on the way.  Land acquisition is well on its way and there are even construction trailers showing up in the area, I assume construction of the new interchange is soon to come.   The interchange should make getting around the Courthouse road area better and maybe Rt. 1 will be a useful option to get to points north during morning commutes.

Service on the School Board can be difficult this time of year.   We are grappling with the school division budget and hear from many folks about concerns and desires for how or budget dollars are spent.  The challenge is we have a finite amount of money to meet all of our budget needs.  I’ve spent a number of hours over the last week digging through budget books, chatting with fellow board members and speaking with division staff on how we can identify additional funds to meet the needs of teachers and meet expectations of parents.  I typically leave me desk thinking, what will make things better?

I’m not sure if I have the answers to that question.  It’s typically the question that drives many of us in public service.    If we can’t find the answer to that question, what we should always be doing is not trying to make things worse.

I was dismayed on Tuesday, as the Stafford County Board of Supervisors were meeting and reached an item on their agenda known as the Integrated Corporate and Technology Park Overlay Zoning District (ICTP).  The overlay district is a tool in the zoning tool box to allow certain uses within the area of the district that are compatible with a business park campus, which includes hotels, restaurants,  and child care.   Also, included in the district is multi-family dwelling units or more commonly known as apartments.   That’s right more apartments to Stafford County.   The proposal that was before the board included mult-family dwellings as a by-right within the overlay district.  Fortunately, the final adoption did at least include a requirement for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for any proposed residential dwellings.   However even with a CUP developers will have an easier path to bring more apartments to Stafford County.   I was thankful that Falmouth District Supervisor Meg Bohmke and George Washington District Supervisors were the two NO votes against the entire proposal.

Virginia Department of Transportation has also announced a public information session for the soon to be built new Courthouse Road and i95 interchange.  Known as a “Diverging Diamond” the project will vastly improve getting on and off 95 at Courthouse Road.   The interchange will bring traffic off 95 onto a new road that will intersect with Rt. 1 at the intersection where Stafford Hospital is.   Sounds great and will be a welcome relieve to traffic congestion that now builds up on Rt. 1 at Courthouse road.   The challenge?  It will expose a lot more land that will be ripe for development.   There are already office buildings planned for the area to provide doctor and other medical offices near the hospital.  Already under construction is the Abberly development that will include 288 apartments.   With the ICTP tool in the toolbox expect developers to seek the overlay for that area and expect even more apartments to be approved in the coming year.

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This isn’t a criticism of apartments, but more of a criticism of enabling more development, more people to crowd our roads and schools.   Considering the state has limited a localities ability to negotiate with developers for proffers to pay for schools, roads, parks and other amenities necessary for a community to thrive, the burden of paying for them will fall on the existing tax base.  One of the Supervisors who voted in favor of the ICTP proposal even said (paraphrased)‘this is to avoid hurdles Tysons Corner ran into when they were developing’.   Well I don’t really want Stafford County to look like Tysons Corner, so I’d be happy for the hurdles to remain in place.

Stafford County Public Schools, while not in dire straits, are challenged to continue to make improvements.   We have been making progress reshaping the organization and improving how we compensate employees.  This year is a difficult budget year because our budget request had a $5.4 million gap after local funding was applied.  We have had to delay projects, reduce IT hardware replacements and reduce the number of buses we had planned to purchase to replace buses in our aging fleet.   Most noteworthy we are not likely able to fund an adequate COLA for our employees.   While we are investing in improvements to our service employee salary scales and funding a 1% across COLA for all employees, many of our teachers will not receive that 1% this year because of an issue in last year’s budget they received an additional 1% last year. 

I am often reminded a school system is only as good as the teachers in the classroom.  While a school system is made up of many professionals, there is a lot of truth to the quality of a division lying in the quality of the teachers.  Without teachers coming to work everyday and willing to give 100% the quality of our education will decrease rapidly.   Without adequate funding to continue to improve how teachers and other employees are compensated that willingness to give 100% is going to dwindle quickly.

The Board of Supervisors and School Board worked well together this year as we developed our budgets and we most certainly knew where each side stood, however I do have concern for future years.  I was expecting a little more in funding from the county that would have enabled us to fund at least an additional 1% across the board COLA.  Unfortunately, that did not occur, but not everything was lost this year.  We are still making progress with scale enhancements and professional development that we did not have before.  In the short term, we have made progress and I have some faith that the next couple of years we are going to see better funding structures and we will be able to build upon the accomplishments we have made so far.  At least I will be fighting for that over the next four years (if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected).  However my concern is 5, 10, 15 years from now as residential growth continues to grow through the added tools in the toolbox.   Where is the revenue going to come from to fund the new infrastructure that will be needed? 

What will make things better?  We may not have the answer, but I do know what will make things worse. 

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Showing 4 reactions

commented 2017-05-09 08:20:04 -0400 · Flag
Sorry, I mean Gary Snellings. You mentioned George Washington district.
commented 2017-05-09 08:18:14 -0400 · Flag
Very well said, Scott. Those apartments are coming, no doubt it is just a matter of time. I am not sure that people really get what the overlay means, although I have been trying to get the word out;). I do believe Bob Thomas also voted against the overlay.
Scott Hirons, Stafford County School Board - Falmouth District posted about What will make things better? on Scott Hirons, Stafford County School Board - Falmouth District's Facebook page 2017-05-04 21:23:22 -0400
What will make things better?
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