As the population in Prince William County continues to grow, demands for services are rising, too—and many of them will not be cheap.
Executive Melissa Peacor gave a presentation at the Board of County Supervisors meeting Oct. 16 about a number of unmet critical needs in the county's agencies. Many of these needs—such as a new $120 million jail—are necessary in order for the county to stay in compliance with federal and state mandates, Peacor said.
"We are very conservative when we say something is 'have to do.' If it's have to do, it really is because we have no other choice," Peacor told the Board.
High on the priority list is a new, $120 million jail, that would house an additional 200 prisoners. Though population growth in the area has benefits, it also comes with the expectation that there will be more crimes in the future, and hence, a need for more facilities in Prince William. The county has not always had a sterling history of providing adequate space for its prisoners.
"Mr. Jenkins, you've been on the Board for 30 years. You remember a point when we were under court order to build a new jail," Peacor said. "We'd like not to get to that point again."
The county would have to borrow for 20 years in order to renovate the jail. $120 million is also only the starting point for funds—that figure does not include anything outside of construction costs.
"This is probably one of the biggest capital needs we face over the next five to 10 years," Peacor said.
She added that renovating the current facility would also be a costly move, since the building is three decades old and probably would not hold up as long. There's also limitations on sharing space with other jurisdictions. Though the county has made an agreement with a regional jail to house prisoners, they are filled to capacity. Most jurisdictions in Virginia are facing the same issue.
“The bottom line is we will not have enough capacity for our prisoners," Peacor said. "This is an issue that we will as a community have to confront over the next five to 10 years.”
The Fire and Rescue Department also faces some challenges in funding. Nine new stations are needed over the next 20 years in order to keep up with population growth, Peacor said. This comes as federal funding from the 9/11-era slowly disappears, and as the department needs 2.75 million a year for staffing.
“We’re looking at over a billion dollars. That’s a huge number. I know it’s hard to conceptualize the number, however, that’s why we have a five year plan to slowly bring them into the system," Peacor said.
To put that number in perspective, Prince William County's general funds available from the annual operating budget is about $450 million.
Other public safety needs include more police officers. Right now there is only 1.3 officers from the Prince William County Police Department for every 1,000 residents. The goal is to eventually arrive at two officers for every 1,000 residents.
The county has also not added any new 911 telecommunicators in years, Peacor said.
Human and Social Services
Much of the funding for human services programs have been cut.
Services for the mentally ill in Prince William have been restricted to those with serious illnesses, no private insurance or the wherewithal to pay for services. Many cases are turned away even if the person is uninsured. And even if a person qualifies for services, the waiting lists are enormous. Human services would like to bring down the waiting lists by 100 clients.
Though the Board recently increased funding for Child Protective Services, that has not eased the burden on the agency, Peacor said. The county is not in compliance with state regulations that require a complete investigation in 45 days. The current average is 60 days. That's because the number of complaints has risen by 25 percent, requiring more investigations.
There's also an assortment of services the public expects in order to keep the same lifestyle standard as other Northern Virginia jurisdictions.
The parks system, for instance, is enormously popular. The budget was cut significantly during the recession, but now people are clamoring for more youth sports fields and competitive swimming pools.
The library system, for another, wants to add two more libraries due to population growth.
The requests come as more agencies within the county ask for more funding this year.
“During the recession we really did not talk as a community about funding unmet needs because basically we were in a cutting and sustaining mode," Peacor said. "So you didn’t hear from a lot of your agencies about what their unmet needs are. This year we’re talking more about that."