Manassas Park’s city council candidates answered a series of questions Thursday posed by the city’s youngest adults — many of whom will head to the polls for the first time next month.
From the still-empty parcels in City Center to the upkeep of the city’s community center, few subjects were off limits during the election candidate forum hosted by Manassas Park High School in the Thomas H. DeBolt Auditorium.
Councilmen William “Bill” Treuting and Keith Miller along with Vice Mayor Bryan Polk are up for re-election to the Manassas Park City Council, while Jeanette Rishell is a contender for one of the three seats.
Mayor Frank Jones is running for unopposed for re-election.
All six of the questions asked of the candidates were from Manassas Park High seniors taking government classes, according to Daniel Forgas, a teacher and one of the organizers of the event. Eric LeHew, a government teacher, moderated the event.
Each candidate had two minutes to answer each question.
What is your plan for attracting businesses to Manassas Park, in particularthe City Center? Can you offer incentives toward future businesses?
Miller said the new owners of City Center, True North, have plans in the works to bring businesses to the building.
After buying the building earlier this year in a foreclosure auction, True North hired the Manassas-based firm Webber Rector to attract tenants to the retail portion of the property.
“True North didn’t spend all that money for nothing,” Miller said. “[Webber Rector] has quite a few interested parties. We’re closer now than we’ve ever been.”
The identities of the businesses interested in renting retail space in City Center isn’t public knowledge right now, he added.
Treuting said that Clark, the former owners and builders, did a really good job at constructing the building.
“ … But unfortunately they fell flat on their faces when it came to leasing the space,” Treuting said.
The city’s endeavor to bring businesses to that property started long ago when the school division decided it would no longer use it. The land where City Center is now was the home of the old Cougar Elementary School.
Back then, the city hosted a series of meetings where residents told the government what they wanted to see in the development, Treuting said. From there the city worked on the comprehensive plan.
Miller said he once owned a small business in Manassas Park, a restaurant called Fat Punk’s where Clarke’s Sports Emporium is now. His experience as a businessman can be used to help others businesses to set up shop in Manassas Park, Miller said.
Miller and some of the other speakers said Manassas Park’s small size makes it a good place to do business. A company can get through the permitting and approval process in 30-45 days in Manassas Park. The same process could take months in neighboring jurisdictions.
With the city’s vision to have sidewalks throughout Manassas Park, what is your role in implementing this process, specifically the sidewalks along Euclid Avenue near the middle and high schools? In addition, will we see more money going towards improving existing roads and the construction of new roads, particularly the problems with Euclid Ave?
Councilman Brian Leeper, who isn’t up for re-election, was the one who did some “snooping” and found free federal dollars to get the sidewalk built from Euclid Avenue and Manassas Drives to the middle and high schools, Polk said.
The last he heard, the sidewalk will be completed in mid- to late 2013, Polk added.
Jones, who wasn’t present Thursday, but whose answers were read aloud, said the project will be done by the end of the school year.
The engineers on the project are trying to work through some challenges with the project. such as what to do when the sidewalk reaches the school’s football field, Polk said.
Polk said the engineers are also concerned with the traffic in the area.
City council made plans to have a sidewalk on at least one side of every street in the city; it has done that with the exception of a handful of streets where the topography didn’t allow it, he added.
Treuting said as the mayor of Manassas Park from 1992 to 2000, he was the one who started the idea of having a sidewalk on at least one side of the street.
“Walking through the rocks and gravel and pot holes and things is not safe, Treuting said. “We’re committed to getting it done.”
Rishell said she is glad the sidewalk to the schools and the improvements to Euclid Avenue would be happening soon, but the city might want to look at working with Prince William County to get a bike path to Signal Hill Park.
A bike path will likely cost less than a sidewalk because there is no need for the curbing or framework, she said.
“This is a public safety issue and I think it would be advisable to accomplish something before someone gets injured,” Rishell said. “It certainly is not safe for residents to walk or to bike from the west side of the city, from City Center, from Blooms Crossing (or) from Belmont Station to Signal Hill Park.”
What role do you feel the city plays in helping the school division with issues such as increased class size and upgrading technology for the 21st century learners?
“What some of you probably do not know is, the school board and the governing body didn’t always see eye to eye," Miller said. "The current governing body and the current school board decided to put that to rest and work together toward a common goal that we all shared.”
Last winter and spring they spent several Saturdays working together during skits and others things to get to know each other, Miller said.
Now the city and the school board work together and seek combine contracts for things such as paper and ink, he added.
Polk said he was on the school board when Manassas Park’s four schools were starting to be built and was part of the committee that selected the firm that built the schools.
They want to continue to work with the school board to make sure budgets are appropriately set so they can continue the refreshment programs for the best technology in the schools, Polk said.
Rishell said city council needs to look at renewing the revenue sharing agreement it had with the school division.
She’s spoken to families in the city and some of the them are concerned that educating the children isn’t the priority it once was, Rishell said.
How can Manassas Park continue to grow and expand structurally and economically while still maintaining the green space and natural integrity of the landscape?
Miller said he wants developers in the city to build up instead of out, thus preserving the green space.
In more urban areas, they build up and the green is at the very top of the building, Polk said.
Both Jones and Rishell mentioned the city’s comprehensive plan and the importance of following it.
“Manassas Park has a sound plan to sustain green spaces with careful adherence to the comprehensive plan and land use city codes,” Jones said.
What are the plans for better maintaining the facilities, like the baseball fields and multi-use fields, within the Manassas Park community?
One of the greatest accomplishments is the world-class Manassas Park Community Center, Miller said.
Several of the current councilmen said a second phase to the community center, was envisioned, but that's on the back burner right now because of lack of funding and the economy.
The second phase concerns the fields at the community center, Treuting said.
Polk said he’ll work to get to that second phase done when time is right.
It requires significant funding and won’t happen in the near future, Jones said. However, some of he playing fields at the schools can be used by everyone for recreation, Jones said. They are available on the weekends and would give people the chance to use the fields they paid for through taxes, Jones said.
The fields at the community center are well maintained, but if maintenance ever became a financial issue she would suggest volunteerism,that is, if there were no insurance liability issues with that approach, Rishell said.
What are your plans for the increased utility fees taxes within Manassas Park?
Tap fees from every new townhouse and apartment building built in the city bring tap fees into the city that can be used to bring water and sewer bills down, Polk and Miller said.
“I’ll state the obvious our water bill is too high—period,” Polk said.
The city doesn’t have the advantage of having it’s own lake or water source it can draw water from and so it has to buy it at a premium cost, Treuting said.
The city did once have its own waste treatment facility but a court order issued in the 1970s required the city to close it and go to a regional facility—the Upper Occoquan Service Authority (UOSA), Polk said.
That facility is expensive to maintain, Treuting said.
UOSA isn’t in the sole cost of the increase in the water bill—a common misconception in the community, Rishell said.
The aging water system and purchasing water capacity rights also contribute to the costs, she said.
Bringing more businesses to Manassas Park will help decrease that costs for residents, she added.
Note: Question 7 wasn't asked because of time constraints. Do you think the city does a good job tracking city spending and maintaining equal distribution of funds to all of the departments under city control?