Three City Council Seats, Only One Candidate

Vacant store fronts in downtown Manassas Park.

Vacant store fronts in downtown Manassas Park. (Photo credit: Washington Post)

The City of Manassas Park in Northern Virginia has three open City Council seats this fall — but only one candidate will be on the ballot.  The situation is a stark example, suggests the Washington Post, of the apathy that is growing more prevalent among America’s small cities and towns.

Who can blame Manassas Park citizens for not wanting to run? The city has huge challenges and serving on City Council is a big time commitment, but the job pays only $9,200 per year. The mayor makes $9,800.

The Washington Post describes the challenges this way:

In recent years, the city took on debt — about $120 million — building new schools and other government buildings in hopes of competing with nearby Prince William County and Manassas City for jobs and shopping attractions. So far, there hasn’t been much economic activity. A downtown business district sits mostly empty. …

Meanwhile, local schools are becoming more crowded with the children of families who have moved to Manassas Park in search of cheaper housing. Many are Latino immigrants working low-wage jobs.

With an annual debt payment of $9 million — about 12 percent of the total operating budget — local leaders are anxious about the possibility of cutting services or raising property taxes beyond the $3,947 per year on average that homeowners are already paying.

Few people, it seems, want to take on those headaches.

Heavy debt, eroding economic base, civic apathy and difficulty recruiting qualified candidates for public office is a recipe for decline. Council member Michael Carrera suggests reducing the number of council seats from seven to five, which makes sense for a city of 15,000 people.

Better yet, the city should consider reincorporating with Prince William County and devolving into a town…. assuming Prince William would go along. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that Prince William would be willing to take on the city’s headaches and liabilities.

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7 responses to “Three City Council Seats, Only One Candidate

  1. Receivership.

    Or else Chapter 9.

  2. Manassas Park has a tough reputation around NoVa: I’ve heard the name is a shortened version of “the trailer park part of Manassas.” PWC is Corey Stewart country and it’s likely Manassas Park loves him and The Donald he represents as much as any neighborhood around here.

    It is outrageous that Manassas Park ever (1) chose to become a City, and (2) was allowed to become a City, separated both from Prince William County and from Manassas. But that’s spilt milk. Devolution to PWC would make fiscal sense for Manassas Park now — but can anyone tell us why it would be in the interests of the voters of the County to vote to accept MP back with Town status?

    Not that PWC’s towns don’t seem to have a few problems of their own, as we have also read about here recently:

  3. Manassas Park was incorporated as a town in 1957 and incorporated as a city in 1975.

    In 1960 – Prince William had a population of 50,000 and
    in 1975 – about 125,000

    Manassas Park looks like yet another place that provided urban services when the surrounding county was not then the surrounding county grew substantially and started providing urban services itself.

    Median Income is $73,065 but it is listed as a fiscally stressed locality (ranked 53) as has been that way for a decade.

    But it’s in far better shape than many of the RoVa cities and towns..

    • Larry, you’re lost in the ozone again. In 1970 Manassas Park had a population of 6,844. By 1980 the population had swelled to 6.524 – a loss of 4%.

      This has nothing to do with providing urban services.

      More likely, a small group of schemers worked with the scammers in our state legislature to carve out a bit of Prince William County for villainous purposes. Now the absurdity of calling a neighborhood of 14,000 people a city comes home to roost. Given that (only in) Virginia are cities not routinely part of counties I assume that the fallout from this idiocy is a matter between the neighborhoods masquerading as cities and the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond. In other words, when these pseudo-cities fail I expect the entire state will bail them out rather than the residents of the surrounding counties in which these cities do not belong.

      Lucky you – you get to pay for yet another chapter in the book of graft authored by the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond.

      • Independent cities are, indeed, largely a Virginia phenomenon. There are only three other independent cities in the U.S. not in Virginia. They are: Baltimore, St. Louis & Carson City.

        I suppose the benefits to the residents of independent cities include not having to pay both city and county real estate taxes; and having more control over policies and laws, including land use.

        I agree that Virginia cities with low populations make little sense. Falls Church City left Fairfax County because residents didn’t like the then quality of Fairfax County Public Schools. But its relatively small size and limited tax base has caused considerable problems in recent years. It overcharged county residents for water for years, only to lose in court. It’s real estate taxes are relatively steep. It’s pressure to raise revenues is pushing it to crave development at virtually any price. Indeed, it has been unable to expand a grade school located outside the city limits due to the impact on county residents (increased traffic on a very narrow residential street). The sensible thing to do would be to build a new school inside the city and sell the land for cash. But it fears giving potential development. It makes no sense for Falls Church City to be a city.

        • Falls Church achieves the best results given its affluence and education. Petersburg achieves the worst results, given its lack thereof, despite being one of the most historic towns in America, and the fractured system of Virginia governance lets it happen in a place otherwise sacred.

          This is Fall through the Cracks Government on steroids. Virginia’s Commonwealth system makes the classic Greek poleis of Peloponnese look like Rome under the Caesars.

  4. Manassas Park is a far different place from the times that I passed through the town with some regularity in the 1980s to mid 1990’s. I am afraid that now Massassas Park could become, and perhaps now already is, an example of a most unfortunate and growing trend of local dysfunction in many of our communities.

    And that these growing problems are greatly acerbated by the toxic brew that both of our political parties are now spewing out as they madly try to create ever wider and more wedge issues built on anger, complaint and grievance, to win elections.

    This political poison fed by our leaders to our citizens now combines with bad trends that grow naturally out of open borders, and a host of other new realities feeding disruptive change such as globalization, the explosion of technology, our chronic abuse of bad land use patterns, our growing dysfunction of local and state governments, and factions that run them, that now too often acerbate and magnify rather than fix problems.

    As to my earlier now edited comment:

    “Now these cities like New York, San Francisco, and DC increasingly benefit only the wealthy while they exclude most everyone else. They are forcing the middle class out into what are increasingly becoming for a host of reasons reservations of despair that now spread across the land outside those great cities.

    Meanwhile the smaller more rural towns wither. And the great cities, now becoming ever more depleted of diversity and vibrancy of life, are also building unhealthy societies within their borders, however wealthy and affluent they might appear.

    These forces polarize and poison. American society is again going tribal. It’s being broken into more variant factions, divided now by race, by class, by gender, by lifestyle, by education, by location, by occupation, by culture, values and belief, all of which are more and more polarized and aggrieved and angry, one against the rest. Our politics, lifestyles, our values, our policies, and now even our governments are literally tearing us apart.


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