Two candidates for Anderson County mayor sparred over their support for the U.S. Department of Energy during a Tuesday forum at the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
But Frank said Gooch had mischaracterized her position.
Citing a television interview, Gooch quoted Frank as saying that Oak Ridge was nothing more than a bread line of people waiting for their next cup of porridge. Frank owed an apology to the citizens who built the city, Gooch said.
“I’m proud of the fact that we have DOE here,” Gooch said. “What happens in Oak Ridge is very important.”
But what she actually said, Frank responded, is that people often beg as if they are in a bread line with a tin cup. DOE provides vital services, but the community should not have to beg for sustenance, she said.
The question is how to capitalize on the technologies developed in Oak Ridge and get more employees to live and shop here.
“That is not an indictment of DOE,” Frank said.
The candidates also differed over the use of tax increment financing for projects such as the Woodland Town Center, a commercial development scheduled to open this fall with an Aubrey’s restaurant and Panera Bread on South Illinois Avenue.
“The jury is still out on TIFs,” Frank said. “I am more in favor of a level playing field. When you get into TIFS, you get into the risky business of picking winners and losers.”
She would prefer instead to focus on a lower tax burden and less regulation, among other things, Frank said.
“What we want to do is be a good place to do business,” she said. “I want our government to serve as an aid, not a hindrance to innovation.”
Gooch, though, said he thought the $625,000 TIF for Woodland Town Center, which could open this fall, “was a very good idea.”
“I think it will be a very good return on investment,” Gooch said. “It’s not picking winners and losers. It’s a return on investment to bring in new investment.”
A TIF uses new property tax revenues generated at a site to pay for infrastructure projects.
Gooch is an Oak Ridge health care lawyer and former managing partner at Kramer Rayson LLP, and Frank is a Clinton resident who owns Nature’s Marketplace in Oak Ridge.
Both candidates pledged that they would not raise taxes.
In response to a question on the Oak Ridge Mall, Gooch said officials need to ensure a good return on investment if tax dollars are involved, and Frank said she is “less inclined to get involved as a government in developing and building private projects in the community.”