Guest column: City manager urges citizen engagement in key decisions

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Many projects are happening in Oak Ridge at the present time. Our city does not slow down and is affected by issues at the state, federal, and local levels.

As your city manager, I am concentrating on matters such as the implementation of EPA sewer requirements on a tight timeframe, creation of a national park, development of a new mall, and installation of a new dispatch center.

Among its many other decisions, Oak Ridge will be facing a pair of major initiatives which particularly important for our community. The American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE), owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory contractor UT-Battelle, is under new leadership as veteran museum director David Moore takes the helm. With this change, the DOE knows that the long-term viability of a museum is dependent upon local and regional involvement.

Recently, the AMSE Foundation and the City of Oak Ridge have been co-hosting a series of community meetings about AMSE to discuss options for developing a new operating model for the museum. Two of four public discussions have been held about this topic.

Last week, we heard from the directors of the MUSE in Knoxville, the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, and the new Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol to hear how today’s museums remain current and relevant to their visitors. Turnout for the first two meetings has been very encouraging; the next public meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 25, from 6-8 p.m., when heritage tourism will be discussed. [Read more...]

Mayor Beehan won’t seek re-election to City Council

Tom Beehan and Gary Wade

Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, left, is pictured above earlier this month with Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade at Razzleberry’s Ice Cream Lab and Kitchen. Beehan will not seek re-election to Oak Ridge City Council in November.

 

Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, who has served on the City Council since 2001, will not seek re-election in November.

Beehan said he has been considering whether to run “for some time,” and he announced his decision to not seek re-election on Wednesday. Before making the decision, Beehan said, he wanted to be sure that quality candidates with a vision for the city’s future were ready to run.

“It’s clear that there are candidates who have the vision and ability to serve the community on City Council,” Beehan said in a press release. “I have enjoyed serving Oak Ridge as mayor and as a City Council member, but I think it is time for new leadership to take a fresh look at moving Oak Ridge forward.”

Beehan said he has spent 20 years as an elected official in local government in Oak Ridge and in Covington, Kentucky—before his family moved to Oak Ridge.

“I consider this a retirement from public service as an elected official, but I plan to continue to be engaged in community activities,” Beehan said. [Read more...]

Guest column: Adapting to change

I can’t function without my…(fill in the blank)!

Cell phone? I survived into my early 30s without one, and never even realized it was a problem. I admit that now, having carried one for a number of years, it’s terribly disconcerting to be without. My parents can easily recall a time when most families had only one car—a concept that is unthinkable to most of us today. But faced with challenges, we adapt. We can, we must, and we will.

Families living in most communities outside Oak Ridge are accustomed to not having school bus service within a mile or mile-and-a-half of the school, so our current turmoil seems like no big deal to them. To us though, having to suddenly live without something we’ve always had (except for a brief period several years ago) feels like the end of life as we know it.

With the advent of social media, the volume of discontent and velocity of misinformation has grown exponentially. It is most unfortunate that a member of City Council chose to announce in Monday’s meeting that the School Board intended to cut transportation no matter how much money the city provided; that is incorrect, as evidenced by the fact that there was no reduction in transportation services in our budget passed on May 27 (first reading) and May 29 (second reading). [Read more...]

School board to consider revised budget

The Oak Ridge Board of Education will consider revising the budget it approved in May because, in two meetings this month, the City Council did not approve a 37-cent property tax rate increase that school officials had requested. The rate hike would have helped fund a 2 percent pay raise, hire technology personnel and other staff, comply with the reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act, and start rolling out a technology initiative known as 1:1.

But City Council members wanted to hold the tax rate steady for the seventh year in a row, and they passed a budget that does not include a tax increase.

Tonight’s school board meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the School Administration Building at 304 New York Ave. See the agenda here.

Guest column: Tax hike will hurt city’s ability to recruit DOE workers

The Oak Ridge Schools are requesting a substantial property tax increase to fund items they see as essential to their future.

Yet an Oak Ridge tax hike will markedly reduce our city’s ability to recruit new U.S. Department of Energy workers. According to the latest DOE report, Anderson County is losing over $300,000 per week to Knox County in DOE payroll. That loss rate is increasing, and a tax hike would make this serious problem worse.

Unfortunately, our city has a DOE “isolation fence” around it. In most cases, new workers are sent by the DOE system directly to Knox County—mainly to Farragut. And as a result, their important housing decisions are made without talking to an Oak Ridge realtor. They never get an opportunity to find out how wonderful it is to live here.

The new Kroger store won’t affect this uneven playing field. A property tax hike (of any size) will simply make the problem worse—giving Farragut an even greater advantage over us. [Read more...]

Letter: Will not vote for tax increase, wants better communication with schools

Note: This is a copy of a June 2 letter from Oak Ridge City Council member Anne Garcia Garland to Parker Hardy and members of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce. 

Dear Chamber:

The Oak Ridge City Council has always supported the needs and beyond of the city school system. This current council has lived in that tradition. We honor and appreciate our students and our teachers and have voted to provide whatever can reasonably be provided. We have also weathered the annual School Board predictions of educational catastrophe if the increased budget projections are not allocated.

This town depends upon the base of education and economic largesse of its original homeowners at the beginning of the 1950s for its sense of pride and place in academia. It is, however, that early well-being and the growth and optimism of the early post-war years which have created a myth of extraordinary wealth and erudition with which we are burdened today. Our reality is that we are a lovely small Southern town with great diversity of education, income, and opinion. We are neither young nor old, rich nor poor, progressive nor conservative. We are all of these descriptions and many between.

This town created a wonderful culture and honored its natural environment in such an outstanding manner that it has attracted citizens from neighboring counties to live and work here. Perhaps because we did not have a large stock of new or above-average priced homes, we have not attracted a large number of the professional transferees to the federal facilities in the past couple decades. After all, “youngish” professionals selling homes in more expensive markets need the tax protection of buying comparably priced homes in this area. [Read more...]

Guest column: 2015 school budget considerations

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

I have reviewed your budget proposals and would like to share my thoughts for consideration in your final deliberations. I should clarify that because our charter forbids City Council, as a body, from “modifying or deleting any item in school estimates,” my statements do not reflect the opinions of my fellow council members.

As you know, we are blessed to live in a community that actively and generously supports education. Not only do we rank fifth in the state for our level of local funding (54 percent), but, at $12,075 per pupil, we continue to outspend the state average of $9,293 and the national average of $11,068.

Our generosity, however, has taken a toll that we can no longer ignore. Having the third highest tax rate ($4.74) in the area has been counterproductive to attracting new residents. One need only look to the phenomenal growth in Farragut, whose property tax rate is less than half of ours ($2.32), to appreciate the negative impact of our high taxes. [Read more...]

City budget meeting schedule altered after tax due date changed

City of Oak Ridge Seal

Oak Ridge has changed the due date and delinquency dates for property taxes, and the city’s budget meeting schedule has also been adjusted “to coincide with the tax due date changes,” a press release said.

The Oak Ridge City Council changed the due date for taxes to July 1 and the delinquency date to Aug. 31 during a March 24 meeting “so as to better benefit the city and the taxpayers,” the press release said.

“Typically, the city schedules consideration of the appropriations ordinance by the City Council in May; however, this year, the appropriations ordinance will be considered in June, thus reducing the number of meetings in May to just one regularly scheduled meeting of the City Council,” the release said. This meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, May 12, in the Municipal Building Courtroom. [Read more...]

Guest column: Baughn’s budget recommendations to city manager

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

The following are my 2015 budget recommendations to the city manager:

Mr. Watson,

I commend you for your willingness to reduce spending in your formulation of the Fiscal Year 2015 city budget. This approach is essential to making Oak Ridge more attractive to prospective residents and businesses.

As you know, Oak Ridge has the third highest city/county property tax rate in East Tennessee at $4.74. What you may not realize is this year, the city of Knoxville dropped below us in these rankings with a combined city/county rate of $4.71 while the majority of Knox Countians still pay less than half of our rate at $2.32.

In response to your request for council suggestions, I encourage you to set a very obtainable goal. That is, reduce our total budget by .05 percent ($90,000) and return those monies to the taxpayers in the amount of a one-cent tax rate reduction. The following are my suggestions for accomplishing this goal. [Read more...]

Council has special meeting on high school debt, school budget

The school board approved it unanimously on Monday, but a few City Council members have questions about a proposed resolution of a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt so they have called a special meeting for this evening (Thursday evening).

The special City Council meeting today starts at 6 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom at 200 S. Tulane Ave.

See this story for more information.

School considers honoring former RMS principal, buying fiber optic cables

The Oak Ridge Board of Education will consider naming the Robertsville Middle School Gymnasium in honor of former RMS Principal Thomas W. Hayes, who is also a former City Council member.

The board will also consider buying fiber optic cabling for the city and schools fiber ring at a total cost of $298,752 as part of the city and school’s fiber ring initiative. The recommendation is contingent on the city and school approval of a memorandum of understanding and the city’s approval of the remaining splice costs.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the School Administration Building at 304 New York Ave.