Guest column: AC Commission needs to stay involved with mall project

Declining DOE Residency Hurts Anderson County

In 2003, the Anderson County Commission approved a county subsidy for a revitalization project at the Oak Ridge Mall.

Had that project succeeded, it would have generated a substantial increase in county revenue, allowing tax rates to be lowered. A successful mall project would have also helped stabilize the U.S. Department of Energy payroll gap with Knox County. Stabilizing this gap would have generated nearly $100 million more in DOE payroll for the Anderson County economy—in this year alone.

Obviously, the potential economic benefit from a successful mall project is huge.

To give the project the best chance for success, the Commission needs to couple the requested mall subsidy to four key Commission actions: [Read more...]

Guest column: Trying to set the record straight on the property tax rate

Online comments by local citizens in response to some recent guest columns about city and county budgets and taxes have revealed some mistaken notions about the way property tax rates are established in Tennessee cities and counties. I want to set the record straight regarding a couple of misconceptions about property tax that I see being spread in recent public discussions.

On the Oak Ridge Today website, citizen Andrew Howe posted a comment saying:

“The property tax rate should NEVER have to increase. It is basically a percentage of the value of the home, right? And if the value of the home rises (as it should, in line with the cost of living), then the taxes will also rise.”

I can’t quarrel with Mr. Howe’s logic, but his conclusions are wrong. This is because he makes an assumption that is valid in many states but isn’t valid in Tennessee.

Under Tennessee law, when properties are reappraised, state officials calculate—and publicize—the property tax rate that will give the local government the same total amount of property tax that it was getting from existing properties before the reappraisal. (This calculated rate is called the “certified tax rate.”) That’s the new baseline tax rate. If a local government in Tennessee wants to get more property tax revenue after a reappraisal, the governing body has to vote to increase the tax rate above the certified rate. [Read more...]

Guest column: Do our competitors ‘hammer us’ on property tax rates?

Myron Iwanski

Myron Iwanski

I agree with Martin McBride that Oak Ridge is a great place to live. However, I do not agree with his statement in recent columns that high property taxes are the reason Anderson County’s and Oak Ridge’s populations are not growing as fast as those in some area counties.

The following information from county and city audit reports and websites, the University of Tennessee County Technical Advisory Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website help make my point. [Read more...]

Council considers budget with no tax increase, less money for Chamber, ORCVB

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday will consider a budget that does not raise property taxes but could cut funding for the Chamber of Commerce as well as the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It would include contracts with economic development consultants Ray Evans and Steve Jones and a 1 percent cost-of-living pay raise for city employees.

Under the budget proposed by Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson, the property tax rate would stay at $2.39 per $100 of assessed value. [Read more...]

Anderson County officials discuss budget Monday evening

Terry Frank

Terry Frank

Spending requests have exceeded expected revenues by more than $4 million, mostly because of a proposal to hire more jailers, and Anderson County officials will discuss the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 during a Monday evening workshop.

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank and Budget Director Chris Phillips have said they plan to present a balanced budget that does not raise taxes but still provides core services.

County officials have said projected revenues are down slightly, or about 98 percent of what they are in the current fiscal year. There has been a slight increase in property assessments, but sales and business tax revenues are projected to be down. [Read more...]

Possible TVA sale a bad idea, president’s budget fails on entitlements, Republican lawmakers say

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

Lamar Alexander

U.S. Senator Bob Corker

Bob Corker

Republican lawmakers from Tennessee were critical of the budget proposal released by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, saying it was overdue and failed to responsibly address unsustainable spending on entitlement programs.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said a proposal to consider selling the Tennessee Valley Authority could cost taxpayers money.

“This is one more bad idea in a budget full of bad ideas,” Alexander said. “There is today no federal taxpayer subsidy for TVA, period. There is by law no federal taxpayer liability for TVA debt. And after deducting its debt, selling TVA would probably cost taxpayers money.” [Read more...]

Alexander, Fleischmann release statements on State of the Union

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander

U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann

In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, President Barack Obama called for raising the minimum wage, doing more to fight global warming, and reducing the deficit through spending cuts and tax increases.

The president also called for voting on new gun laws, reforming Medicare and the tax code, and working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child.

[Read more...]

Guest column: City needs a return on public spending on Chamber, ORCVB

By Leslie Agron and Pat Fain

This coming Monday evening, the Oak Ridge City Council and the city manager will hold a work session that has the potential to become the seminal discussion on the future growth and success of Oak Ridge. This discussion will probably begin with the question of the city contracts with the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce ($250,000) and the Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau ($400,000) and, unfortunately, it may just end there. If this happens it could be another significant opportunity fumbled.

There are very legitimate reasons to question the continued expenditure of public dollars for the type and quality of results delivered by these two entities. The need for growth of revenue is real. Several years ago, without even a minimal public discussion of what kind of city we want to be in the future, the city and the Chamber entered into a series of open-ended contracts. That produced amorphous and inadequate results. The Chamber can well blame a lack of direction and vision on the city. The city can point to lots of sound and fury and fast food restaurants as being an inadequate answer to long-term financial woes and economic growth needs.

[Read more...]

House also passes ‘fiscal cliff’ deal, but Tennessee representatives oppose it

U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann

Chuck Fleischmann

Less than 24 hours after the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved it, the U.S. House passed legislation late Tuesday night to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but seven Tennessee Republicans and one Democrat opposed it.

The bill, which now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature, averts income tax increases for most Americans and temporarily delays large across-the-board spending cuts to defense and domestic programs.

However, the Associated Press reported most Americans will still end up paying more federal taxes in 2013 because the legislation did not renew a temporary 2 percent cut in the payroll tax. That reduction was worth about $1,000 to a worker making $50,000 a year.

U.S. senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both Tennessee Republicans, voted for the bill in the Senate, where it passed 89-8 early Tuesday morning. Alexander and Corker said the legislation, reached after weeks of negotiations between the White House and Congress, “rescues” 99 percent of Americans from a tax rate increase.

But all seven Tennessee Republicans in the U.S. House, including Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, voted against it. The vote in the House was 257-167.

[Read more...]

Corker, Alexander propose dollar-for-dollar spending, debt limit plan

Tennessee senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander have introduced a plan to reduce the growth in federal entitlement spending by almost $1 trillion in exchange for increasing the nation’s debt limit by $1 trillion, possibly this spring.

The Dollar for Dollar Act of 2012 would reduce the growth in spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, according to a statement posted on Corker’s website. Most of the spending reductions—$689 billion—would come from Medicare reform.

Corker and Alexander seemed confident that Congress and the White House would reach a deal in the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations, a high-stakes debate that has dragged on for weeks over how to avoid automatic spending cuts and tax increases starting Jan. 1.

“When the dust settles, federal income taxes will not increase for almost all Americans next year,” Corker and Alexander said.

The two Republicans said their dollar-for-dollar plan “focused on helping Americans avoid falling off the fiscal cliff no one wants to talk about, the looming bankruptcy of Medicare.”

[Read more...]

Guest column: Oak Ridge has growth potential in sales tax revenue

Editor’s note: The following is an edited version of a statement Oak Ridge City Council member Chuck Hope made during a candidates forum before the Nov. 6 election.

Why do I want to be on City Council? Because Oak Ridge has given me so many opportunities and provided for my family for over 30 years, I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities.

How do we make sure those opportunities are available for the next “Oak Ridgers”?

We start by making sure we keep a close watch on our revenue and expenditures. We need to understand that we really only have two main sources of revenue that come into the city. They are our property taxes and our sales tax revenue.

As most of you know, our property tax rate is higher than our surrounding cities and towns. However, compared to other “full service cities,” ours is comparable. There are only a handful of these “full service cities” all across Tennessee.

But before we can start to really change the rate, we must first find revenue from other sources. Where we have the most potential for growth in revenue is in the sales tax revenue we generate. For a city our size and with the economic drivers that we provide to the region, we should be bringing in a substantially larger portion of sales tax revenue.

We must find ways to increase our sales tax revenue before we can start to reduce our property tax rate. This is where I will focus my energy. To do that, we must continue to find ways to bring in more retail options (both restaurants and shopping choices), continue to work closely with the Industrial Development Board, Chamber of Commerce, and Economic Partnership to bring additional private investment capital and jobs, then make sure the Economic Diversification Fund is working for us.

Once we get the sales tax revenue growth improving, we can then start to look at ways to reduce our property tax rate so we can be competitive within our region. All the while making sure we are diligent and remember our expenditures and stay within our annual budget. We are always looking for ways to streamline our costs while maintaining our quality-of-life services.

But one of our biggest attributes the city needs to pay close attention to is our school system. It is still the biggest reason young families come to Oak Ridge, and it is the benchmark all other education systems set the bar to. But if we don’t continue to work with the school board and find solutions to some real issues before us, other communities will close the gap, and we may never be able to set the bar high enough again.

As you can see, City Council has many challenges before them, and I believe I can contribute to finding solutions to these issues. With your support and input, I will bring my business sense to council.

Chuck Hope

Oak Ridge

Letter: New ‘taxes’ imposed by Affordable Care Act

Now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the sanctioned law of the land, let’s take a closer look at how it will affect us as a nation.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared ACA to be tax. As the federal Congress has the authority to lay and collect taxes, they are, however, restricted to four types: excise, tariff, income, and direct.

[Read more...]