Both candidates in a special election for Anderson County Commission say economic development is the county’s top priority.
And both opposed a property tax rate increase this year to give more money to the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department.
After various proposals were considered, commissioners raised the property tax rate by up to 16.2 cents last summer to pay for the expansion of the Anderson County Detention Facility in Clinton, as well as to buy industrial land and build a new alternative school.
Iwanski, Anderson County interim mayor since January 2011, said he had suggested an option that would have translated into a seven-cent tax rate increase in Oak Ridge.
But the commission approved a slightly higher nine-cent, or 4 percent, increase, said Iwanski, a former county commissioner who hopes to fill the rest of his four-year term after 19 months as interim mayor.
The rate hike set the stage for a no-tax-increase budget this year, Iwanski said. (The increase last year included a seven-cent increase for capital projects in the county that didn’t affect Oak Ridge residents.)
In the end, “It was pretty close to what I had suggested,” Iwanski said. “Everyone realized we had to do something about the jail.”
He said Patrick proposed a $30 per vehicle wheel tax.
But Patrick, appointed to fill Iwanski’s seat in March 2011 after Iwanski became interim mayor, said he proposed the wheel tax last summer only because he wanted to “try to head off a property tax rate increase.
“I was not going to vote for a property tax increase,” Patrick said.
He said Iwanski was actually the first to propose a wheel tax as part of a jail presentation that included one funding option of a 15-cent property tax rate increase or a $30 wheel tax.
He challenged any attempt to portray himself as a “wheel tax man.”
“That’s not who I am,” Patrick said.
Patrick said he’s very concerned about the competitiveness of the local property tax rate, including in Oak Ridge. People can go across the Clinch River into Solway and pay a property tax rate that is roughly half as high as it is in Oak Ridge, and the lack of a competitive tax rate is a major detriment to Anderson County, Patrick said.
“We do need to draw a line in the sand,” he said.
The two County Commission candidates also differed on whether to restore funding for nonprofit organizations.
Iwanski, who has served on Anderson County Commission for 16 years, said the nonprofits can, with a very small investment, offer services that the county can’t provide. He would like to see funding restored at some point, with the money awarded on a case-by-case basis, Iwanski said.
But Patrick, vice president of fund distribution for the United Way of Anderson County, questioned whether political bodies should make decisions on how to spend charitable donations.
“There are organizations that are better suited,” he said, pointing out that the vetting process and proposal reviews can take hundreds of hours.
In a June forum and in recent interviews, Iwanski said the county has increased its fund balance and cut spending, especially in areas under his control.
“This has put us on a sound financial footing that will allow us to avoid the need for tax increases for the next several years,” Iwanski said.
He said he has helped put initiatives in place during his time as interim mayor to expand the retail and industrial tax bases, promote tourism, and create jobs.
Meanwhile, Patrick, who is chief operating officer for Omega Technical Services, an Oak Ridge-based company, touts his business leadership experience, and he said he has been frustrated by the county’s use of its “rainy-day fund” and spending levels that exceed revenues.
Both men are running in the Aug. 2 special election to represent District 8 on the Anderson County Commission. That district includes the Emory Valley, Hendrix Creek, and Woodland precincts.
Early voting began July 13 and ends Saturday.