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.
Oak Ridge and Anderson County taxes are rising much slower than the CPI
As shown in the graph to the left, Anderson County has had just two tax rate increases in the last 10 years that have resulted in a total county tax rate increase of 6.4 percent for Oak Ridge residents. Oak Ridge’s city taxes have not gone up in six years and have increased a total of only 8.6 percent in 10 years. Impressive when you consider the Consumer Price Index has gone up 28.5 percent during those 10 years.
Stated another way, an average resident paying $1,500 per year in combined county and city taxes has seen county taxes go up $48 and city taxes $65, for a total increase of $113 (or 7.5 percent) in 10 years. If taxes would have gone up at the rate of other goods and services based on the CPI, combined taxes would have gone up $428 in those 10 years.
Oak Ridge taxes are comparable to other nearby full service cities
Knoxville residents pay city and county taxes at total rate of $4.82, Maryville pays $4.32, Alcoa $4.15, and Oak Ridge $4.74. Knox County also has a wheel tax, and Blount Count is currently voting on one.
Homeowners in Knoxville pay slight more in property taxes than those in Oak Ridge. A homeowner with a $100,000 home in Maryville pays $105 less each year in property taxes than in Oak Ridge. I doubt most folks are willing to drive an extra half-hour each day to work to save $2 per week on taxes.
Anderson County taxes are in the middle range of area counties and the State
County property tax rates in the Oak Ridge portion of Anderson County are the same as Knox County. Our property taxes are the same as the average of the six counties bordering Anderson County if you factor in wheel taxes that are in place in five of these six counties. If you factor in population, most Tennessee residents pay a higher county tax rate than Anderson County.
Many other cities are not full-service cities like Oak Ridge, so costs for these services must be factored into tax rates when making comparisons. Farragut is in a unique situation in that it receives substantial sales tax revenue as a regional retail center—with the help of county tax breaks provided to many of its retail developments.
With tax rates held flat for 10 years – where is the growth?
Data from the last 10 years do not support Mr. McBride’s claim. According to Mr. McBride, the reason Oak Ridge and Anderson County lag in population growth are increasing property tax rates. If property taxes were the main factor in deciding where to live, we would have expected more growth after holding the tax rate almost flat for over 10 years.
How do we grow?
Mr. McBride is correct in saying our population growth rate in Anderson County and Oak Ridge is lower than several other area counties. There probably are many reasons why—with some factors we cannot control. But I do not believe relatively small property tax differences is the reason.
Improved retail is one way to increase population growth. Retail is improving, and I believe it will help attract residents and generate sale tax revenue to help pay for vital services.
No one likes taxes. We must continue to work hard to hold the line on property taxes to the extent possible, but we should also maintain high-quality services. The services are the reason many of us chose to live here.
One thing we can all do to help growth is to spread the word about what a great place Oak Ridge is to live. I agree with Mr. McBride that outside Realtors are probably pressuring new Oak Ridge workers to locate outside Oak Ridge. We don’t need to give these outside Realtors information to use against us that is misleading and not supported by facts.
Myron Iwanski represents Anderson County Commission District 8 in Oak Ridge.