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.
The Council needs to hold the line on tax rates while protecting as many of the competitive advantages within the Oak Ridge schools as possible. Kudos to Mayor Beehan and the City Council for recognizing this necessity.
Anderson County also plans to hold the line on tax rates, despite the many wants the county faces. Kudos to Mayor Frank and the Anderson County Commission also.
Of course, this leaves the very important question about the future direction of Oak Ridge Schools unanswered. Our great school system will require funding increases at some point to maintain its competitive edge and promote educational excellence. Good schools cost money. That’s a reality too.
The answer to this dilemma is to get our economy moving. It’s so important to aggressively market the DOE workforce and take full advantage of the opportunities to expand heritage tourism and rowing tourism.
If the Council does this, the schools will be fine.
If the Council fails to get the economy moving, our city will suffer. If downstream the Council compounds the problem by raising taxes, Farragut will have a field day at the expense of our schools (and retailers and homeowners).
That’s a mistake we should avoid at all costs.