They postponed a budget vote for one week, and the Oak Ridge City Council on Monday and Tuesday will resume those discussions. So far, the debate has included calls to raise the property tax rate to fund certain programs and other recommendations to keep the rate unchanged—or even lower it.
The budget will be discussed during a non-voting work session at 5 p.m. Monday, June 15, in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Training Room. The Council could then vote on it in the first of two readings this month during a 7 p.m. meeting in the Municipal Building Courtroom.
Council will then discuss the budget in a second work session at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 16, in the Multipurpose Room at the Central Services Complex on Woodbury Lane.
The City Council had been expected to vote on the budget on first reading on Monday, June 8. But it’s still not clear how the five-year property reappraisals in Roane County will affect the Oak Ridge property tax rate, so the City Council on Monday deferred that vote.
Officials said property assessments in Roane County are likely to go down as they have in Anderson County, where they’ve fallen 4 percent. An overall drop in property values could require an increase in the tax rate because the revenues after the reappraisals have to remain the same as they were before.
A few City Council members supported an in-depth or line-by-line review of the budget, so Council scheduled the work session for Monday, June 15.
The budget proposed by the Oak Ridge city staff includes a one-cent increase in the property tax rate. It would help maintain city services and allow for a 2 percent pay raise for city employees. City officials said there has been a roughly $700,000 reduction from last year’s budget in sales tax revenues from Roane County, primarily at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Meanwhile, the budget proposed by Oak Ridge Schools asks for the equivalent of a seven-cent tax increase. It would help cover a deficit and add money for salaries and staff, including a 3 percent pay raise. That budget has already been approved by the Oak Ridge Board of Education.
The two requests total eight cents. Each additional cent on the property tax rate generates about another $90,000 in revenue. A one-cent increase would cost the owner of a $145,000 house another $3.63 per year. An eight-cent increase could cost that homeowner another $29 per year.
If Council isn’t able to pass a budget by June 30 because of the Roane reappraisals, the city would continue to operate under current appropriations and the current property tax rate, which is $2.39 per $100 of assessed value. It’s not clear when the Roane reappraisals will be complete, and city officials said the state has gotten involved.
The new fiscal year starts July 1.
There seemed to be support for the proposed 2 percent pay raises for municipal employees during the June 8 meeting, although it’s not clear that Council will agree to raise taxes to increase salaries for either municipal or school workers.
Two Council members suggested they might not support a tax increase.
In a budget the size of Oak Ridge’s, having a one-cent tax increase is silly, City Council member Rick Chinn said. He said Oak Ridge is competing with other communities, and some of them like Hardin Valley don’t have city taxes.
“I think we should go for a zero-cent increase,” Chinn said.
Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn said municipal officials find money every year that was not in the budget for expenses or improvements such as those made to Blankenship Field, and residents are already excessively burdened by the utility and tax rates.
“I know we can provide a 2 percent raise…without a tax increase,” Baughn said.
But Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said officials would have to go “back to the drawing board” to develop a budget with a pay raise and without a tax increase.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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