Council to consider $11.1 million in construction contracts for Preschool, Senior Center

A rendering of the new Oak Ridge Preschool at Scarboro Park. (Image courtesy City of Oak Ridge/Studio Four Design)

A rendering of the new Oak Ridge Preschool at Scarboro Park. (Image courtesy City of Oak Ridge/Studio Four Design)

  The Oak Ridge City Council in a special meeting on Thursday will consider $11.1 million in construction contracts for the new Oak Ridge Preschool, Oak Ridge Senior Center, and Scarboro Park improvements. The contracts could both be awarded to Jenkins and Stiles LLC of Knoxville. There were four bidders for the Senior Center project and three for the Preschool and Scarboro Park improvements, according to Jacene Phillips, senior project manager for Studio Four Design. Her company recommended both contracts be awarded to Jenkins and Stiles because of cost, but also because the Senior Center could be operating two months earlier under that contract than under any other bid and the Preschool would be complete three days before it would be under the other bids, Phillips said. Both projects would be funded through general obligation bonds, a type of debt that could be issued in November. The first contract that could be awarded Thursday is for the construction of the Preschool and improvements to Scarboro Park. The contract would be worth up to about $8.4 million. The Preschool would be built at Scarboro Park. [Read more…]

Council approves initial bond resolution for Preschool, Senior Center

A rendering of the new Oak Ridge Preschool at Scarboro Park. (Image courtesy City of Oak Ridge/Studio Four Design)

A rendering of the new Oak Ridge Preschool at Scarboro Park. (Image courtesy City of Oak Ridge/Studio Four Design)

 

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday unanimously approved an initial bond resolution of up to $16.5 million to build a new Oak Ridge Preschool and Oak Ridge Senior Center, and redevelop Scarboro Park.

It’s not the final bond resolution for the projects. The initial bond resolution approved in a 7-0 vote on Monday sets a ceiling amount for the debt issuance. A second resolution, a bond issuance resolution, will be brought to City Council, possibly at the October 8 meeting, for the actual bond issuance amount.

The City of Oak Ridge has opened the bidding period for the two projects, which have a total estimated cost of roughly $16 million. That announcement was made Friday.

But the city doesn’t know yet what the actual bids will be. And it’s not clear how steel tariffs might affect the projects, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said. [Read more…]

Opinion: A tale of three cities

By Trina Baughn

As we delve into what could be the last city budget I work on as a council member, I reflect upon both the state of the city and my contributions thus far. I could boast that, during my tenure, no property taxes were raised, and we’ve reduced total debt levels. However, those claims would be misleading given that council has so steeply expanded their reach into your pocket by other means. In fact, council is considering doing that very thing, yet again, with this budget. More on that in a moment.

Property taxes and debt paint only a partial picture of a city’s financial health. While both are very important, consideration must be given to their utility and return on investment. For many years, I have published in-depth analyses of some of the major expenditures that have brought us to the point we are today, such as:

  • How you were sold a $40 million high school that will, in the end, cost you over $126 million.
  • The fact that the city, not the EPA, was at fault for your water and sewer rates doubling in only a few short years, thereby incurring $33 million worth of debt on top of  the $24 million we’d already spent to avoid the EPA mandate.
  • An accounting of the $10 million you’ve paid on a golf course you were assured would pay for itself but hasn’t and won’t for many more years to come, if ever.
  • Your annual $175,000 subsidy (compare to Farragut, which only spends $15,000) of a Chamber of Commerce that is largely made up of nonprofits, government organizations, and non-Oak Ridge businesses that regularly pressure council to increase your property taxes.
  • Frequent disclosures of excessive, non-essential spending such as a $275,000 parking lot, a $1 million fountain, a $300,000 bathroom and muchmuch more.
  • How crony capitalism has run amuck, forcing you to offset the extensive corporate welfare the city doles out on your behalf.
  • Demonstrating that you are likely overpaying for your trash services with Waste Connections, which is charging less in communities where they had to compete.
  • Reminding you of the broken promises of Partners for Progress, which cost you $15 million on the failed Rarity Ridge/Horizon Center development 16 years ago and warning of similar pitfalls in the $13 million mall TIF (tax increment financing).
  • And, because half of your property taxes fund our schools, I frequently challenged our superintendent and school board when they would demand more of your money on the grounds that, in spite of being the one of the most heavily funded systems in the state, much of your money is not making it into the classroom where it belongs.

Some will view the above examples through a different lens if they rely upon what they see around town. We have certainly seen an uptick in eateries, and we can all appreciate the aesthetic value of some of the new developments. Those new developments have, however, displaced some pre-existing businesses, leaving us with an abundance of vacant properties. [Read more…]

Opinion: County mayor objects to financial management change; schedules public forum

Terry-Frank-Jan-29-2016

Terry Frank

The financial story of Anderson County in the last three years has been one of stability and progress. For the first time since 2006, Anderson County was removed from high-risk audit status in 2013, and placed on low-risk status. That held for 2013, 2014, and 2015.

As we closed out the books on 2015, our Accounts and Budgets and Schools cheered zero audit findings in our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report by the State of Tennessee’s Division of Local Government Audit.

Through partnership of our Budget Committee and County Commission, we saw three consecutive years of growth in fund balance, improved cash flow position, and a commitment to raising the bar on dipping into the fund balance by requiring a supermajority approval (12 of 16 members.) In 2013, we raised the supermajority requirement to $3.5 million, in 2014 to $4 million, and in 2015 to $4.5 million.

We kept new debt to a minimum, and for two consecutive years also modified existing debt agreements to save taxpayer money over the life of the bonds without extending the maturity dates of the debt. [Read more…]

Student loan debt challenges, solutions to be discussed Monday

Student loan debt challenges and solutions will be discussed during a Monday evening meeting of the Anderson County Democratic Women’s Club.

The featured speaker will be Beth Hickman, who is on the Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee and a former field representative for Congressman Lincoln Davis.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Monday, April 27, in the Clinton Community Center Club Room at 101 South Hicks Street in Clinton. There will be free pizza and soft drinks.

“Student loan debt is a huge challenge for students and the economy,” organizers said. “Student loan debt is at a record high of $1.1 trillion,” according to the New York Times, organizers said.

They said student loans are now the second-largest source of consumer debt in the country, surpassed only by home mortgages, and an average undergraduate borrower leaves college $30,000 in debt.

Letter: Praises Baughn, says City Council needs more like her

To the Editor:

I would like to commend the outstanding job that Trina Baughn is doing on City Council. Of all the members of City Council, she is the most knowledgeable about the city’s massive and rising $186.4 million debt. Trina Baughn understands the history of how this debt was accumulated; she also has developed a strategic plan to help the taxpayers resolve this debt.

While Oak Ridge slipped deeper into debt, past City Councils have wasted and squandered taxpayer funds on law firms in Washington, D.C., to lobby for more money for Oak Ridge’s government facilities, as if lobbying rather than the qualifications of local scientists could swing federal funding to Oak Ridge. The taxpayers derived zero benefit from those lobbyist payments or the largesse City Council has bestowed on the Chamber of Commerce over the years. [Read more…]

Guest column: Roane County saves more than $800,000 on refinancing debt

Ron Woody

Ron Woody

By Roane County Office of the County Executive

Roane County Executive Ron Woody announced this month that the county saved more than $800,000 by refinancing outstanding debt to lower interest rates.

Woody, his staff, and the Roane County Commission have created and adopted a multi-year debt service budget along with a county capital improvement plan. By having both a debt management plan and a capital plan, the county is able to more efficiently manage the county’s limited resources.

The debt plan and multi-year debt budget further identifies bonds that are eligible for refinancing. The county can then analyze whether refinancing allows for savings. The county identified a Rural School Bond of more than $11 million that had an interest rate of over 4 percent and was eligible for refinancing. The new interest rate is 2.8 percent, which is a savings of $854,600 over the term of the bond, including a savings of $185,735 in interest the first year. [Read more…]

Guest column: The Oak Ridge High School debt chronicles

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

The Oak Ridge High School Debt Chronicles—How a $40 Million Project Will Cost Taxpayers Over $126 Million (So Far) 

It appears that the nearly three-year long debate between the Oak Ridge City Council and the Board of Education (BOE) over who owes what on the high school renovation project—the single largest financial expenditure that this city has ever made—is about to be resolved once and for all (or so some hope). To many, this will provide a welcomed relief. For all, it will once again extend and increase a debt obligation far beyond what anyone ever imagined.

Just over one week after the initial public revealing, council will vote on a resolution to end the debate on the high school mortgage issue. The root problem that this resolution will address is not ambiguity in the 2004 referendum or in any “gentlemen’s agreements.” No, the reason that this resolution is necessary, according to the fifth “Whereas,” is “changing community economics and increasing educational needs.”  The need for this resolution, which will violate the original understanding and intent of the 2004 referendum, boils down to an implied need by the Oak Ridge schools for more money.

If passed, this resolution will allow the BOE to retain the portion of the half-cent sales tax revenues collected outside of the City of Oak Ridge and will accomplish the following: [Read more…]

New citizens group will serve as county government watchdog, spokesman says

Anderson County General Sessions Flagpole

Lynn Byrge, back left, spokesman for a new political study group in Anderson County, watches above as Brad Heun, right, commander of Oak Ridge Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Leon Jaquet, director of Anderson County Veterans Office, raise the flag on a new flagpole at the General Sessions Courthouse in Oak Ridge in September.

A new community organization formed to study contentious political issues in Anderson County will be modeled after the PolitiFact fact-checking website, a spokesman said Monday.

The group of Anderson County residents is called Friends of Anderson County Taxpayers, or FACTs, spokesman Lynn Byrge said in a press release. The release said members are concerned about county spending, debt, and the threat of property tax increases.

The formation of the new group comes just before the start of what is expected to be a busy election year in Anderson County, with candidates already announcing they’re running for election or re-election on county commission and for various seats ranging from juvenile court judge to chancellor to sheriff.

Byrge, who helped lead the effort to install “In God We Trust” signs on the Anderson County Courthouse in Clinton, said FACTs has already organized study groups around specific areas of concern, including county commission’s legislative process, the sheriff’s department’s burgeoning budget, the role of the county law director, and the responsibilities of the county mayor. [Read more…]

House-passed budget could avoid second shutdown; Senate may vote this week

Y-12 National Security Complex Sign

A bipartisan budget bill being considered in Congress could avoid a second government shutdown and provide relief to federal employees and government contractors in Oak Ridge, including at the Y-12 National Security Complex, which was prepared to furlough up to 3,600 workers during the first shutdown in October.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a budget bill that could avoid a second government shutdown in mid-January, a development that will likely offer some relief to federal employees and government contractors in Oak Ridge—and to the businesses that support them.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican, said he supported the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 in the House on Thursday.

“Tonight, the House took a modest step toward reforming spending and setting our government on a more stable path,” said Fleischmann, a second-term congressman whose district includes Oak Ridge.

But the bill still has to pass the deeply divided Senate, which is preparing to take up the budget bill this week. The Washington Post reported that Democrats are still trying to come up with the 60 votes necessary to break a GOP-led filibuster in the Senate. [Read more…]

TVA retiring eight coal units at three plants

Colbert Fossil Plant

The Tennessee Valley Authority is retiring all five coal units at the Colbert Fossil Plant on the Pickwick Reservoir on the Tennessee River in Alabama. (Photo courtesy TVA)

The Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors recently approved a plan that will retire eight coal units at three plants with more than 3,000 megawatts of combined generating capacity.

The retirements affect all five coal units at the Colbert Fossil Plant in Tuscumbia, Ala.; one of two operating coal units at Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson, Ala., and two of three coal units at the Paradise Fossil Plant near Central City, Ky. Paradise Unit 3, one of TVA’s largest coal units, will continue to operate.

A number of these units were already idled or scheduled for idling and/or retirement based on an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, TVA said in a press release. [Read more…]