Latest City Council Judgment: Roane County Taxpayers

Just Don’t Count!

 

It is really unfortunate when one of the most expensive Governments in this state can so easily turn away from its own citizens”

 

Although they represent a smaller portion of the population in Oak Ridge, Roane County taxpayers absolutely do count!” said McBride.  “ Our City Council needs to focus on serving citizens’ interests, rather than finding reasons to just stand there!

 

Last evenings work session on the upcoming city budget, the Oak Ridge City Council revealed that property assessments for Roane County residents were about to increase by about 25%, while assessments for neighboring Anderson County residents were only going up about half that much, at 12%. There are similar homes in both areas and the tax advantage of Roane County over Anderson County seems insufficient to explain such a large difference.  While there are homes in Roane County that are more-recent and more-expensive, similar homes can also be found in Anderson County.

 

 “The reason for such a large tax difference is not obvious at first glance,” said Martin McBride. “How does one group of houses appreciate at 12% and a similar group of homes next door go up 25%? If there is a good explanation for this difference, the City Council offered none last evening.  Instead, the Council spent an inordinate amount of time explaining how this was a County issue and not the Council’s problem.”

 

“I totally disagree.  This is a matter that affects a large number of Oak Ridge taxpayers.  The city needs to step forward and champion them.  The matter should be looked into on a high priority basis.  In my opinion, city government (and the Oak Ridge City Council) exist to serve citizens, not the other way around.

 

Here is a great way for the Council to boost trust and confidence in government.  Here is where they can demonstrate compassion and interest in taxpayers. While it is certainly true that property assessment is a county function, Oak Ridge government still has a large stake in the matter.  If there is a good explanation for the assessment difference, then the city should help taxpayers understand it.  The Council needs to show that they care about their residents!

 

The Council needs to show that they care about their residents!

Text Box: The Council needs to show that they care about their residents! The city also revealed last evening that surrounding communities saw home values appreciate at more than double the Oak Ridge appreciation rate.  “I think this clearly shows the weakness in my opponents’ assertion that the Oak Ridge housing market is “strong,”  said McBride.  “Oak Ridge property values are barely limping along---due to the stifling effects of the city’s  high, non-competitive property taxes.  Meanwhile, home values in neighboring communities are simply skyrocketing.”

 

The Council also seemed indifferent to a companion problem last evening: enrollment at Oak Ridge’s premier school system was shown to have dropped significantly this past year.  “This makes a solid decade of enrollment decline in our award-winning schools,” said McBride.

 

“Dropping enrollment in our schools is yet one more sign that something is seriously wrong with the Oak Ridge economy,” said McBride. “School enrollment should  be expanding. The excellent track record of the Oak Ridge Schools should be attracting new students like a magnet. Here is another wake-up call that (unfortunately) seems to be falling on deaf ears.” 

 

“Oak Ridge’s excessive tax rate is not only harming our economy, it is pulling down our wonderful schools.  The Council needs to turn and face these problems, if we are ever to get beyond them.  This city needs a Council who will take action---not just stand there making excuses.”

 

On June 7, voters can take action and elect Martin McBride to the Council.  Contact Dr. McBride at (865) 482-5386 or at accountable@earthlink.net for additional information.  (Paid for by the McBride for Council Campaign, David Miller, Treasurer.  Contributions welcome.)

 

Candidate Urges Oak Ridge Tax Cut with Increased Funding for Key City Services!

 

The Oak Ridge City Council can do both by redirecting under-performing economic development funds,” said Candidate Martin McBride

 

In a startling move to limit public criticism, the Oak Ridge City Council announced that henceforth, “political speech” will be banned from City Council meetings!

 

Key Election Question: Do Oak Ridge voters really want 4 more years of this approach to government?

 

Last evening, Candidate Martin McBride urged the Oak Ridge City Council to both reduce the city’s property tax rate and increase funding for key city services (schools, police, and fire) during an Oak Ridge City Council meeting. 

 

The City Council has resisted reducing the city’s non-competitive property tax rates during the last two years. The current budget proposal would avoid a reduction this year.  “Unfortunately, this “treading water” approach is just not going to cut it as far as the city’s stumbling economy goes.  The Oak Ridge economy was damaged by years of excessive tax rate increases. That earned us the unfortunate reputation as the “Tax Capital of East Tennessee.”  The only thing that can help now is to reduce tax rates---if only by a little---each year.”

 

McBride also urged that the Council redirect low-performing economic development monies towards key city services---services that have been slowly starved over the last few years.  “I am especially concerned about funding for our great schools and for our city’s police and fire functions,” said McBride.  McBride noted that when asked by the media, none of the current group of school board candidates running in the June’s municipal election would endorse the proposed budget as “adequate.”  “This is not the way to build and keep top-flight schools,” he said. 

 

McBride also suggested that under-performing agreements involving tax abatements be re-negotiated.  “That would take a bit more time to do---but it could provide some substantial city revenue (without raising taxes.) And think of the incentive it would give to these activities to get moving and perform!”

 

Over the last several years, the Council has committed substantial amounts of money to fund a wide range of economic development programs. Money for things like new city slogans ($130,000), city lobbyists ($430,000 plus), and the Mall project (5 million dollars) have all come at the expense of important city services, like schools, police, and fire protection.

 

Contrary to their initial claims, the city’s economic development strategies have failed to boost the city’s economy,” McBride noted. “ It is  time for the Council to reconsider these funding decisions---and boost support of things that aid the quality of Oak Ridge life. The make-no-decision, “treading water” approach must be avoided, since it really doesn’t accomplish much.  The Council needs a realistic set of priorities that support the services that citizens want.” 

 

In an unrelated (and rather startling) move, Mayor David Bradshaw announced that the rules committee of the City Council had determined that “political speech” should be banned from the 3-minute citizen comments that the Council allows during its meetings.  The Mayor seemed to hesitate as he explained the new policy, almost as though he himself was not quite sure what the new rule actually meant.

 

I could not believe it, when I heard the new rule.  Of course, I decided to conduct my own test,” laughed McBride.  When it came time for his 3 minutes, McBride started out by offering a compliment to the council on the way they decisively answered a previous citizen’s issue.  “I was a declared political candidate making a political point with my complements.  In my book, that classifies the complements as “political speech.”

”Since they allowed the comment, one concludes that “political speech” that complements the City Council is OK.  What is unacceptable is apparently speech which is critical of Council decisions or policies---a very troubling development.”
 

 

In 2002, a lack of understanding of citizen concerns caused a city-wide tax revolt.  “They did not see the tax revolt coming and the lack of knowledge really hurt the city.  Having gone through that trauma, to see them now deliberately cut the lines of communication with their citizens---this is unbelievable,” said McBride.  “If I am elected to the Council, I want to hear peoples concerns and criticisms---criticisms of both council policies and of my personal performance.  That is the only way you can learn and improve!

 

Oak Ridge Federal Pension Issue Makes the Front Page of the Tennessean!

 

Paper Contrasts Plight of Many Oak Ridge Pensioners with Plans to Give Large State Pensions to Those Implicated in the Bribery Scandal!

 

“When I think about those involved with the state bribery scandal getting large state pensions---I get angry,” said Martin McBride.  “We have WWII widows in Oak Ridge who sacrificed for this nation and who are now forced to live on pensions of almost nothing!”

 

Today’s front-page story in the Nashville Tennessean newspaper quotes a frustrated Martin McBride on the question of state pensions for those implicated in that state bribery scandal.  “I could not believe it,” said McBride.  State government is talking about giving these guys very large pensions---and we have WWII widows in Oak Ridge who are being forced to live on next to nothing.  It’s just not right.”

 

“To me, bribery is in the same category as treason.  Both destroy fundamental trust in American government.  Both are terrible crimes.  Those implicated in a bribery scandal should not get a dime!” 

 

The Tennessean contacted McBride last evening to ask for his reaction to the prospective state pensions.  “They were interested in the contrast between the proposed state pensions to the rather meager pensions received by many Oak Ridge seniors,” said McBride.  “Oak Ridge seniors sacrificed to defend our nation during WWII and the cold war.  They struggle today on almost nothing---while state government prepares to hand out large pensions to officials in a bribery scandal.  This is just not fair and it should not be tolerated.” 

 

The Tennessean news story is available online at:  http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050603/NEWS0201/506030402 .

 

McBride has urged the Oak Ridge City Council to aggressively champion the cause of federal contractor pension reform.  Those pensions currently affect an estimated 12,000 contractor retirees from the Oak Ridge federal nuclear complex.  Many of the pensions have been seriously eroded because they lack cost of living adjustments.  People who retired thirty years ago, for example, have seen the Consumer Price Index rise by 266% over the years, yet their pensions have remained essentially constant!  WWII-Era widows in Oak Ridge are currently trying to make ends meet on a pension of about $400 a month.

 

These wonderful people helped defend our nation and build this beautiful city---yet today they receive pensions of almost nothing.  The Oak Ridge pension problem can (and must) be fixed.”

 

For more information on efforts to reform Oak Ridge pensions, contact “CORRE” (Coalition of Oak Ridge Retired Employees).  The CORRE website is www.corre.info .

 

 

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Dr. MICHAEL A. S. GUTH
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Ph.D. (Economics), J.D. Univ. of Tenn.
Licensed in Tennessee since 1998
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