The Issues – FAQs
The following are some of the frequently asked questions I’ve answered thus far in my campaign. I will update this page periodically and welcome comments and questions to this post, via email at trina . baughn @ gmail . com (no spaces) or you may call me at 865..384..5683..
What do you feel is Oak Ridge’s biggest problem and how do you plan to try to fix it?
Oak Ridge’s biggest problem is that we are not viewed as a serious competitor by outsiders. The future of Oak Ridge is entirely dependent upon our ability to attract new residents and businesses. To do that, we must first acknowledge an unspoken truth: Outsiders view Oak Ridge as being too expensive. We MUST work to change that. Of the surrounding communities, Oak Ridge has the second highest property tax rate at 4.74%. Like it or not, this one fact deters many people from ever looking at Oak Ridge as an option. To drop from #2 to #7 would require a reduction in our annual budget of roughly $6 Million. I believe, that over the next 2-4 years, this is achievable and I believe it can be done without sacrificing essential services or our quality of life. Please see “Let’s Be #7!” for my plan to make Oak Ridge more competitive.
What are your views on Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) and Tax Abatements?
I support economic solutions that encourage public input, do not incur long term debt and do not place the burden of risk squarely on the backs of citizens. I do not support using public money or tax breaks to selectively finance private projects except in very limited, low risk circumstances. I am aware of twelve such public-private initiatives proposed in the last ten years. Of those, I supported two. The goal of these incentives is to spur economic development. Oak Ridgers already pay nearly $1 million annually to fund 11 different organizations for that same purpose through the economic diversification fund. If these deals are “risk free” or “necessary to stimulate the economy” as we have been told by these same organizations, then they should assume the liability on our behalf.
What are your thoughts on the city/school debate over the high school debt obligation?
I was the first person to bring light to the fact that the schools were withholding their portion of the high school mortgage payment in this January 2012 column and have followed the matter very closely since, writing about it here, here, here, and here. The voters were very generous and very clear in the 2004 referendum: they voted to increase our sales tax revenue to pay for the entire high school renovation project. The schools fully expected the county to supersede and had promised to attribute any windfall as a result back to the high school debt – a debt which has grown from the voter-approved maximum of $58 MIL to $66.5 MIL. The Oak Ridge Board of Education and administration should pay their obligations rather than expect the taxpayers to pay for it twice, possibly three times if they take this to court as they have indicated that they may do.
Is it your desire or intent to fire the city manager?
I’m not out to fire Mark. I believe in giving credit when it is do and I believe in calling someone out for egregious errors. I have personally thanked him for a number of decisions and recommendations and I have supported most of the recommended policy changes he has made to the Personnel Advisory Board on which I serve. I believe that his contract requests were presumptuous at best and excessive at worst; thus my public statements against funding his PhD and allowing him to cash out his emergency leave upon departure. I should, however, make a greater effort to ensure that my public criticisms do not overshadow the appreciation I do have for his work.
Describe one of the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your life, and how you worked (or are working) to overcome it.
My greatest life challenges are trivial compared to those of so many around me. When I consider their suffered losses, financial burdens, life-threatening illnesses and other serious hardships, I simply cannot take credit for the blessings in my life. At each and every turn, the Lord has provided me with exactly what I needed in the form of support from family, friends and even complete strangers. Through both word and deed, they encourage, guide and inspire me.
What are your thoughts on Red Light Cameras (RLCs)?
I appreciate the arguments both for and against the cameras. The two arguments that are of greatest concern to me are the claims that they increase rear-end collisions and deter people from visiting or moving to Oak Ridge.
I believe that the camera contract will be up for renewal sometime this year. As a member of council, I would require city staff provide the data for each of the four locations from the last 3 years of operation. Specifically, I’d be interested in the rear-end collisions that occur as a result of sudden stops.
In conjunction with those figures, I will request that city staff also provide us with alternative solutions appropriate for each location. I will also require that a full accounting for the revenues gleaned by the cameras be provided. I don’t have definitive numbers but I do know that they’ve brought in over $1 MIL. That would cover the cost of a pedestrian bridge from the high school to the civic center which we’d previously been told was too costly.
You can read about my past efforts to protect our kids during their commutes to and from school here. See the fourth story down, for my thoughts on them in 2009. I am most concerned about the high school crossing because, as I’ve personally witnessed, between 75-100 students cross there daily during the school year. I will not allow them to be put back into the kind of danger that I saw three and four years ago.
For additional information on my positions and efforts in Oak Ridge, click on any of the following