This week, city council selected Chuck Hope to fill Tom Hayes’ vacated seat. I applaud Chuck on his win and thank the city for giving me the same opportunity to apply. I share the following statement I made before city council with the public because I intend to expand my focus in the coming year towards finding real solutions for our city’s financial woes.
I love Oak Ridge and I very much want to still be living here in 20-30 years. Ideally, I’d like for my children to visit us with our grandchildren in the home they grew up in. At the moment, Oak Ridge is a great place to live and work, but unless we aggressively address reality, this town will not survive.
The realities that we must face are:
- Address our debt problem – we have over $168 million in issued bonds and appear on track to borrow even more.
Congress is currently debating raising the national debt ceiling. Oak Ridge has no ceiling, per se. We continue to borrow without restraint. We must draw the line on debt.
- Lower our ranking from being one of the highest taxed cities in the state
Despite the argument that our tax rates are competitive with other regions of the country, the truth is that a tax rate is one of the few indicators that potential residents use to identify desirable places to live. Until we do something about our tax rate, we will continue to be a less desirable choice -sight unseen- to the very residents we desperately need to attract.
- Fight to become self sustaining
Small and large towns alike across the country and throughout history die off from complacency. We are foolish and doomed to the same fate as places like Detroit if we do not strategize to relentlessly pursue autonomy through reinvention
- Reverse the trend of declining revenue by identifying real value efforts, not just those that feel good
There are essentially two things that keep a town alive: taxpaying citizens and profitable, taxpaying businesses. City government should, therefore, establish standards to attract and retain both of these and hold every beneficiary of taxpayer funds accountable for their contribution to meeting this goal. As you have recently done with the visitor’s bureau, you must also do with Chamber, the lobbyists, the schools, and all city departments. Establish measurable benchmarks and tie their funding directly to their success or failure. Identify what works and what doesn’t and then reduce and redistribute revenue accordingly.
Our problems are by no means simple; it took us a long time to get where we are and it is going to take a long time to get out. I am encouraged by the changes that have occurred over the last year with the arrival of Mr. Watson. It is my hope that council will ride on this momentum and unite in attacking our bigger issues of debt, high taxation and declining revenue.