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Oak Ridgers, Harriman leaders oppose tax hike

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By Damon Lawrence

An Oak Ridge resident with a home appraised at $100,000 will pay an additional $16.23 in taxes if a property tax rate increase is approved by the Roane County Commission.  

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“The people that I’ve talked to don’t feel that we get our money’s worth in services,” Commissioner Steve Kelley said.

“The people in the Oak Ridge portion of Roane County do all their business in Oak Ridge.”

Kelley is the only Oak Ridge resident on the commission. During a public hearing and commission work session last week, Kelley listened to County Executive Ron Woody explain why Oak Ridge is facing a tax increase.

“I think Mr. Woody has done a good job explaining it,” he said. “I don’t agree with all the numbers.”

If approved, the increase would give Oak Ridge a tax rate of $1.97 per $100 valuation.    

“I don’t know yet how I’m going to vote,” Kelley said. “It’s a complex subject, and the answers aren’t simple.”

Commissioners are expected to vote on a budget and approve the tax rates for the 2011-12 fiscal year during the regular monthly meeting today (July 11) at the Roane County Courthouse in Kingston. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Property owners in Kingston, Oliver Springs, Rockwood and Harriman are also facing a tax rate increase under the proposed budget.

Rural taxpayers could get a slight reduction.

“The cities is really getting shafted on this,” Harriman City Council member J.D. Sampson said.

Sampson and other members of the Harriman City Council addressed county officials during the public hearing.  

“I’m opposed to the tax increase on the city,” Lonnie Wright said.  

A Harriman resident with a home appraised at $100,000 will pay an additional $11.23 in taxes if the $1.99 property tax rate for the city is approved.

“I think in our decision on the budget, we need to keep in mind that we’re not taxing the cities, we’re taxing individuals,” Commissioner Ray Cantrell said.  

Woody said Roane County’s debt is driving the tax increases.

“Is it a surprise?” he wrote in a newsletter to commissioners. “Prior administrations and commissions borrowed money for industrial parks, jail, computers, furniture and buses. We have been given the bill. We will pay the bill, but we must have additional revenue to support debt service. All residents are paying this debt.”

Woody said cuts in services for the rural residents and increases in the debt tax balances out.

“City residents’ services have not been proposed to be cut and debt tax must be increased,” he wrote, “thus, a tax increase for the cities.”  

Commissioner Ron Berry said the discussion at the work session made it hard for him to get a read on his colleagues.   

“From what I’ve heard, we’re either going to have a lot of amendments Monday night or we’re going to pass it with no trouble or we’re not going to pass it,” he said. “I’m having a hard time trying to get a feel for where we are on this thing.”

Commissioner Nick Forrester predicted the budget will pass with some amendments. Commissioner Chris Johnson said amending the budget concerns him.  

“Are we going to be able to come together here Monday and make an educated decision or are we just going to through out some, I’d like to amend this, I’d like to amend that without any study,” Johnson said. “I’m just a little concerned about making amendments without having a chance to study.”