Liveblogging Council

At the request of Mr. Young, who had requested rezoning of 110A Newell Lane, the rezoning of that property (from R-1-A single-family residential to RG-1 — allowing horses) was removed from the agenda.

The Oak Ridge Boys — Steven Arcangeli, Scott Horton, and Scott Molony, who won the Siemens competition — led the Pledge of Allegiance. They’re on tap to be honored by a Council resolution in a few minutes.

A new ordinance was presented and passed to require a motor vehicle to be properly registered before operation on city streets, and to require that any person operating a motor vehicle have his or her driver’s license in possession, and to display it upon demand of a police officer. I think that’s already law, but by making it a city ordinance, the city can now collect the fines for associated violations.

A resolution approving the City of Oak Ridge "2007 State and Federal Legislative Agenda" was passed. The scope of the legislative agenda is in the Council packet, here. Tom Beehan expressed grave concern about the cable TV franchising proposals, as that could endanger the agreements that currently allow for broadcast of City Council meetings, School Board meetings, and channel 15 (dedicated to the schools) in general.

Next, the item we’ve all been waiting for — a resolution authorizing the City of Oak Ridge to borrow funds in an aggregate principal amount of not to exceed six million dollars through the issuance of General Obligation Bonds. It doesn’t mean that they will borrow those funds — just an authorization to do so should all the stars line up with the GBT/SuperTarget proposal. Jim O’Connor clarifies that the City WILL NOT present any funds toward the project until and unless a contract is signed with Target in particular — as well as the City’s getting the names of the companies that will be co-locating there. Having learned from the Mall fiasco, no money will be released until the City sees the actual contracts with actual tenants, along with a long enough lease term to support a reasonable return on investment.

The City funds will really be a reimbursement, so the site development will actually occur prior to the release of any City funds.

Abbatiello is concerned that the resolution that Council is presented, does not name the particular project. O’Connor explains that further Council approval will be required prior to the release of any funds, but that if another project came forward, the funds could be redirected to any other infrastructure improvements project. Abbatiello says it’s misleading that all the GBT/Crestpointe people are here, but that the resolution isn’t specific to that project.

Abbatiello says he hasn’t decided whether he’s for or against this project (then gee, why does he sound so grumpy?). He says we’re not talking about Crestpointe, not talking about Target, not talking about the map on the screen. Abbatiello says we’re simply talking about whether to go further into debt.

Beehan says he feels like the Target project is the reason we’re here. The financial studies do show there’s good reason to consider this proposal, even at the cost of additional debt. Of course, the financials are all estimates, but they’re very good estimates — industry standards, not something that GBT made up. Further, the TVA study shows leakage of $20M going outside of town to shop now.

Our whole economy inside of Oak Ridge is heavily reliant on others in our region; just look at the license plates on cars at Wal-Mart, at Methodist Medical Center, etc.

Beehan asks why this development is not taking place at the Mall. O’Connor says they’ve looked at the Mall, at the old Food City shopping center on Illinois, at a site on Edgemoor Road, and on the east end of Oak Ridge. The Mall is impractical because of the deed restrictions; Edgemoor Road because of the wetlands; the Food City center is too small (they want complimentary retailers adjoining).

Although Pine Ridge is a difficult (and expensive) site, it’s the only unrestricted 60 acres along Illinois Avenue.

The GBT rep (Greg?) clarified that this proposal isn’t only about Target — this is a whole development of upscale retailers. Whee!! Upscale!! I know that doesn’t excite one segment of the population, but there are a whole lot of us out here who might actually buy something not made in China. Some of us actually look at the fiber content and thread count of sheets before we buy them. But don’t think it’s a snob thing — the Target circular I read while throwing away junk mail today contained a bunch of real bargains.

Steve Jenkins shows the chart, once again, showing the relationship between sales and property taxes. When sales taxes revenues increase, property taxes decrease. When sales tax revenues decline (as they have for several years), property taxes go up (as they have, or services were cut).

Jerry Kuhaida (former Mayor) finds the resolution confusing. O’Connor clarifies that a second resolution will be presented to Council on March 19, authorizing disbursement of up to $10.5M to the IDB to further this project. Even if this resolution passes tonight, additional resolutions will be required.

Steve Jenkins says we don’t anticipate actually borrowing any money until much further in the process; we don’t want to begin paying interest any sooner than we have to. We have our own reserves, so we’ll be using those funds before borrowing anything.

Fred Stephens says he hopes we do get a Target here, but he doesn’t think we have to do it right now — they should be able to proceed and give us time to solicit some assistance from the County. He thinks it’s too much money, and we can get a better deal. Stephens also asks why National Fitness Center’s property tax is lower than projected, and how we could be that far off from last August.

The answer to the first question is that getting into Target’s decision queue is driving the time frame. On the issue of assessed value vs. development cost, the property value is driven by a State formula, which incorporates values of like properties all over Anderson County. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what they invest — in assessing retail property, it’s based more on comparables than on actual investments. However, this development will drive up the assessed value of all retail property in the county.

This meeting is going very long, already. It’s about 90 degrees in the Council room. Wish I had an iced cappuccino.

Emily Wetsel speaks next, complaining that the resolution is nonspecific — for "infrastructure development" — when we all know we’re talking about the Crestpointe development. She accuses the City of getting it’s financial information from Target, complains about the impact on her neighborhood (Woodland), traffic, etc. She wants an opinion from someone who’s unbiased, obviously still angry about the "scalped" ridge.

Mayor Bradshaw clarifies that the State requirements for a municipal bond resolution are very specific, and this resolution is structured in accordance with State law.

Tim Holt speaks next, spouting the same stuff as before — sounds very much like DFET (Democracy for East Tennessee) has structured their talking points and lined up their speakers. It’s been going around on their listserv already.
Bill Schamm, the guy who promised a referendum, comes next. He decries a public subsidy for a private corporation. He wants Council to call for the referendum (so he doesn’t have to put on the petition drive).

Francis Colvais sees this as another opportunity, and says he hopes that we don’t lose it. Finally! "I don’t view this as a rush; there’s been a lot of work put into this. It’s already flattened — let’s put it to good use."

Ellen Smith, Council Candidate, urges Council to defer the vote in order to consider the borrowing resolution in conjunction with the development proposal. She feels this is the wrong proposal for Oak Ridge, in spite of the pent-up need for additional retail. She says this proposal isn’t about Target, and thinks we can bring Target here on our own terms.

Glenn Zahn says he’s "very for" this process going forward, that it is the right thing to do. As the owner of a staffing company, he sees the inability or delay in making decisions as being a detriment to a business owner. He asks about the potential for getting the County to contribute, and Mayor Bradshaw announced that they plan to participate in a work session next Tuesday on this very topic. However, the Mayor clarifies that we’re already capturing 75% of what would be County property taxes to defray the bond issue, but they may be able to do more.

Parker Hardy, as President of the Chamber of Commerce, tells of working with GBT over several years, engaged in a site search involving a variety of possible locations. Oak Ridge is in the third year of declining sales, a 5.9% actual loss is spendable dollars for Oak Ridge. It’s reasonable to assume that this development would recapture some of the sales tax leakage, and he urges Council to move forward.

Chris Wieland urges Council to slow down and re-think funding this process, pointing out the current vacant retail areas.

Ray Garrett supports the idea of subsidies or support for retail development. Although he’s not certain that the present proposal is the right one, he does ask Council to go forward with the bond resolution and do something… maybe buy the mall and lease it out at the minimum rate in order to get retail in. Another thought is to buy the property along Illinois where there used to be a sawmill, a driving range (and a dump before that).

Jim Cape points out that just a few years ago, he thought that Home Depot would be a dumb idea. He was wrong. The second critique he’s heard is that of geology, but Home Depot overcame that problem. The third concern he’s heard is the $10.5M, but this isn’t a housing development — it’s retail, generating money for schools and city services. "I think you’re voting for the future, and we need it very much."

Thomas Tucker insists that people from Solway and Hardin Valley are NOT going to come into Oak Ridge, because the traffic is too heavy (he lived in Solway for 16 years). He claims that the "real cost is $21M, not ten and a half."

Elizabeth Davis says her family came here for the schools, and found what they were looking for. The growth in Oak Ridge is "heartwarming." Oak Ridge is a "little southern," moving at a slower pace. She expresses her gratitude for the Council’s work on this project, and urges them to move forward.

* * *

Bradshaw: the actual assessed property value is up 20% since 2000, and the tax rate was reduced 7 cents. We’re no longer at the top of the list in property tax rates. However, operational funding for our schools is a continuing issue, as well as the expressed dissatisfaction with our lack of shopping opportunity. Because school funding is so closely tied to sales tax revenues, our lack of retail is hurting the City and the schools. We’ve got to re-learn our shopping habits.

We’ve got to be serious and reverse this trend.


8 thoughts on “Liveblogging Council

  1. Yeah, but as you mentioned, this is just the opening salvo.
    I’m still amazed that so many of these people are so against loosening up the pursestrings.
    Excellent coverage, NM. You rock.

  2. Great job. I was unable to attend but feel like I was there. Thanks for keeping us so well informed.

  3. Thanks for the live blog. I am in St Louis and Chicago this week but it really felt like I was able to attend.

    How do we get on that listserve?

  4. CN, I’ve sent that info to your Gmail address. I think they kicked me off the list, because I haven’t gotten anything in the last few days (but I know it’s still circulating).

  5. Good job, couldn’t decide to watch the Lady Vols or read this in play by play. Very interesting reporting. A hard paper copy from a newspaper, or on line edition could not have done better. A broadcast over the air waves would have been good to listen to but the color analysts would not have been much count.

  6. Jacket, there’s a good reason I don’t do broadcast media by choice: a face for radio and a voice best suited to print. Appreciate your compliments, though; it was actually pretty fun trying to keep up, post a paragraph, then immediately go back to editing the next sequence.

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