While it may or may not be the case legally that the .5% raise in county sales tax in 2006 superseded the Oak Ridge 2004 .5% raise, it seems to me clear that the expectation of the citizens of Oak Ridge by a 76% majority was that any monies accumulated and distributed to Oak Ridge, city and schools, as a result of the last .5% sales tax should be used to pay off the cost of the high school renovation. That those monies should be dedicated to that purpose until the high school debt was entirely satisfied.
It seems to me evident that the schools concurred with that expectation when they paid over to the city, for the retirement of the high school debt, all the funds which accrued to them from the last .5% sales tax both before and after the county’s action. For the schools to suddenly in 2011-2012 decide that, oops, they really shouldn’t be paying for the debt is unethical and childish. In what universe do people of honor decide that they don’t have to pay for what they bought? (I forgot. People who went to college on loans from the rest of us are deciding that very thing right and left.)
Now we find ourselves in a bind. The owner of the buildings (we citizens of Oak Ridge) cannot and would not ever evict this tenant for failure to meet their obligations. Our children are a precious and wonderful treasure on whom our own quality of life depends as much as their own. I believe the only fair and reasonable arbiters of the .5% commitment are the citizens of the city of Oak Ridge. I believe that we must enact a referendum asking the citizens what their expectations are.
Ms. Agle, a tireless and dedicated servant of the schools, has remarked on the reduced income from Oak Ridge sales tax. It seems to me that the schools are lucky that the county decided to apply the .5% universally. The bottom line is that the schools have received a greater amount with which to make their contribution to the debt payment than they would have had the .5% applied only to Oak Ridge. The citizens and the city council realize full well that the schools have had to tighten their belts. The city has had to tighten its belt. The citizens, to the dismay of many, are faced with belt tightening on behalf of the city, in addition to all the other ways in which their income has failed to keep up with the cost of essential goods.
We do not need to argue between the serving bodies nor do any of us want to deposit this in the lap of lawyers and judges. Let’s either agree to continue to dedicate all income from the last .5% sales tax, city and schools, to the retirement of the high school construction debt. Or, let’s take it back to the people.
Oak Ridge has been justifiably proud of its education tradition for many years. Like every other school system we are facing difficult challenges to funding and operation. We have a greater percentage of children needing more and different attention as our demographics change. We have aging buildings. We have new immutable, sometimes illogical, and often unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments.
I am interested in hearing from you about any city issues. Our collective ideas are our greatest asset.