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The Big Picture

More on Census data

Census data have been slow trickling in. I posted earlier about Oak Ridge’s total population and housing occupancy data, which were the only statistics available. I’m very curious to see the neighborhood-by-neighborhood breakdowns (they are available to computer techies, but haven’t been output in a user-friendly form yet). However, there’s information on ethnicity.

Oak Ridge’s minority population (anyone who identifies themselves as either Hispanic or something other than “white”) increased from 14.1% in 2000 to 18.2% in 2010. For comparison, in 2010 minorities were 28.8% statewide.

The biggest increase among minorities in Oak Ridge was in the Hispanic population, which grew from 529 (1.9%) in 2000 to 1,348 (4.6%) in 2010. It’s difficult to accept that this is an accurate count —  it seems to me that the number of Hispanics here has gone up by more than 819 people. Tennessee as a whole was also reported to be 4.6% Hispanic in 2010. This is well below the national statistic of 16.3% Hispanic.

The “Black or African American” population of Oak Ridge has remained pretty steady. It was 2,239 (8.2%) in 2000 and 2,362 (8.1%) in 2010. For comparison, the state statistic for 2010 was 16.7% and the national statistic was 12.8%. The “Asian” population grew from 2.1% in 2000 (576 people) to 2.5% (732 people) in 2010. This is higher than the Tennessee state percentage of 1.4% but less than the national percentage of 4.8%.

The city’s minority population also includes 3% who listed two or more races, 2% who claimed “some other race” (possibly including people who refused to classify themselves or entered something like “human”), and 0.4% “American Indian or Alaska native.” We’re above the state and nation in the “two or more” category (1.7% of Tennesseans and 2.9% of the nation list two or more races), below the state average of 2.2% and the national average of 6.2% for “some other,” and above the state statistic of 0.3% for “American Indian or Alaska native” but below the national value of 0.9%.

I can’t pretend to know what all this portends for Oak Ridge — for now, this is just a collection of data. However, while Oak Ridge continues to be somewhat “whiter” than the state and nation as a whole, the census statistics support the impression that our city’s “minority” populations are large enough that people of almost any ethnic background (including children adopted from overseas) ought to be able to find others that they can identify with. I think that’s a good omen for the city’s future.


I know where our water comes from, and it is good!

I got e-mail suggesting that Americans should find out where their water comes from in honor of World Water Day (today, March 22) and to help us watch out for our families’ health. It seems that many people don’t know. I do know where our water comes from — the Clinch River. The intake is on Melton Hill Lake, about a mile downstream from the Solway Bridge, and the treatment plant is on top of Pine Ridge near Y-12.

The US EPA requires drinking water suppliers to report annually on the sources and quality of their water — some people find it odd that the city mails its annual water quality report to residents each year, but it’s because of the federal requirement, which is supposed to give consumers confidence in their water.

Oak Ridge enjoys good quality water, but maintaining that quality does depend on good decisions (on watershed land use, for example) and sensible behavior by our city and our upstream neighbors, as well as a continuing public investment in things like treatment facilities and delivery systems.


Loss of DOE cleanup funding averted?

I’m tickled about the news that the big cuts in DOE’s 2011 Environmental Management (i.e., environmental cleanup) budget for Oak Ridge that were rumored to be in the proposed budget have been averted. Frank Munger’s blog tells about Representative Lincoln Davis’ role in restoring funds to the yet-to-be-announced budget. Three cheers for Lincoln Davis!

Cleanup budgets have been lean in recent years (less than necessary t0 meet previously negotiated regulatory commitments). Cutting the funding even further would not only have caused a lot of job losses, but would have required East Tennessee to live even longer with the negative legacies of the Manhattan Project and Cold War.

I hope that the funding restoration remains intact as the proposed budget moves through Congress…


Whither retail Part 2 – the 3/50 Project

The 3/50 Project is giving us all a simple recipe for preserving and promoting commercial activity in our communities: pick 3 independently owned local businesses that you would miss if they disappeared, and spend $50 each month at those businesses ($50 divided among all three). The basic idea is to commit a total of $50 each month to locally owned independent businesses.

The promoters point out that the money spent in independent local businesses returns more money to the community — in taxes, payroll, and other expenditures — than the money spent in big-box stores and franchises. (And the return to the community is infinitely greater than when we spend our money in out-0f-town businesses or online.) Ideally, it also means that local retail areas thrive because they contain one-of-a-kind independent businesses that  customers seek out. (This is particularly important for older shopping areas — like Jackson Square and Grove Center. )

All this is consistent with the concepts of a sustainable local economy and a sustainable environment — for example, the Oak Ridge Environmental Quality Advisory Board‘s draft climate action plan calls for “increasing the local velocity of money” (basically, keeping more money in the local economy and moving it around faster) as one strategy for making Oak Ridge more self-sufficient — and thus more sustainable. With the Jackson Square and Grove Center merchants, Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, and several other local businesses signed on as supporters of the 3/50 Project, it appears that different elements in the community are all together on this.

Thinking about the 3/50 concept, I quickly realized that some independent local businesses that are important to me are unlikely to get my business every month. For example, I’m wearing shoes that came from Edwards Shoe Store and I drive a car that was last serviced at Chuck’s CarCare Center, and even though I value these two businesses, I’m unlikely to spend money with them every single month. On the other hand, in any given month I’m likely to spend $50 or more divided between several independent local eateries (places like Homeland Food, the Magnolia Tree Restaurant, Mediterranean Delight, the Flatwater Grill, and the various Mexican restaurants). Most people are likely to have different “threes” in different months — and spend more than $50 in some months.

I’ve also pondered a bit regarding some of the 3/50 Project’s criteria  — for example, the idea that locally-owned franchise businesses don’t qualify because they have advantages, like preferred vendor lists, specially negotiated vendor pricing,  and a regionally/nationally recognized brand name, that true independent businesses lack. Franchises are less in need of customer support than truly independent businesses. However, if my goal as a city leader is to maintain a vital retail sector and keep money in town, I have to care about the success of locally owned franchises —  partly because they are more likely to succeed (and thus provide a stronger retail sector).

For me, the key idea of the 3/50 Project is that we consumers need to be conscious of where the money we spend is going to end up — and try to make spending decisions that keep more of that money in the local economy. I like having one simple message that tells us to do all that.

I hope that our local independent business owners will return the favor by paying attention to customer needs and wants (different operating hours to better serve two-earner households? offering special ordering to better meet customer needs?) — so we will have more and more reasons to spend our money with them.


Election results are in… (November 2008 edition)

The election returns are in, and I’m elated by the election of Barack Obama. He will be inheriting a country that has serious problems, but between his pragmatism and his amazing ability to inspire people, I am hopeful that he will provide the leadership America needs.

The Oak Ridge City Charter Commission election results are also in, thanks to some late evening work at The Oak Ridger (thanks to Donna, John, Darrell, Carmen, and Leean). Although the newspaper’s headline says that “Status quo candidates” won, it appears to me that the reality is that voters elected the individual people (or at least the names) that they knew and respected best: Gene Caldwell, Pat Postma, Leonard Abbatiello, Chuck Agle, and David McCoy from the ORION list and Virginia Jones and Pat Fain from the CDAR list. I hope that these 7 people will recognize that they were elected primarily for who they are — not necessarily for the platforms they campaigned on — and that they will fulfill the public’s trust by undertaking an open-minded evaluation of the pros and cons of various arrangements for electing our local government.


Surrealism in city hall

Monday evening’s City Council agenda included several resolutions to authorize sale of municipal bonds in order to refinance some of the city’s debt at lower rates of interest. (Oak Ridge recently attained a very favorable bond rating, making it possible to borrow at better interest rates than the city was able to get earlier.)

Two weeks ago, when the agenda was being drawn up, the proposal to refinance some debt looked pretty mundane. After the financial crisis that has unfolded over the past 9 days, though, it felt downright surreal to be talking matter-of-factly about selling millions of dollars’ worth of bonds.

Here’s hoping that “normal” returns to our money system soon…


Oak Ridge has a Barnes & Noble store!?!

In the midst of Oak Ridge’s continual community gripefest about the dearth of retail, I discovered today that there’s a Barnes & Noble outlet right here in the Atomic City .

OK, it’s “just” the bookstore at the Roane State Community College campus, but it’s still a Barnes & Noble store…


Comparing property tax rates

Today’s morning newspapers both had articles (Oak Ridger: 13-cent tax hike projected and News Sentinel: Stagnant development behind OR tax increase) describing Steve Jenkins’ presentation at yesterday’s meeting of the City Council Budget and Finance committee, and both reported (based on a table included in Steve’s handouts) that Oak Ridge has the 4th highest property tax of Tennessee’s cities, “trailing only Memphis, Humboldt and Knoxville.”

There’s no denying that Oak Ridge’s property taxes are high in comparison with most other places in Tennessee, but it seems to me that that comparative ranking of property taxes levied by municipalities is misleading. Because of differences in which unit of local government provides various services, a comparison of local property taxes is not meaningful unless it also includes the property taxes paid to counties, as well as to special school districts where those exist. Comparing tax rates in municipalities that operate school systems and police departments (to name just two areas where municipalities differ) with tax rates in municipalities that leave these services to the county is not like comparing apples and oranges — it’s like comparing the cost of a full-course meal at one restaurant with the price of the main course (or even just the appetizer) at another eatery.

When total local property tax burdens are compared, it turns out that Oak Ridge has more company near the high end of the list, and the smallish West Tennessee city of Humboldt drops even farther down the list. According to the state comptroller’s office, the cities and towns in Tennessee with the highest combined local property tax rates (equal to or greater than the rates paid by Oak Ridgers) are as follows:

  • Memphis (Shelby County) – $7.4732
  • Bartlett (Shelby County) – $5.63
  • Germantown (Shelby County) – $5.63
  • Knoxville (Knox County) – $5.50
  • Collierville (Shelby County) – $5.37
  • Chattanooga (Hamilton County) – $5.356
  • Oak Ridge (Anderson County) – $5.33
  • Millington (Shelby County) – $5.32
  • Humboldt (the portion in Madison County) – $5.30 (most of the city is in Gibson County where the combined tax rate is $3.78)
  • Arlington (Shelby County) – $5.09
  • Oakdale (Morgan County) – $4.98
  • Lookout Mountain (Hamilton County) – $4.954
  • Henning (Lauderdale County) – $4.95
  • Bristol (Sullivan County) – $4.95
  • Signal Mountain (Hamilton County) – $4.929
  • Oak Ridge (Roane County) – $4.92

Viewed that way, it seems that Oak Ridge has more company than those newspaper articles suggested.

Note that this is not a comparison of total local tax burden. Notably, it does not include local sales tax (which is at its highest possible rate in both Anderson and Roane counties) or the wheel taxes that are levied in many Tennessee counties (not including Anderson and Roane). For example, without the $55 wheel tax in Metro Nashville Davidson County, Nashville’s total property tax rate likely would be a good bit higher than its current value of $4.69.


Oak Ridge 4th of July fireworks canceled

I’ve gotten word that the fireworks show planned for tomorrow evening (the 4th of July) has been canceled due to unforeseen problems. :-( Added: See WBIR-TV for details.
The City of Oak Ridge has procured the fireworks, so the show will go on some time later this year.

Added July 3, 2008: Lest anyone is confused, the 2008 fireworks show is a “GO” at Melton Hill Lake! See this blog post and this website for more details.


Why Crestpointe won’t prevent people from continuing to shop at Turkey Creek

Tim Holt has submitted a letter to the editor about a statistical analysis of shopping centers. This post is borrowed/modified from his to-be-published letter…A 1996 paper by by two university researchers, published in the Journal of Real Estate Research, examined the question: “How Critical Is a Good Location to a Regional Shopping Center?” The research used data from 38 regions containing multiple shopping centers and considered several primary variables believed to affect center’s success, including shopping center size in square feet, distance to the customers, and customer income levels.

A multivariate statistical analysis yielded the finding (surprising to the researchers) that a shopping center’s success was very strongly dependent on the center’s size and only very weakly related to distance from the customer. The study’s summary states:

The goal of this paper is to empirically measure the consumer utility trade-off between store location (i.e. distance to a shopping center) and retail agglomeration (shopping area size) in regional shopping centers. Using the Lakshmanan and Hansen retail expenditure model, our findings reveal that the distance specification is of surprisingly little importance in explaining retail sales. Conversely, agglomeration economies were of significant importance in explaining consumer patronage at regional shopping centers. The implications of these results is that smaller regional shopping centers may be dominated by large super-regional shopping centers with the smaller one or two anchor regional shopping centers unable to compete with the larger, many anchored super-regional shopping centers.
What this means for Oak Ridge is that (while additional shopping opportunities here would benefit local residents and increase sales tax collections) a moderate-sized Target-anchored shopping center in Oak Ridge (that is, Crestpointe) will never beat the giant Turkey Creek shopping complex at its own game. Oak Ridgers (and others) will still be drawn to the larger shopping center…

It is unrealistic to plan for the future with the expectation that a new shopping center that features some of the same stores as Turkey Creek will succeed in keeping Oak Ridgers away from Turkey Creek, or will attract droves of customers from Hardin Valley and Solway.