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Dandridge, Tennessee

April 02, 2012

"Awe, Somebody Find It Already?"
Staff Photo / Boys & Girls Club County Wide Easter Egg Hunt - Saturday, March 31
Jefferson County's Growing Pains

Where We Are And How We Got Here

Jefferson County unemployment numbers for the first two months of 2012 show that the County is still well behind the State and Nation in the steps toward full economic recovery. January saw a 12.4% unemployment rate and February numbers are not significantly lower, with Jefferson County posting a 12% unemployment rate. The State of Tennessee had a rate of 8.2% in January and 8% flat in February. Surrounding Counties that are also a part of the Greater Metropolitan Statistical Area of Morristown, which include Hamblen, Grainger and Jefferson Counties, are all seeing faster recovery in unemployment with Grainger
and Hamblen numbers for February coming in at 11.2 (Grainger) and 9% (Hamblen). Recovery in Knox County is far outpacing Jefferson County, showing a 6.1% unemployment rate for February.

Though Jefferson County is obviously lagging behind its neighbors in terms of unemployment numbers, the news is not all bad. Though recovery is slow, unemployment numbers are dropping in the County. Jefferson County had a 13.3% unemployment rate in the second month of 2011 and is showing a 1.3% improvement in the same month of 2012. According to EDOC Director Brad Maul, sales and lodging tax numbers are strong, with Jefferson County outpacing State and National Numbers. The disparity between the unemployment rate and the sales tax numbers are just one of the anomalies in the County. Generally, the expectation is that increased unemployment results in fewer purchases. Because Jefferson County currently acts as a bedroom community, or suburb, of surrounding larger metropolitan areas such as Knoxville and Morristown, some of the current unemployment numbers could be attributed to an absorption of the unemployed from the larger metropolitan areas that the County borders. In essence, during the 18 year growth boom of the 1990’s to the beginning of the recession in 2008, Jefferson County became a target residential location for those who desired to live outside the metropolitan areas of Knoxville and Morristown, however continued to be employed in those areas. During the initial growth years, the influx of residents in Jefferson County did not, largely, intend to seek employment inside Jefferson County. The number of residents that are employed outside Jefferson County makes up more than 50% of the County’s employable citizenship.

According to census information, Jefferson County had less than a 2,000 person residential growth during the decade between 1980 and 1990. From 1990 to 2010 Jefferson County has experienced a 46% population growth, which is astounding even in the quickly growing South. During the decade of the 1990’s statistics show that much of that growth was in the form of young families seeking a suburban lifestyle to raise young children. School populations in the County grew at astronomical rates as young families opted to work inside the metropolitan area, but purchase homes in Jefferson County. Most did not intend to seek employment in the County, however those families, and their now adult children, are counted in the unemployment numbers that are attributed to Jefferson County.

In addition to young families, the millennium brought an influx of retirees to the area. Though most of these relatively new residents are not seeking employment, they do make purchases locally and are a strong contributing factor to the healthy local sales tax in the County.

Jefferson County is now in the process of making yet another demographical change in as few as twenty five years. The young families that were the norm of the 1990’s in Jefferson County are aging out. The 25-40 age group that was once the core of the County is now the smallest demographic. Jefferson County is currently reliant on property tax to fund its infrastructure, which took a hit with the two decade growth boom. The County did not address the future needs of their growing population in the early growth years and it is now experiencing the growing pains of the boom years. In previous years, Jefferson County’s citizen base did not require huge industry growth to meet employment needs. Industry recruitment is a slow process, coupled with the serious economic decline since 2008, Jefferson County is struggling to catch up with the ever changing needs of its residential base.

The Jefferson County Commission is working to put into place a capitol growth plan that will look 20 years into the future. EDOC Director Maul is engaged in procuring industry for an immediate band aid for employment needs and is hoping that the County government will focus efforts on a future plan that will put Jefferson County in a position to drive the move to the mid century, rather than being caught unaware by a staggering demographical shift. Maul is acutely aware that the County is ageing and that the needs in the County will change with the demographical columns. The County must position itself to meet the challenges that it now faces, so that future shifts will not result in an uncontrolled spiral. Though the infrastructure, from a industry recruitment position, is fairly good, the County must now make deliberate steps toward a common goal. County owned property is a necessity to attract industry, however, Maul cautions that it must be a well thought out purchase on the part of the County. All locations are not equal for industry purposes and making a purchase that is not marketable is not a good use of recourses. Maul is also aware that the County must present an educated work force in order to attract industry. Educated does not necessarily mean college educated, however it does include technical reading skills and basic math skills.

With the rise in gas prices, many people are making home purchases close to their employment. The viability of remaining only a bedroom community of the County’s large bordering cities is no longer reasonable. The influx of new residents to Jefferson County has been minimal during the last three years, with building permits falling from 463 in 2007 to 62 during 2011. While the County is now experiencing the growing pains of the boom years, deliberate steps in the next decade, including a capitol projects plan, considerations of available industrial growth needs and expansion and recruitment, should allow a continued slow and steady recovery.

Black Bears Are Back

Two Bears Sighted Locally

Jefferson County may be set to experience another banner year for bear sightings. Though the calendar reads that Spring is only two weeks old, unseasonably warm Winter weather and the early Summer like temperatures that Jefferson County has been experiencing for several weeks has brought out Jefferson County’s resident bear population. Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency considers Jefferson County to be one of a handful of counties in the region that has a thriving residential bear population. In years past, bear sighting were infrequent in the County, however, last year sightings were plentiful around the local area. Only two weeks into Spring, Jefferson County has already had one bear struck and killed on highway 11E and one bear trapped on highway 113 in White Pine and relocated to the National Park.

Longtime Jefferson County and Regional TWRA Officer Wayne Rich stated that this is as early as he can remember bear encounters in the area. Officer Rich said that locals need to be aware of bear attractors, such as garbage and pet food. Bird seed is a favorite of bears, as they like to feed on sunflower seeds. Officer Rich and TWRA continue to caution residents that it is detrimental to the bears to feed them, as they become accustomed to being in the proximity of humans which leads to their relocation or demise.

If the early bear encounters are any indication, Rich and his TWRA counterparts will have another busy year maintaining the balance between Jefferson County’s residential bears and locals. Residents should never approach a bear and should contact TWRA about bear sightings in the area.

Washington DC Holiday Extends Tax Filing Date

Deadline - April 17th

Some Jefferson County residents are still counting the days left to file their income tax returns on time and this year they are getting a two day extension from the April 15th deadline, thanks to a little known holiday. The District of Columbia, or Washington DC, will celebrate Emancipation Day on April the 16th this year. That local holiday, coupled with April 15th falling on a Sunday, will afford procrastinators a little extra time to complete filing. According to the Internal Revenue Service, citizens must file their tax returns by midnight on April 17th 2012 to be considered as filing on time. Those that are unable to complete their return should file a request for an extension by the midnight April 17th deadline. More and more citizens are filing their returns electronically and that trend is likely to increase in the coming years. It is important to remember that deadlines still apply even with electronic filing. Financial Advisors caution that last minute filing can lead to last minute mistakes, which can be costly, and suggest that tax payers should try to have their taxes filed by Friday, April 13, 2012 to allow time for any mishaps that might occur in either electronic or regular mail filing. Professional assistance is still available in income tax preparation and those under a benchmark income are allowed certain benefits, such as free e filing and assistance.

Though April 16, 2012 is a holiday in Washington DC, it is not considered a Federal Holiday and local banks and government offices will be open for business during their regular business hours.

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