City to spend $2M on extra projects

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thanks to Oxford being a place where people love to come to eat and drink, the city of Oxford is helping to improve the city with various projects funded by the 2 percent food and beverage tax.

Throwing in more than $1 million from the earnings of the city’s $30 million investment from the sale of Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi, the Board of Aldermen has more than $2 million to help fund “wish list” items from various city departments.

Mayor Pat Patterson met with the aldermen Tuesday during a budget hearing at City Hall to meet with various department heads to go over their proposed fiscal year 2016-2017 budgets.

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Also during that meeting, Patterson presented the aldermen with preliminary figures of proposed projects that could be 

funded through the 2 percent food and beverage tax and the Baptist funds.

The Food and Beverage funds have some limitations, however, and need to be used on projects that help spur tourism or make improvements to areas that draw tourists.

Of the $1.5 million available from the Food and Beverage Tax, the largest chunk, $500,000 is proposed to upgrade the fields at FNC Park with new artificial turf, that would cost the city less over time in upkeep than grass and provide for safer fields with less mud after it rains.

Other proposed items/projects from the 2 percent tax include: a sweeper trucks for $225,000; a viewing pavilion at the John Leslie Tennis Facility for $100,000; a new pocket park on the corner of Price Street and North Lamar Boulevard where the former central fire station currently sits for $75,000; improvements to the Powerhouse for $40,000; $20,000 toward the L.Q.C. Lamar Foundation; $40,000 toward Phase 2 of making Woodlawn Park into an Audubon park; $25,000 for improvements to the stage area where the Skipwith Cottage was previously located next to City Hall and $60,000 for police equipment to be used on the Square during busy weekends.

Projects being considered from the $1,081,697 from the Baptist funds include $80,000 toward widening the Jefferson Avenue and North Lamar intersection; $175,000 toward realigning Azalea Drive and adding a traffic signal; $40,000 for sidewalks; $60,000 for stairs leading to the walking trail off Longest Street; $250,000 to upgrade the College Hill and McElroy Drive intersection; and $180,000 toward a new recycling building.

Woodlawn Park discussion

Most of the items were met with little opposition or discussion by the attending aldermen, other than the proposed  $40,000 toward Woodlawn Park. The city has budgeted $240,000 in previous years for Phase 1 of the park that will provide for a half-mile walking path, a driveway and about five parking spots. The total projected cost for the entire park is about $2 million and would be done in continued phases.

“At $40,000 a year we’ll be doing this for 50 years,” said Alderman John Morgan.

Alderman Robyn Tannehill said to justify spending that much on a neighborhood park, there would need to be a broader purpose for the park. The city has been in talks with the National Audubon Society in creating an Audubon park at Woodland Park, which could encourage tourism.

Katrina Hourin, one of the city’s planners, said the park would be more than just a “neighborhood park.”

“We’re talking to Audubon and we’ll see what that looks like,” she said.

Remaining funds will be used to help fund some of the “wish list” items from city departments that would be in addition to the regularly proposed budgets.

City leaders are working with a $27 million budget and Patterson reported preliminary figures show a projected ending cash availability at the end of this fiscal year of almost $5 million.

“We are truly blessed, y’all,” he told the aldermen.

About $300,000 of the ending cash will go toward giving all city employees a 1.5 cost of living raise.

The aldermen will continue reviewing the budget throughout August and will vote on the final draft in September.

Presenting budgets for fiscal year 2016-2017 Tuesday were:

•Planning Department: $441,140, down $83,000 from the 2015-2016 budget

•Financial Administration: $3,794,743, down 1.40 from the 2015-2016 budget

•FNC Park: $1,331,768, increased from $1,162,349 from the 2015-2016 budget

•Historic Properties Commission: $103,000, no change from 2015-2016

Other organizations

The city also helps support several organizations that provide a service to the city but do not solely rely on the city to fund their entire budget. Those organizations presenting their annual requests Tuesday were:

•The Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library, asking for $314,000, the same amount as last year’s request

•The Oxford Conference Center, asking for $69,242 from the 2 percent Food and Beverage Tax, a decrease from $222,279 request from this year. Director Hollis Green said the center has taken in enough revenue, $1,219,242, to fund most of its budget.

•Yoknapatawpha Arts Council requested $45,000, same as last year

•Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society, asking for $135,000, the same as last year