Monday, December 4, 2023

UPDATE>> Catering Manager at Conference Center Questions Possible Closing

The catering manager for Taylor Grocery, which serves the Oxford Conference Center, believes that city plans to possibly close Conference Center operations are misguided and wrong.

Butch Scott contacted to express his strong disagreement with opinions expressed by the mayor and some city aldermen that the operation at the Center is a “sinking money pit” — in Scott’s words.

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“The center is not funded from the city’s general fund but from the 2 percent food and beverage tax that is levied on all prepared food and beverage within the city of Oxford,” Scott said. “This tax is added to every person’s tab who eats or drinks in any restaurant or bar in the city of Oxford. The sole purpose of this tax is to promote tourism.”

According to Scott, 100 percent of the Oxford Conference Center’s funding comes from those taxes collected to promote tourism and not from the city’s general fund.

City officials, who requested not to be quoted directly, tell that tourism tax funds are indeed used to subsidize the Conference Center’s activities. They explain that should city departments ultimately be moved to the location, those operations would be paid for out of the city’s general operational budget.

One official added that tourism tax dollars are strictly regulated and that those funds would only be allocated toward tourism-related activities.

Experts in the convention business have told that very few conference or convention centers in American towns Oxford’s size operate in the black.

Scott says his view is that small-town conference centers such as the Oxford operation have a mission to bring events to the city that will fill hotel rooms, restaurants and local shops. He believes the Oxford Conference Center has fulfilled that mission.

“I’m the first person to support local law enforcement officers,” Scott added. “If that means they need a new building, by all means give them the resources they need to continue to carry out their mission of protecting the citizens of Oxford.”

But Scott questioned whether tourism tax dollars should be used for this purpose. “Never once have I had or heard anyone say, ‘I’m visiting Oxford to interact with the police department.’ The use of the Oxford Conference Center for any other purpose than promoting tourism is wrong.”

The longtime Oxford businessman added that if Oxford leaders decide the best use for the Conference Center is a new police department, “So be it.”

He suggested that 10 years of bond payments made using tourism tax money should be given back to the tourism council to use strictly for the purpose it was collected — promoting tourism.

But city officials say the bond payments must be paid regardless of who occupies the space and that tourism tax dollars won’t be used to finance any organization that is not involved in promoting tourism.

City officials say that fact-finding is underway and no decisions are imminent on the Conference Center’s fate.

Andy Knef is the editor