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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Recap of city election forum

Here’s some highlights from Tuesday’s city election forum hosted by the Oxford EAGLE at the Oxford Conference Center.

Alderman Candidates

What is your view of the city’s efforts to manage parking around the Square? Should Oxford move forward with funding a new parking garage near the Square? 

Jay Hughes: I’ll make a clear decision without a parking commission without another committee in order to move forward … A parking garage is what we’ve earned, what we deserve to alleviate those problems.

Ney Williams (i): A motion has been made to go to three hours and it’s being considered. I say let’s move ahead with three hours as soon as possible.

E.O. Oliver (i): We established this commission to look at it, to see what they can come up with … A multi-level garage is another whole ball game because you have to fund that somehow and I don’t know if the citizens or businesses are ready to fund something like that. We do need to increase the time limit … from two to three hours.

Robyn Tannehill: Most would agree a parking garage is both necessary and imminent. It them becomes where do you put it and how do you pay for it. The current parking program … is a Band-Aid … We need to make arrangements for them to do that comfortably … Parking should be increased to three hours.

Ulysses “Coach” Howell (i): We have a parking problem and that’s good because everyone likes to come to our Square to shop. I’ve seen people driving around and around several times trying to find a spot. We purchased additional parking for 107 spaces. But I think eventually we will have to build a parking garbage but even a parking garage won’t alleviate our problem. But that’s a good problem to have.

Arnold Pegues: The need for a garage has been discussed for many years. Paid parking is a no brainier. Never should have been … What’s it’s causing is having people to move their cars … If we want to have people in our city and feel comfortable the worst thing we want to do is have them worry they have to go out to move their car.

Ron Shapiro: We all know what has to be done and the people who work on the Square all day long have to be shuttled to work … We want this town to prosper and we want parking spaces … Each business should be given a certain number of passes for their employees.

Carol Flemmons: Businesses need to have their opinion. They’re the ones who draw the young people in … Business and community need to sit down and talk and work this out. We can walk onto the Square, we need the exercise more anyway. Should be limited parking.

Preston Taylor (i): We’re working on the problem. We just got 107 new places and looking into a parking garage. One day we’re going to have to have one. We’ve really been working to make parking better around the Square.

 

Does Oxford need to control its growth and if so, how?

Hughes: What I believe we need to do is embrace it and not chase it … We need to adopt latest building codes and remove politics from the building department … the planning department … and the historic preservation department. We need a dedicated code enforcement officer … I’d love to see a grocery store in downtown again.

Williams: Oxford must have the city services to manage (growth). We do. We have expert city planners ….great sanitation, electric … public transportation. City has necessary sewer and water and other services to meet the challenges of growth. We acquired Bell utilities in order to do this … I’m going to work, to continue to make Oxford one of America’s greatest and most charming small towns.

Oliver: People want to come to Oxford. Therefore they want to retire here and raise children here. We’ve created a great community … I don’t know how we can control growth, but what we can do is provide the services necessary for the growth.

Tannehill: We need to plan for our growth … Growth got a negative wrap lately. Doesn’t have to be that way. If we’d plan a head for it and embrace this growth … We are blessed to be in a community that’s moving forward … Oxford can’t stay just like it is. What we need to do is plan so we can preserve the things we all treasure.

Howell: Believe it or not growth will happen in this town and this town can’t remain the way it was 20-30 years ago … We’ve got to start thinking about annexation … Move outside of our city limits and enhance that growth but first there’s got to be a need.

Pegues: We need to be more proactive in our governing actions … We need diversify growth … To control growth, to monitor growth, you solve problems now, you don’t put them off … Let’s be proactive not reactive. Do the things we need to do now so we can embrace growth.

Shapiro: I think what we have to do is really emphasis our community and the culture that is here … We also have to have a look at the regulations … We cater to the well-to-do … I don’t think we’ll the growth we need which is the total population … Make it so everyone has a chance … I’m not anti-growth I just want it to be fair.

Flemmons: Ain’t no stopping us now. Oxford is growing. Growth is good, brings businesses and more jobs.

Taylor: We have to plan our growth and get the infrastructure in … Plan your growth and get everything in order it’ll be easy to lead into the growth. Infrastructure has to go in. We’re so lucky to have people come here who hate to leave. We’re going to have to plan.

 

What are you views on the culture of alcohol in Oxford? For instance, should sales be increased to include all Sundays; extended bar hours; cold beer?

Hughes: It’s 2013 and I am genuinely amazed we are still having this discussion. It is legal to drink in Oxford. The board has already decided it’s legal to drink on Sundays. If adults want to drink responsibly, they should be allowed to do so, regardless of whether the Rebels played football the day before … I would support cold beer as well.

Williams: The issue of cold beer never came up during this term of office, but I like my beer cold … After I got elected, we had several requests to extend hours … I heard the strong opposition of this from significant majority of Ward 1 residents … My “no” votes reflected the will of the constituents who opposed this. As to Sunday sales … I just don’t think we need to take that any further at this time.

Oliver: This last go-around a new compromise to see how this would work. Obviously it has worked. We’ve had few complaints. I think instead of having a crowd of folks like this, we ought to consider a referendum … If it’s seven days a week, whatever but I think that’s the best way to handle this thing.

Tannehill: I do know Oxford is a tourism destination … We promote come to Oxford for a three-day getaway. We’re not a three-day getaway because most of Oxford is closed on the third day of the getaway. If sales were allowed then restaurants would be open … gives visitors more options, residents more options … we’ll see more shops open as well.

Howell: If you read the newspaper you know how I stand on that subject … If we’re going to move to Sunday, I’m totally against it. We should keep the Sabbath day holy … I don’t have a problem with (cold beer) at all but let’s keep the Sabbath day holy.

Pegues: We sell the coldest whiskey and coldest wine in the county. But we say we don’t want to sell cold beer because of rapid consumption. But if you’re a diehard beer drinker you’re going to drink it anyway. We are actually increasing the chances of DUI on Sundays because you can go to Batesville, New Albany to get it and drive back here … it’s a no brainer to me … Ideally you would put (Sunday sales) to a vote. Put it to a referendum.

Shapiro: Ajax has 60 employees and if you take 70 restaurants in Oxford that’s 4,000 people … Alcohol encourages places like City Grocery where they can do things with interesting foods and brings in bands that wouldn’t be allowed to be here on Sunday. The reason Oxford is at the point it is today, is because of alcohol … The 4,000 employees went before Board of Aldermen and asked to have Sunday sales and they were turned down and I think that is wrong.

Flemmons: I’m not too familiar with alcohol but my brother is … I think you can go one day without drinking. But if elected, I’m willing to listen to each side and the businesses. I know Christians drink beer as well as sinners.

Taylor: We are losing some revenue from people going to Marshall County … When they were having discussions on Sunday sales, I voted for the comprise having it on holidays and that’s worked out pretty well. I felt the compromise is pretty good. I represent Ward 5 and they had some input into this. If we go back to include all Sundays, I’d get back with Ward 5 residents and then I’d come up with a decision.

 

In a recent study, Berkley Young suggested the Oxford Convention and Visitor’s Bureau should not control certain events, such as the Double Decker Arts Festival, nor should it oversee the management of historic homes like Cedar Oaks and L.Q.C. Lamar. Do you agree with this and what ways could we increase tourism?

Hughes: I agree with the study. Government is best in providing the basic services infrastructure and quality of life issues we need … City government is not designed in the running of historic homes … As it’s been done so far, it’s resulted in a financial burden … Comes as an expense for tax payers. I do think there are better things we can do to increase tourism … look at it in a proactive way. We need to extend these three-day weekend visitors.

Williams: Tourism director works diligently on Double Decker. Berkley Young has many good suggestions. We may eventually have to pass the baton on who does Double Decker but in the meantime, the board needs to help the director in anyway we can … Tourism a great vibrant economic engine to Oxford … I’d even consider additional funding to tourism … We gave the Hampton Inn some tax abatements in public’s interest and now our conference center has a hotel that’s adjacent to it.

Oliver: Tourism is doing well … sales taxes are up … We need to concentrate on the surrounding 400 miles or so. We need to draw these people in. Oxford is a great weekend destination getaway … redirect some of these funds toward attracting these people to come in during the year.

Tannehill: I do think (Double Decker) has become a bigger job than tourism can manage in its current structure … I do think we have to evaluate what the tourism council is structured to take care of … It may require some additional staff to manage the festival … I think we need to develop some other ways to manage our historical buildings … We should do a feasibility study on Cedar Oaks to understand other options for that building so it isn’t a tax burden.

Howell: Oxford used to be one of the best kept secrets around town. Now the word has gotten out. People come here and they never leave. They retire here … We’re in the world can you go someone can run out of gas on the highway and police stop to give you gas?

Pegues: Tourism Council has done a fantastic job but it now needs to take more of a roll of an overseer, facilitator and allow another entities to come in and take over the event. Diversify tourism is what we need to look at … Partner more with Ole Miss … offer a total package of things. We have so much going on we don’t acknowledge … We could look at all types of options.

Shapiro: I think the tourism council does a great job and I’m all in favor of keeping (Double Decker) with them. One of things I’d like to do is when you receive your utility bill have something in there where you can tell us what you think. I don’t think we’re tapping the citizens enough. We’ve become a bicycle friendly town. We could have big bicycle events. There’s so many things we can have here that other places are doing.

Flemmons: That’s a hard question. This is my first time running for office and I don’t know everything so I’m going to have back to you on that. We got plenty tourism right now. Double Decker brings in a lot of people. Oxford, O-Town we say, we’re on the map as it is.

Taylor: We have Double Decker … and FNC … we have some old homes. People like to see the old houses. Oxford is a real tourist town. Now we’re getting the Burns Church — beautiful. So much here to see. So much history in this town.

 

Mayoral Candidates

As mayor, you are responsible for overseeing the budge process for the city. What would be your budgetary priorities?

 Pat Patterson: Our finances couldn’t be in better shape. If it wasn’t in good shape, we’d be raising taxes or we would be laying people off, but we haven’t. We’ve done an excellent job managing money. It’s one of my strengths. I admit to not being the most graceful person in the world. But I also have a gift for budgeting and expenditures and I feel I’ve put them to good use, along with the Board of Aldermen. We’re in good solid, financial shape. We have a double AA credit rating and $30 million in the bank.

Jason Plunk: It’s as simple as balancing a budget. We have a police department that simple needs more money … We’re losing good police officers because they can go down the road 30 minutes to simply make more money. Things like a take-home police car for any police officer who lives in the city limits … to have a take-home car makes your city seem safer … Balancing a budget to make improvements we need. There’s a few departments that have too much money … Givin the opportunity, need to move some money sideways.

Todd Wade: One of the biggest things in Oxford now … One of the issues I have where we’re losing money, things like parking. Our silly parking system we have on the Square right now is, as of today, if you average out the numbers … will be over $100,000 we’ve lost in an attempt for ticketing people. And that’s something that’s unacceptable. Managing historic houses, losing money like that. We need to come up with … sensible solutions and look for ways to cut back.

 

Currently, the city’s $30 million from the sale of Baptist is being invested and is expected to give the city about $1 million in interest each year to spend on whatever projects it wants to fund. What projects would you like to see this interest money used for? 

Patterson: That trust fund will serve this city for generations to come. We’ll have $850,000 to spend this year. There’s a number of ways it could be spent. We could lower taxes. We could pave more streets … There are many, many ways we could invest it. But the point is, if we handle it correctly, it will serve us year after year, after year, and grow and grow and grow. We’re proud of what’s been accomplished there.

Plunk: A down payment on a parking garage would be good. Paving the parking lot to get 107 additional space, I’d like to see that tomorrow. We need some more lights on our streets … We need to light our streets up a little more and make it a little bit safer because like the students or not, they’re keeping a lot of the restaurants and businesses alive here and they’re making their way to Square … We need to make it a safer environment for them to get home.

Wade: We continue to sit back and not address major issues. We’re growing at 4.5 percent a year … We couldn’t handle a long time ago. Since I’ve come back to Oxford, the town has doubled in size but the infrastructure hasn’t been there with it. From poor planning and things we haven’t addressed. Annexing land is expensive … but you can bring in the tax revenue if you do that. But you also have annex areas of all diversity … It’s going to cost money but it’s something we have to address.

Growth: Does Oxford need to control its growth and if so, how?

Patterson: Oxford’s going to continue to grow. This is the 2020 plan and it was instituted in 2000 after dozens of meetings … This is our guide. In 2006, we redid our land use plan. This is the guide we use every day. We meet continually to talk about planning. To say we don’t plan is simply to lack the facts. Eighteen months ago we updated our 2020 plan. It shows what we’ve done, it shows what still needs to be done and what doesn’t need to be done anymore.

Plunk: We’re way behind on 2020. I’d be curious to find out how much of that book since 2000 we’ve actually done. Every time we need to control everything there’s a committee formed and the committee goes behind a door .. comes up with some sort of recommendation which goes to the aldermen and the aldermen look to see if they want to follow that and next thing you know, they forgot what the problem is. We need to put new ordinances in now.

Todd Wade: (Shows a map) This is from the Vision 2020 plan. These black lines are proposed new roads but the majority of them have not been built. It’s 2013. This was from 2000? These issues have not been addressed. We’ve continued to kick the can around but no body has done anything about it. That’s alarming … Wait two-three years from now and we’re not going to do enough just to address the traffic.

 What are you views on the culture of alcohol in Oxford? For instance, should sales be increased to include all Sundays; extended bar hours; cold beer?

Patterson: Make no doubt about it, I’m opposed to extended bar hours. Ask yourself, what does it serve the character of your community to leave a bar open past 1 a.m.? What does it serve the character of this town to do that … Maybe possibly quit serving at midnight and allow some time for people to consume what they have and then leave in staged. I’m not sure that’s a bad idea. As far as cold beer is concerned, I don’t oppose it either. For Sunday alcohol sales, I would love to preserve just some sliver of the character that’s left on our Square. Without NFL football blaring on Sundays and it going wide open. We’re close enough to the Beale Street and Bourbon Street reputation now.

Plunk: Cold beer in a store, sure why not. It keeps people from driving 20 minutes and back. If people want a cold beer on Sunday, it’s a convenience for people. If you don’t want a cold beer on Sunday, then don’t have one. Nobody is forcing your hand. Extending bar hours? I have an idea … Right now at the bewitching hour, not only do you have to close, you also have to have all drinks up and patrons out. What does this do? It puts 10,000 people in the middle of the street. Why can’t we try to OK no more serving at 12 but leave it allow open and people in side, finish their cocktail, stay inside, call the designated driver and catch a cab. We should at least look at the letting the bars stay open.

Wade: I’d like some consistency … whether it’s 12:30 or 1, just keep it at that. Don’t change it Thursday, Friday, Saturday. No different than Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I don’t see how our country was built and how you differentiate between which days of the week you decided to have the government tell you what to do. The administration already passed it and now we have kind of a half deal where you can some days and holidays. But the issue is, the businesses on the square cannot operate like this. There’s no point for them standing open. You’re losing tax dollars from that but consider the employee. What about the persons in the kitchen who needs those hours, you’re telling them no? You can’t do that. That’s unfortunate. The hotels, when they’re losing people it hurts Oxford. But it’s not up for the government to decide this. It never was.

What is your view of the city’s efforts to manage parking around the Square? Should Oxford move forward with funding a new parking garage near the Square? 

Patterson: Forty years ago, Mayor John Leslie and his board were the last group to change parking. They did away with meters and change direction of the Square. We realize the problem got worse and worse. Three years ago, we formed the Downtown Parking Commission and I’m not ashamed of opening government up … We asked them to look at capacity and enforcement … We addressed capacity by purchasing the Belk property … It’s always been a two-hour time limit — that’s not new at all. It’s a work in progress. We do have all the answers? Heck, fire, no … Ultimately we have to build a garage, but you have to build one without raising taxes.

Plunk: I can tell you what that Jeep Liberty has done. We’re losing way too much money and it’s gotta go away. But it’s allowing their to be additional spaces on the Square and business owners are inside and selling their wares and don’t really get a chance to go outside … it’s creating spaces for customers to get there. It’s a whole lot of money. But we need to find a better way to create some sort of way to do this. We need a parking garage … I can’t believe we don’t already have one. If we have to charge people to park there, they’ll absolutely pay it.

Wade: A revenue bond is very easy. Also, if you’re going to charge people that can pay for the revenue bond. When tax payers can actually see what their tax dollars are going for, other than the imaginary Jeep that keeps driving by and your tax dollars go away … that money could have been going toward a parking garage down payment. There’s plenty of different ways to do it. Sacred cow from the $30 million you could pay it off. That’s one option if you want to do it fast or you can do the bond. The longer we wait the more expensive it will become. (May 1, 2013)

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