County approves funds for center’s deficit in FY21

Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center

The Manchester City Finance Committee met Oct. 28 in a special call meeting to recommend how the city should move forward concerning the operation costs of the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center.

The committee recommended to send to the full board of Mayor and Aldermen an ordinance that recommends the city covers the full operating losses of the conference center in the amount of $29,000 per month. The ordinance will have to pass the full board as soon as Nov. 2. It would also require approval from the county.

The finance committee is comprised of Alderman Mark Messick, Alderman Bob Bellamy and Mayor Marilyn Howard.

Currently the operating costs are split between the county and the city, but the county officials have pushed for a deal allowing them to end the agreement early if the county can pay off its half of the bonds on the contract. This would leave the city to pay for the costs of operation at the conference center.

Center’s management headed by Rebecca French presented how much money the center typically needed on a rebuilding year to a great year basis. French’s presentation also listed the benefits of having the center around to the board with data presented by MTSU highlighting the increase in tourism and tax flow that has occurred since the center’s inception.

The number that was agreed upon as a baseline for when the city board meets with the county again to finalize the county’s continued future with the center was $29,000 per month.

As city attorney Gerald Ewell pointed out when the number was being discussed, “All I need from the board is to agree on what price needs to be made for the operating cost of the center. The price has to be paid either way so going higher or lower later is irrelevant so long as we have a baseline to present to the county.”

Alderman Ryan French explained that, “The county has all of the leverage and it’s through the hard work of the committee that the conversation even got to this point.”

His wife, Rebecca French was transparent with any costs that may come up in the future that may increase that number monthly with the most pressing issue possibly being replacing the air conditioning system though that isn’t concrete.

The motion for setting the operating costs to be discussed at the next meeting was passed unanimously among committee members.

Mayor Marilyn Howard said that she feels that further negotiation could result in a better deal and did not want to rush it through.

She asked for the opportunity to go back to the table and discuss could the county cover the overhead through June or at lease March or April. The finance committee made a motion and seconded and approved a resolution in front of the board on Tuesday that the city would assume the cost of operation as of Jan. 1.

The next regular meeting of the Manchester’s Board of Mayor and Alderman is on Nov.2 at City Hall at 6:30 p.m.

According to the members of the meeting, the committee sees the situation as choosing between taking over the center, shutting it down or selling it. Closing the center was seen as a backward step for the county.

The debt of the building should be paid off by summer, Alderman Bill Bellamy noted. The money spent on those payments could be used to cover the losses of the conference center.

According to 2019-2020 budget, the city originally allotted $135,000 for the center, but that was amended to $285,000.

The Public Building Authority (PBA) owns and operates the conference center.