Friday, September 22, 2023

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Oxford Town Council Faced a Hefty Agenda
Mark Rushton
/ Categories: News

Oxford Town Council Faced a Hefty Agenda

Oxford Town Council squeezed a lot of business into an hour-long session at Monday evening’s Committee-of-the-Whole.

From the usual slate of department reports, we learned that painting the town crosswalks should start before the end of May. This was an issue of major concern last year when the town was unable to secure a supply of the special paint required. Public Works Supervisor Nick Purdy noted that as the asphalt reaches a minimum temperature for paint to stick, Pat Rushton will be contracted to do the job.

The Oxford Transfer Station is once again experiencing people breaking chains, cutting locks and, otherwise entering the site outside operating hours. CAO Linda Cloney says these incidents have been captured on security cameras and reported to the RCMP. She notes some of those involved have been identified as non-residents of Oxford, and these incidents are likely the result of the Transfer Station’s enforcement of transfer site user cards. Cloney says there are people picking through the garbage at night for scrap metal, which represents a safety and liability issue for the town.       

The Fire Department had a busy month of April, with nineteen emergency calls, five of those within the town limits. 

The firefighters also had a spectacular training session in mid-April, with a controlled burn of a condemned house on the Pugwash Road. 

Councillor Chrystal MacNutt asked Fire Chief Bruce Rushton if this is a service that could be provided to other homeowners in need of disposing of a dilapidated building. Rushton said there is no charge from the department, but there are permits and insurance costs that the homeowner would need to cover. He noted that the department would also need to ensure that a given property could be burned safely.

The department has updated its training and firefighters are now responding to “time critical” medical emergencies. Chief Rushton says with ambulance wait times up to an hour, the department’s assistance “is even more important to our residents, our families, and each other.”

In recreation, Oxford continues to develop a broad and very active series of programmes with Municipal Physical Activity Leader (MPAL) Jimmy Ward organising events to keep folks on the move. Building on the strong volunteer spirit in the Recreation Commission, the town held activities to recognize Volunteer Week and Earth Week, the latter featuring a community-wide cleanup and a friendly competition with a prize basket from local merchants. The family of Padraic and Tabitha Moore had the winning entry.

With activities ranging from book clubs for youths and adults, Zumba, Baseball and Pickleball, improvements to community recreation infrastructure, and new attention being given to the community gardens, Oxford has something for everyone looking to be active this summer.

As part of “Nova Scotia Walk Day” (Wedesday 10 May), the walking group led by Susan Rector will be doing two outings, 1 and 6 PM, with the afternoon walk ending with snacks and a surprise at the Oxford gazebo.

In financial news, the Oxford held a tax sale last week. Originally listing six properties, two were removed when property owners paid the taxes owing. Of the four remaining properties, three were sold. The fourth, says Linda Cloney, will likely be put up for a sealed bid sale in the fall, at a lower reserve price in an effort to recoup some of the outstanding taxes. Under the Municipal Governance Act, the first effort to sell must attempt to earn the full amount of taxes owing, with Council allowed to authorise a reduced price in subsequent sales attempts.

Senior Accountant Ruthann Brookins reported to council that this tax sale process substantially reduced the amount of outstanding taxes owed to town coffers. Prior to publishing the notice of a tax sale for six properties, there were actually 16 properties in arrears that could have ended up on offer. 

Town staff worked with owners of ten properties to bring them up to date, or entered into a payment plan, bringing the outstanding taxes from around $331-thousand dollars last September, down to about $72-thousand dollars. Brookins says there are no outstanding accounts older than 2017 on the books now, apart from the one that did not find a buyer at the tax sale.

Town staff and councillors are also finishing up discussions on next year’s budget. Brookins noted the financials to date are looking good, with unexpected increases in revenues and lower expenses putting the town in a good position with regard to surplus monies and reserves for anticipated capital projects. 

She noted planned capital outlays last year were lower in part because projects could not be completed with the Public Works team understaffed. Specifically, some work on sidewalks remains to be done, and should be rolled over into this year’s capital works plan.

Mayor Greg Henley commented that the Town is seeing a $149-thousand dollar surplus for this year’s water utility budget, while the operating budget, says Brookins, is around $147-thousand dollars. Both of those surpluses will add to the capital reserves to fund much-needed infrastructure work in the coming year.

An issue that pops up on Council radar from time to time appeared again at the Committee-of-the-Whole meeting, as Councillor Paul Jones suggested the honoraria paid to the town’s elected representatives be raised to match that accorded to other municipal councillors in the province. The CAO said they have the approximate figures for the compensation provided to elected officials in towns of similar size to Oxford. In 2022–2023, Mayor Greg Henley received a $9,022 honorarium, while councillors were compensated around $5,000 dollars each, for a total of approximately $25-thousand dollars (the final total compensation will be slightly lower, since one council seat was vacant for several months).

Jones suggested raising the honoraria in two stages, in each of the next two budgets prior to the next municipal election, so that there isn’t a large jump in that last year.  Jones suggested that the low compensation may be a reason why it has proven difficult to find residents willing to run in municipal elections. 

Councillor Brenton Colborne, in contrast, said Jones “may be right”, but “people would be coming here for the wrong reasons”. Councillor MacNutt commented that “you have to have a volunteer mindset. It can’t be a money-making perspective, but at least not a money-losing perspective.” The matter will be discussed again in a future council meeting.

The Oxford Community Centre project, aiming to break ground in July on the site of the former Oxford Regional High School, continues to move through the many processes needed to make the new building a reality.

Council approved the amalgamation of seven lots that make up the area designated for the initiative. The property of the former school had been divided into ten lots several years ago to make way for homes under the Habitat for Humanity project. The organization fell into disarray after completing two homes along Little River Road, with the third home just now nearing completion. With no firm plans for future Habitat houses, council decided the land would serve the community centre project instead.

The Oxford branch of the Cumberland Public Libraries reported an active month, with 271 in-person visits and over 800 items loaned out to patrons. The local library is also now distributing feminine hygiene products, under a $25-thousand dollar grant awarded to the county library to address “period poverty.” A study from 2019 estimated some 34 percent of woman and girls in Canada had to make budget sacrifices “occasionally” or “often” in order to afford menstrual products. This library initiative aims to help women and girls who struggle financially when fulfilling their personal health needs.

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