Busy Night: Two Oxford Meetings in One
A longer night than usual for Oxford Town Councillors, as they gathered for not one, but two meetings last night. The regularly-scheduled Committee-of-the-Whole meeting kicked off the evening, followed by a special meeting to review the town’s financials leading up to the Spring budget.
Apart from the usual department and committee reports, the COW meeting featured two presentations.
Cumberland Public Libraries Director Denise Corey was present to review the organisation’s annual report and talk specifically about the Oxford library operations.
Corey noted the branch had 418 active users, about 35 percent of town residents — a bit higher than the 30.8 percent usage rate in the county overall.
She spoke about the challenges faced by the local library with its move from Water Street to new digs on Rideau Street (the former Oxford Journal building) and adjusting to somewhat smaller spaces.
Corey noted that the Amherst branch recently welcomed a local author in a public meeting that drew nearly one-hundred audience members… something Oxford’s smaller facilities would be unable to host.
Mayor Henley noted that he is an avid user of one Library service — borrowing e-books through the “Libby” app. Corey suggested he look into “Hoopla” — another service offered through the library that includes movie streaming.
Corey said your local library is an important resource for folks who are finding internet access too expensive, offering free Wi-Fi service and computer access to the community.
Beyond books, Corey listed the many other things Oxford’s library brings to the community, including electronic resources, accessible materials, “happy” lights for people dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and even the loan of snowshoes!
She said the library is still distributing COVID tests to anyone who wants them, noting they’ve stopped counting after distributing nearly 140-thousand rapid tests in Cumberland since December 2021.
There were two representatives of the Property Valuation Services Corporation — the not-for-profit body that prepares assessment lists for municipalities — were on hand to explain their work and what Oxford can expect this taxation year.
Paul Beazley and Rod Tremblay, the Director and Assistant Director, respectively, of the PVSC, told Council the total assessed value of properties in the community comes in at 110.5-million dollars this time around.
Both residential and commercial properties saw a rise for the current assessments, with Oxford benefitting from new home construction and housing sales, with 42 properties changing hands in 2022.
Assessments were mailed to Oxford residents earlier this month, and the deadline for any appeals is coming up very soon — by midnight on February 9.
Beazley noted that before the pandemic, some 77 percent of Oxford residential properties were capped to the Consumer Price Index, while this year that figure is up to 83 percent. Even with the caps, the local housing market should reflect a better taxable stock for the town.
New Fire Chief Bruce Rushton and Deputy Chief Kyle Purdy were on hand to deliver the department report, citing six emergency callouts in the month of January, all outside of town limits, and four of those involving motor vehicle accidents.
Rushton says that Oxford volunteer firefighters put in over 230 collective hours including calls, meetings, training, and work sessions, a number he says doesn’t cover the actual hours of commitment when you also consider equipment, gear and truck checks.
The Fire Chief had some good new to share with council: income through the Nova Scotia Firefighters 50-50 raffle enabled the purchase of a new heavy-duty commercial clothes washer for the Oxford station. Installation is planned for the near future. That equipment will ensure that there are no delays in having firefighting gear cleaned between calls.
Also good news for the department: with funding from the provincial government, the Oxford station is purchasing a new industrial generator that will be able to run the entire station during power outages and major weather events.
Chief Rushton invited members of Town Council to drop in on training sessions at the fire station so they might have a better understanding of the commitment made by our volunteer first responders.
The public works crew had a busy January, despite the generally mild winter so far.
Equipment repairs and maintenance kept workers busy, as they try to get ahead of challenges with some of the snow-clearing equipment before another storm arrives.
The crew was tied up for several days recently dealing with an ice storm that knocked out power to the water utility wells in East Leicester.
Public Works is also dealing with the challenge of broken water meters, with the source for replacements all but dried up.
Chief Administrative Officer Linda Cloney expects delays of several weeks to obtain new meters, which are also in demand for the new houses being connected to the system.
Municipal Physical Activity Leader, Jimmy Ward, is keeping folks moving in town and at Town Hall.
Ward is preparing a Workplace Wellness Policy to ensure a healthier workplace for town employees, including efforts at reducing stress.
In terms of general physical activity, the town now has a Wednesday evening walking group led by Susan Rector, departing from the gazebo at 6:00 pm nightly, with plans for a daytime walk to start in April.
There are also free fitness classes — cardio and senior’s activities — scheduled to begin soon at the Oxford Fire Hall.
Oxford has benefitted in recent years from very active volunteers, and many of them are working on the town’s Recreation Commission. Residents are encouraged to check the commission’s social media for upcoming activities, including basketball and pickleball for adults at the Oxford school gymnasium.
Oxford is still lacking a representative on the All Saints’ Hospital Community Health Care Foundation committee. CAO Linda Cloney says anyone interested in being involved in this very important committee should reach out. Mileage will be paid for those who attend the meetings in Springhill.
Special Council Meeting
Following the Committee-of-the-Whole meeting, Mayor Greg Henley convened a Special Meeting of Oxford Town Council with one agenda item — the presentation of the town’s draft financial statements covering 2021—2022.
Alida Mitchell and Be Napier of “Assurance & Advisory Services” were present in council chambers to walk the town’s representatives through pages of expenditures and revenues for that fiscal period.
The long and the short of it: Oxford benefitted from keeping most budget lines on track, and from unexpected windfalls with a doubling of municipal transfers from the province and the gas tax.
All of that contributed to a surplus of some $390 thousand dollars that will be put into town reserves to cover future projects.
The town’s capital projects are only affordable if the town has sufficient reserves to qualify for matching funds from the provincial and federal government programmes.
Oxford’s upcoming capital projects include sewer and water line replacements along Main Street, and subsequent paving once the work is done.
Council is continuing its behind-the-scenes deliberations for the upcoming spring budget.
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