Oxford Council Has Its Plate Full of Issues
Oxford Town Council pulled double-duty last evening, with back-to-back sessions at Town Hall.
The Committee-of-the Whole Meeting accepted September reports from the Fire Department, the town’s new Municipal Physical Activity Leader, and the CAO/Administration activity report.
Councillor Chrystal MacNutt, speaking for the Recreation Commission, assured councillors that Santa and Mrs. Claus would be present for the town’s Christmas Parade, scheduled for November 25th this year.
Council also held a special council meeting to deal with a slew of policy updates affecting internal procedures around staff who work alone and after-hours, the use of the town’s VISA credit card, violence prevention, and tax and water collection.
Much of the evening’s discussion took place on the topic of a proposed reduction in the number of councillors elected to represent Oxford residents.
In the last regular election, Oxford was unable to present a full slate of candidates, resulting in a by-election at a cost of approximately $10,000.
At last month’s regular meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Linda Cloney was asked to investigate how other municipalities with only four councillors are faring, particularly those that have downsized from a larger council. Cloney provided statistics on comparable towns in the province by population, showing that some communities with double Oxford’s size are being served by a smaller council, apparently without any significant challenges.
Councillor Paul Jones said if Council is reduced to four, the honoraria saving should be distributed among the remaining councillors. He noted that Oxford is among the towns with the lowest council compensation. Jones noted that in any event, an increase in honoraria before the next election would help in attracting more candidates.
One of the arguments brought forth for a reduction in the size of council is to streamline committees, with broader mandates but fewer meetings.
Mayor Henley noted that with the move to a CAO administrative model, Council should be offloading much of the decision-making to Cloney who can operate under the guidance of Council.
Deputy Mayor Arnold MacDonald was more cautious, expressing concern that it would be difficult to ensure a sufficient diversity of ideas and opinions with fewer representatives, a scenario which he says might make it “easy to form a clique”. Any absentees, according to MacDonald, would affect deliberations at Council.
Councillor Chrystal MacNutt felt that so long as the option for attendance by videoconference exists, any physical absences could be addressed. She reminded council that at one point this year, she participated virtually from her vacation in Cuba.
On the matter of ensuring Council had a quorum for decision-making, Cloney noted that Oxford’s municipal regulations require a majority of those councillors present, not a specific number, and felt that having four councillors plus the Mayor would be sufficient to conduct business.
Councillor Brenton Colborne felt that the status quo of six representatives is a better option than reducing the size of Council. He suggested a decision be deferred until the next meeting, to provide the CAO with time to research the matter of honoraria paid to other councillors throughout the province, and to give the matter further thought.
The final issue of the evening facing Oxford Town Council was the matter of property tax deadlines. Mayor Henley asked Council to approve a one-week extension (from September 30th to October 7th) for residents to pay their property taxes, due to the disruption caused by Hurricane Fiona. Council approved that extension.
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