Tough Measures to Balance the Oxford Budget
Between a rock and a hard place — that's where Oxford town councillors found themselves this past week, following last Monday's presentation of a draft operating budget that proposed shutting down the community rink for the coming season. It's been closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 crisis.
With large public gatherings still under restrictions and a predicted second wave of the virus coming in the Fall, council was faced with the hard choice of closing the facility for a year or opening the doors, putting in the ice, and potentially having public health officials shut it down again.
In the end, after debate on various line items in the budget, council voted 5-2 to approve a 2.4-million-dollar budget.
The arena will go into "maintenance mode", with periodic checks and some planned repairs will go ahead... but there will be no ice and no programming for the coming fall and winter season.
Other casualties of Oxford's 2020-2021 budget in the era of the coronavirus: no replacement for the vacant recreation director’s position, and the community economic development post is being scaled back by nearly 20 thousand dollars, and no baskets for the Communities in Bloom program, among other services.
Another thing Oxford residents won't see with this budget — increased taxes.
By shutting down the arena for a year, the town will save around 130 thousand dollars, making up for the coronavirus related drop in revenues and allowing Oxford to put a little more than 40 thousand dollars into the very precarious reserve fund.
Chief Administrative Officer Rachel Jones outlined a couple of scenarios that would keep the arena open, but both required 14 to 18 cent hikes in the residential and commercial tax rates, at a time when some residents are facing tough personal finances and businesses are stressed.
She noted in particular the potential impact of a tax hike on Oxford Frozen Foods, whose tax bill would rise by between 29 thousand and 38 thousand dollars. If only residents were taxed to keep the arena open, their tax bills would jump by 29 cents per $100 assessed value.
With those numbers in hand, councillors for the most part backed the Arena shutdown.
Mayor Trish Stewart and councillors took great pains to stress that this is a temporary closure, and that a top priority for those councillors going ahead will be the facility's reopening in 2021.
Councillor Wade Adshade suggested that this is perhaps the time for the town to step away from managing some local activities, such as the annual Christmas parade.
Adshade suggested there were committed volunteers in town who could lend a hand. Mayor Stewart — who is not re-offering this fall after 16-years on Council — offered to play a role in bringing people together to make the parade happen this year.
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