By Steven Hoffman
Oxford Borough Council voted unanimously at its July 15 meeting to support a resolution calling for state legislators to enact a Good Samaritan law aimed at reducing drug overdoses.
"This is a resolution calling on the state government to reduce the drug overdose rate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," said Mayor Geoff Henry, who championed the resolution after he organized a well-attended town hall meeting in conjunction with Kacie's Cause regarding the dangers of heroin use in the community. Kacie's Cause is a local organization that is working to spread the word about heroin use and to lobby for heroin laws to be changed. The group has formed an Oxford chapter.
When he read the resolution, Henry noted that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of drug overdoses in the country.
In many cases, individuals who witness a drug overdose do not call 911 for fear of criminal prosecution. The so-called Good Samaritan laws address the issue by offering limited immunity to those who promptly report an overdose victim to authorities. Earlier this year, New Jersey became the 12th state to approve such a law, but Pennsylvania does not have a similar law on the books.
The resolution approved by Oxford Borough Council also supports the passage of House Bill 317, which would establish a pharmaceutical accountability monitoring system aimed at limiting the quantity of prescription pills that fall into the hands of drug dealers and individuals with substance abuse problems.
Henry said that he hopes the resolution will send a message about the level of concern that the town's officials have regarding drug usage.
"I fully support this," said council member John Thompson. "I think it's a step in the right direction."
Council member Randy Teel agreed, saying that there was a critical need for legislation like this a long time ago.
Kristin Gent, the coordinator for the Oxford chapter of Kacie's Cause, advocated for passage of the Good Samaritan Resolution.
"By passing this, we are setting an example as a community," Gent said, adding that she hopes other towns in the area will also approve similar resolutions.
Henry said that the resolution will be sent to Gov. Tom Corbett, State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, and State Rep. John Lawrence, as well as Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan.
In other business at the council meeting, borough manager Betsy Brantner updated borough council about the efforts to obtain an anchor building grant for the redevelopment of the Octoraro Hotel on Third Street. Brantner said that officials are currently working on finalizing the application with the state. If the grant application gets approved, the borough will be the recipient of the grant and a low-interest loan will be made to the new owners of the Octoraro Hotel, who want to turn it into a restaurant. As the loan gets paid back to Oxford Borough, the money would then be available to be loaned out for another economic-development project in town.
The building must be eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places in order to qualify for the anchor building grant, and council member Butch Saranetz is working on that.
The borough's Zoning Hearing Board will be busy in the coming weeks. There is a zoning hearing regarding a property at 703 Market Street. The owners of the building want to subdivide what is currently a duplex into two separate properties and are seeking relief from the regulations regarding setbacks. Another person is seeking to run a gunsmithing business in town. A third zoning hearing is scheduled to consider to a proposal for an auto repair facility. The hearings are scheduled to take place on July 29.
During public comment, Janet Bartkowski, who is a private drug and alcohol therapist in town, expressed concerns about the parking situation near the Oxford Neighborhood Services Center. Bartkowski said that she recently received a parking ticket after she wasn't able to fully get her car parked in one spot, a result of the lingering parking issues in the area.
"Parking is very, very difficult," Bartkowski said. "It is a chronic problem there."
She added that the Neighborhood Services Center brings in more and more agencies to better serve the most needy people in the community "and there are only three parking spaces there."
Bartkowski said that residents who live in the vicinity will park their cars in the few spaces that are available for hours at a time, leaving no spaces for workers or people who are stopping by the Neighborhood Services Center to use the services.
"I'm not here just for my concerns. It's a chronic problem," she said.
Matt Hillegas, who serves as an organizer for the Sacred Heart Church's Octoberfest, the church's largest fundraiser of the year, said that they are looking to expand the activities to attract a larger crowd to the event.
"We're trying to initiate a 5K race," Hillegas said, explaining that the race would tentatively take place at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12. The other Octoberfest activities begin at 6 p.m.
Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. stages an annual 5K race, but Police Chief John Slauch said that they are looking at revamping the route of the course because there is now more traffic on North Third Street as a result of the Oxford Commons Shopping Center.
There was a discussion about possible routes for the race, some that would be in the borough and others that would not. Slauch cautioned that routes can't include state-owned roads like Route 472 without getting the necessary approvals from PennDOT. Hillegas will be working directly with Slauch to develop a route for the race before proceeding with plans for the 5K.
It was announced that State Rep. John Lawrence will be hosting a town hall meeting in Oxford's borough building on Thursday, Sept. 12 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
With no meeting scheduled for the second Monday in August, Oxford Borough Council will meet again on Monday, Aug. 19.