Oxford Borough Council discusses holding meetings at larger venue
● By Steven Hoffman
The Oxford Borough Council meeting on April 18 was one of those times when the room where the meetings are held was obviously too small for its purpose.
On this night, mayor Geoff Henry planned to swear in three new part-time officers. Five Oxford police officers turned out to support their new colleagues, but the available seats quickly filled up so they had to stand along a wall behind the table where council members sit. Family and friends turned out to see the new officers get sworn in, but only a few could get seats. The rest had to find a spot to stand in the small room or, worse, out in the narrow hallway. There's probably room to seat six audience members comfortably in the meeting room. If more than that about a dozen people show up in the audience, it becomes a standing-room-only situation.
Council member Paul Matthews raised the issue toward the end of the meeting. He said that the borough needs to look for a more professional meeting space with adequate seats for the public to come to meetings.
“There are other spaces in town that are big enough,” agreed council member Randy Grace. During the brief discussion, council members suggested that Borough Manager Betsy Brantner should contact the library, the fire company, the senior center, and the school district to inquire about the costs of renting space for some council meetings.
While council members are squeezed a bit during meetings, too, their main concerns were focused on audience members having enough seats, and whether they were actually discouraging borough residents from attending council meetings simply because there aren't enough seats and enough space to be comfortable.
Borough officials have had discussions in recent months about making some cosmetic improvements to the inside of the town's historic borough hall—in part to increase the available space in the meeting room, and in part to simply beautify the building's appearance. Council is now recording its meetings and posting them on the Internet so that residents can view them.
In other business at the April 18 meeting, Steve Krug, the principal of Krug Architects, provided an update to Oxford Borough Council about the effort to secure grant funding for the construction of a 300-lot parking garage that the borough is considering as a way to boost economic development.
Krug explained that there was a recent meeting to discuss a grant application that the borough has filed with the Chester County Department of Community and Economic Development for a 2016 Chester County Revitalization Program grant.
“I think it was a very good meeting,” Krug said.
Oxford Borough hired Krug Architects to conduct a comprehensive parking study in the latter part of 2015. The firm has worked with other Pennsylvania municipalities on parking garage projects. Krug Architects is now working in conjunction with Econ Partners, a full-service economic development firm, on the effort to secure funding for the $5.73 million project.
Krug explained that the team will next meet with a representative from U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's office to discuss funding opportunities at the federal level. Officials have identified several potential federal grants that they could seek. Applications for funding from state sources will follow that.
Borough officials have gathered a lot of letters in support of the parking garage to be submitted along with the grant applications, whenever that it appropriate. Oxford Mainstreet Inc. executive director Donna Hosler and Kathy Book from State Rep. John Lawrence's office were singled out for their diligent work on the effort to secure grant funding for the parking garage.
The borough could have an idea about how much grant funding it may have from various federal, state, and county sources by late fall. How much grant money the borough receives will likely determine whether borough officials decide to move forward with the plan to build a parking garage.
Council member Peggy Ann Russell said that while the parking garage would be an asset for Oxford, everyone needs to know where the money to pay for the parking garage will come from before a decision is made.
Krug previously said that more than half of the funding for the parking garage could come from federal, state, and county sources if the efforts to secure grants are successful.
Borough council approved the preliminary plans for a land-development project on South Street, where the owner of a vacant lot is seeking to build four, 50-foot-by-70-foot storage units on the property. The storage units will be used primarily for equipment for an excavating business. The borough's planning commission already signed off on the preliminary plans, and recommended that council also accept it. Council approved the preliminary plans, and the final land-development plans will come back to borough council for approval when they are ready.