Oxford Borough preparing to put parking garage project out to bid
● By Steven Hoffman
Oxford Borough Council approved putting the multimodal transportation center project out to bid at its meeting on April 16.
Borough manager Brian Hoover said that the action will lead to Oxford having actual costs, rather than just estimates, for the construction of the parking garage, transportation center, and new borough administration building on a parking lot between 2nd Street and 3rd Street.
Council voted 4-2 in favor of authorizing putting the project out to bid, contingent on the bid package being reviewed by the borough’s solicitor as well as some of the alternate options being included in the document. Council members Peggy Ann Russell and Robert Ketcham both opted to vote against the motion even though the action of putting the project out to bid is not the same as voting to allow the project to move forward.
Pauline Garcia-Allen, the director of development of Econ Partners, who was enlisted to facilitate the parking garage project, emphasized that there’s no obligation for the borough to accept the bids on any of the work. Obtaining the bids would give Oxford Borough officials real numbers to work with when it comes to costs.
Proponents of the parking garage project view it not only as a way to address the town’s parking needs but, perhaps more importantly, as a key piece of Oxford’s revitalization efforts. Parking garages can be catalysts for economic development in downtown areas. In Oxford’s case, a lack of convenient parking in the business district has, for years, hindered efforts to attract an anchor business—a restaurant or a larger employer—to the downtown.
The project has been amazingly successful in attracting grant funding through state and county sources—at the onset of the effort, few people could have predicted that it would get millions of dollars in funding.
Even so, concerns remain about how the borough will fund the rest of the project.
Russell suggested at the April 16 meeting that the borough council table the issue of putting the project out to bid for six months.
“We have families in this community deciding to pay medical bills or pay their food bills,” Russell said. “I have to stand with those people. In all good consciousness, I could not vote to put it out to bid tonight.”
Garcia-Allen cautioned borough council about delaying the project since the grant awards all have deadlines attached to them. Additionally, Garcia-Allen said, the borough’s position for additional funding is strengthened once they have actual bids in hand. They may even be able to go back to the funders and get additional money.
During public comment, several residents voiced their concerns about the potential impact the parking garage project could have on the borough’s finances.
Borough resident Dick Winchester pointed to Oxford’s already-high tax rates and the fact that one-third of the borough’s residents live below the poverty line as reasons why the borough shouldn’t take on additional debt to pay for the parking garage. Winchester also talked about the Oxford Area Sewer Authority’s poor financial situation, and how the borough could be obligated to pay its agreed-upon share—44 percent—of the $1.2 million in past-due debt-service payments that the sewer authority owes to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Etha McDowell, a borough resident, agreed with some of Winchester's concerns.
“There's going to be cost over-runs,” McDowell said, “there always is with a project this big.”
Borough officials reiterated that the goal is to fund the project without having the burden fall to taxpayers. Hoover pointed out that the borough has overhauled its parking regulations to boost revenues. The revenues generated from the parking meters and from the parking permits should be adequate to cover the annual debt-service payments on the loans.
Brian Wenzka, the Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. executive director, said that what Oxford is trying to implement with the parking garage is a smaller model of what West Chester has, and for that borough the parking garage has proven to be an effective catalyst for economic development.
Randy Grace, a resident and business owner who previously served on council, said that if the borough doesn't do something different, the high taxes in the borough will continue to be an issue. He said that if the borough doesn't do something to boost its revenues, then tax increases will be inevitable, or—another bad option—services will have to be cut to residents.
Hoover agreed, pointing out that one of the goals of constructing a parking garage is to attract new businesses—that will grow the borough’s revenues and, perhaps, could lead to a reduction in millage tax rates.
If the borough could secure additional grant-funding to pay for the construction of the parking garage, it could go a long way toward ensuring that taxes won’t be increased to pay for it.
Garcia-Allen said, the borough is still seeking potential grant-funding opportunities.
“We are still working to close that gap,” she said.