Oxford Borough to have current borough hall appraised
● By Steven Hoffman
Oxford Borough Council has authorized borough manager Brian Hoover to get an appraisal on the current borough hall at 401 Market Street.
A new borough hall is being constructed as part of the larger parking garage project, and the borough will be moving its offices to the new location sometime early in 2020. At some point, borough officials will need to decide what to do with the cozy but woefully overcrowded building that doesn’t offer much in the way of 21st century amenities.
At the Oct. 21 council meeting, council member Ron Hershey said that getting an appraisal is a necessary first step in the process of deciding what to do with the borough hall. Council then unanimously authorized Hoover to move forward with the appraisal.
With regard to the parking garage project, Oxford Borough Council approved the payment of $520,959.80 to CPS Construction Group for work related to the construction of the parking garage and borough hall. This is the eighth in a series of payments for the project, which is one of the largest in the borough’s history.
Oxford Borough Council also approved a $59,411.47 agreement with Oxford Union Fire Company No. 1 for services in 2020, as well as a $36,797 agreement with the Oxford Union Fire Company No. 1 Ambulance Division for services for the next year.
Borough council also signed off on allowing Hoover to submit a grant application for $1.3 million in funding from the Multimodal Transportation Fund. The funding would be utilized for infrastructure improvements to Nottingham, Franklin, Garfield, and Broad streets, as well as a portion of South Street. Hoover said that the borough previously submitted an application for grant funding through PennDOT for this same infrastructure work. The most likely scenario, Hoover said, is for the borough to not receive the full amount of funding through either grant program—but the hope is that between the two grant programs, enough funding will be secured for the borough to proceed with the project.
For the second time in three months, Oxford Borough Council discussed a resolution that would add clarity to how Oxford Borough Council fills a vacancy when a council member resigns. This has been an issue in Oxford Borough since July 15, when council made an appointment to fill a vacancy following the resignation of Phillip Hurtt—and numerous residents subsequently expressed their concerns about the process that was used. Council accepted Hurtt’s resignation on the evening of July 15, and then appointed Randy Grace to fill the vacancy that same evening. Many people in the community felt that it would have been better if the borough notified residents of the vacancy and allowed some time so that others who might be interested in filling the vacancy could apply.
In response to the residents’ concerns, a resolution establishing a rule about how vacancies should be filled has been under consideration by borough officials.
Council vice president Peggy Ann Russell said that the resolution would clarify the need to allow all borough residents to express interest in filling the vacancy before an appointment is made.
The ensuing discussion highlighted some of the unusual circumstances that led borough council to accept a resignation and appoint a replacement in the same evening. Hurtt’s resignation letter came just before the July 4 holiday. The council members were all aware that a vacancy was coming for nearly two weeks before they had their regular meeting to vote to formally accept the resignation. During that time, a council member reached out to Grace to let him know about the vacancy because he had previously served on council for four years. Having the opportunity to appoint an experienced person to fill the vacancy was sufficient to convince enough council members to make the appointment that same evening.
The quick appointment may have had the unfortunate appearance of backroom cronyism, but Grace pointed out that he is a registered Republican, and the person on borough council who approached him about the vacancy is a Democrat. Politics didn’t factor into the appointment, and neither did cronyism.
Grace said that in the aftermath of the appointment, he was singled out for attacks because of the borough council’s decision. He simply wanted to help out.
“I’ve had my integrity and good name slandered online,” Grace said, adding that he felt like the resolution under consideration was directed toward him. He also said that he felt as if he was left out on an island in the aftermath of the appointment.
“I’m so sorry that you felt that way,” Russell replied earnestly. She added that she worked on council with Grace and knows that he is dedicated to being a good council member.
“There is so much evidence that you love this community,” Russell said.
Council members Sue Lombardi and Ron Hershey both emphasized that while residents can object to the process that was used to fill the vacancy, there was definitely nothing wrong with accepting a resignation and appointing a replacement on the same evening.
“We didn’t do anything wrong. We followed state code,” Hershey said.
“We did not do anything wrong,” Lombardi added. “It may not have been a popular decision. Legally, what we did, we were within our rights to do.”
As the discussion continued, it was noted that the state law allows a borough council to accept a resignation within 45 days of receiving it. Once the resignation is accepted, that starts the 30-day clock to fill the vacancy.
Timing was a major factor in the decision to make an appointment on July 15. In the future, armed with the knowledge that the current council members now have, a borough council could delay when they formally accept the resignation as a way of giving people more time to apply to fill a vacancy once it is publicly announced.
It was ultimately decided that a resolution isn’t the best way to proceed since any new resolution can’t include language that would be in conflict with the current state regulations. Borough council was in compliance with state regulations when the vacancy was filled on July 15, so a new resolution would not prevent a similar occurrence from happening again.
In his report to council, police chief Sam Iacono noted that police officer Thomas McFadden has reached 37 years of service time in the Oxford Police Department.
Sue Walker, a district director for U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, made a brief presentation to update Oxford residents about Houlahan’s activities since being elected as the representative in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District in 2018. The Congressional District includes all of Chester County, the city of Reading and its southeastern suburbs in Berks County.
“Rep. Houlahan takes the representative title very seriously,” Walker said. “She wants to be a voice for everyone in the district.”
Walker noted that this portion of Chester County, including the Oxford area, had previously been part of a congressional district that was represented by Lloyd Smucker. The boundaries of the 6th Congressional District were redrawn in 2018 to include all of Chester County. When Houlahan took office at the start of 2019, she established new locations for district offices.
Walker explained that one office is located in West Chester at 709 E. Gay Street, Suite 4, while the other office is located in the City of Reading at 815 Washington Street. She said that the offices are staffed during regular hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and there are extended office hours each Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Walker said that the staff is always willing to schedule a time to discuss any issues that have come up for constituents.
Walker encouraged constituents to visit Houlahan’s website, or to follow the Congresswoman on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and to reach out to one of the offices with any concerns or questions.
So far, Houlahan’s office has been able to clear about 650 cases on behalf of constituents. Houlahan has written letters of support that have helped groups in the district to secure funding—the Brandywine Conservancy and Stroud Water Research are two examples.
Several council members noted that Houlahan has already helped out as the Oxford Area Sewer Authority negotiates with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the status of a loan repayment plan. The Oxford Area Sewer Authority secured funds through the USDA to expand the wastewater treatment plant. The council members expressed their gratitude for Houlahan’s assistance.