No police or staff cuts in Oxford Borough’s 2024 budget11/29/2023 11:49AM ● By Betsy Brewer Brantner
Budget discussions are still ongoing, but Oxford Borough Manager Pauline Garcia-Allen told the public at the Finance Committee meeting that there are “No police or staff cuts for our 2024 budget.”
Peggy Russell, a council member and chairperson of the Finance Committee welcomed everyone in attendance saying, “We have moved our Finance Meeting time to morning and with the crowd here, I think that works.”
Russell added, “I thank our staff who worked tirelessly to prepare this 2024 budget.”
Oxford Chamber and Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. members showed up to hear proposals and suggestions regarding the upcoming budget.
Finance Committee members included Garcia-Allen, treasurer Arlene Harrison, Russell, and Spence Andress. Another member, Amanda Birdwell, was absent.
Garcia-Allen emphasized that the borough is currently looking at a $252,108 deficit. At this point, council is looking at a 1.5-percent increase in the municipal taxes.
Russell explained, “a 1.5-percent increase would result in a yearly increase of $120 for a household with a home with an assessed value of $80,000, a $225 increase for a household with a home with an assessed value of $150,000, an increase of $375 for a home with an assessed value of $250,000 and a $525 yearly increase for a home with an assessed value of $350,000.
The borough is looking at increases in health care, unfunded mandates, equipment costs, and more. Currently, the borough is in arbitration with the police department’s collective bargaining unit.
Some of the revenue they were expecting will not be realized due to ongoing legal issues.
Garcia-Allen explained, “We are trying to bring our staffing levels back to what they were four years ago. We didn’t fill our administrative assistant position when that was vacated. Instead, the employee who was handling water billing and parking also picked up administrative duties. It is also our recommendation that our part-time codes position will go full-time. The borough office has had to reduce the hours they are open, however the staff has continued to work full-time. We also set up appointments if people need assistance.”
Mayor Phil Harris asked if they would be unlocking the doors for easier access to the borough building. Garcia-Allen replied that they are locked for security.
She explained, “We are trying to balance being accessible, while keeping our staff secure. We have looked at how other municipalities handle this as well.”
Harrison explained that they are still waiting to hear what the county estimate will be, but they are not expecting any surprises.
Mayor Harris questioned police figures on the budget. “I think we will have a surplus,” Harris said. Harrison explained that arbitration might consume that.
Garcia-Allen explained, “A lot of things broke this year and of courses prices have gone up on goods and services. We are trying to balance what we need to save.”
Mayor Harris said he felt things would be under budget, but committeeperson Spence Andress said that the numbers don’t show that.
Questions were asked about why the borough was going to arbitration with the collective bargaining unit of the police department.
Garcia-Allen explained, “If we were close, we wouldn’t have gone to arbitration. We have our solicitor and they have their solicitor. We are hoping to have this settled by the end of this year. The results of the arbitration are retroactive.
Oxford Area Chamber of Commerce President Dennis McCartney asked if 100 percent of the benefits for the police are paid by the borough. Garcia-Allen replied yes.
A discussion ensued around health care and Garcia-Allen explained that they switched to Delaware Trust a couple years ago to save money.
There was also a discussion regarding yearly tax increases. It was noted that the borough has not always had a tax increase.
Council member Bob Ketcham felt that might be a good way to go in the future.
A lengthy discussion ensued about the borough’s cost for police and public works services that are provided during events.
OMI and the Chamber were asked if they might be willing to pay for some of those costs.
Donna Marchand, a resident and employee of a business operating in the borough, said she was willing to pay for a tax increase for the borough services she receives.
Garcia-Allen also explained that there is $71,000 a year that the borough doesn’t get from tax-exempt properties.
McCartney expressed satisfaction with Garcia-Allen’s business acumen saying he was happy to see that she is there working at the borough.
Regarding the efforts to resolve the budgetary issues, Garcia-Allen said, “It will take all of us working together.”