Oxford City Council passed a resolution to spend about $327,000 on free public Wi-Fi for at least four of Oxford’s parks and two mobile home communities during its Oct. 20 meeting.
The parks included in the resolution are Uptown Park, Oxford Community Park, Merry Day Park, TRI Community Center and/or Leonard Howell Park. The neighborhoods approved by council were Parkview Arms and the Miami Mobile Home Community.
The funds come from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“This is one of our most needed utilities that we aren’t already providing,” Councilor Chantel Raghu said. “We really need to address this.”
The Wi-Fi in the parks will be broadcast, while the Wi-Fi in the neighborhoods will be hardwired into homes.
Jessica Greene, assistant city manager, did most of the research on the project. She said she wasn’t able to do a needs-based assessment on Park View Arms or the Miami Mobile Home Community.
“I think there are people outside of those two neighborhoods who are just as much in need,” Vice Mayor Bill Snavely said. “They need to have the ability to at least apply for it or ask for it.”
Councilor Jason Bracken said he’d support expanding the project to more community members if needed.
“I am all for that,” Bracken said, “but I absolutely do not want to lose these two communities because I know they need it. And even though some of them may have internet, subsidizing a basic utility for families in need is just as important to me.”
City staff, including Greene, said they will do more research into providing more Wi-Fi coverage for those that need it, as well as how much city-wide coverage would cost.
Council also passed resolutions spending $53,000 on a new refrigerated truck as well as $195,000 to the Chamber of Commerce to create a grant program for Oxford businesses. Both resolutions are paid for by the CARES funds.
Council voted to pass an emergency ordinance changing the gift card stimulus program for Oxford businesses from a loan to a grant.
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The gift cards that had previously been sold will be honored at Oxford businesses, and those businesses will keep the funds they’ve already received. However, the city will stop selling more gift cards to the public and destroy the remaining cards in order to help stimulate local businesses around Oxford.
The money will go back into the city’s general fund to be spent on other projects.
During public comments, Shana Rosenberg, a Black Lives Matter (BLM) Oxford member, addressed council about some of the misconceptions about the group’s third proposal – the creation of a task force. She said the task force would be made up of volunteers and would cost the city minimal funding. Rosenberg also said BLM Oxford is not anti-police.
“We think that our third proposal would unburden OPD officers from the aspects of crisis response that don’t affect public safety,” Rosenberg said. “The issue at hand is about appropriate response for crises that help our diverse citizenry feel safe.”
Rosenberg went on to say Oxford could be a model for other cities in response to BLM’s proposals.
Debbie Anderson, an Oxford resident, said she spoke in support of the Oxford Police Department (OPD).
“We all love Oxford,” Anderson said. “We all love the people of Oxford, including all ethnicities and all nationalities. But my concern is for the treatment of the Oxford Police Department.”
Anderson proposed BLM Oxford fund its own task force independent of city funding. She then said BLM Oxford could present its findings to council.
Council also recognized and congratulated Miami University’s Safe Return to Campus Committee as well as Miami’s President’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force.
Doug Elliott, city manager, reported 162 cases of coronavirus in Oxford’s zip code, making up 2% of cases in Butler County without Miami’s cases.
Miami has reported 2,363 cases as of Oct. 19, making up about 28% of Butler County’s total of 8,573 cases reported on Oct. 23.
The next council meeting will be streamed on YouTube at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3.