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Oxford prepares for 2022 at City Council meeting

Oxford City Council had a packed agenda at its Nov. 2 meeting, addressing nearly 20 items from sidewalk accessibility to maternity leave.

Among the nine resolutions addressed, Councilor David Prytherch introduced one to ensure construction sites provide accommodations or alternative accessible sidewalk routes for  residents with disabilities.

“Sometimes we can end up with construction projects that can block sidewalks for lengthy periods of time, months and perhaps a year,” Prytherch said. “What other urban communities have done is develop policies that … construction projects have a management plan to try to ensure continuity of sidewalk access.”

Prytherch described the resolution as a commitment to accessibility. However, it doesn’t impact the city’s code regulations or lay out specific details as to what accommodations developers would be expected to provide.

For Councilor Edna Southard, the resolution felt rushed and poorly thought out.

“This proposal is not ready for passage,” Southard said. “It should go back to staff and anybody else for emendation and consideration.”

The resolution passed on a vote of four to two. Southard and Mayor Mike Smith both opposed it, and Vice-Mayor Bill Snavely was absent from the meeting.

Council also passed a resolution to extend the city’s Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) from Dec. 17, 2021, until Jan. 23, 2022. The DORA was first established in June 2020, and it allows residents to carry alcohol in open containers from 20 permit-holding vendors Uptown.

The original resolution was passed to drive business Uptown during the pandemic and while students weren’t in Oxford, and it came with the option for the city manager to extend its operating dates with approval from Council.

Councilor Chantel Raghu suggested that the DORA could remain operational even with students in town. Councilor Glenn Ellerbe agreed, saying it would help Oxford keep up with local communities like Hamilton and Middletown which are seeking out policies to increase entertainment options and boost local economies.

“I believe that the DORA provides tremendous economic benefits in this town, and that we have been hamstringing ourselves with the fear of the students,” Ellerbe said.

Police Chief John Jones didn’t offer his personal opinion on the DORA but brought up concerns about litter and enforcement, especially during holiday weekends like Halloween.

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“It was pretty much a DORA Friday night anyway, with red solo cups, beer bottles and everything I was seeing Uptown,” Jones said. “There were too many for me to write tickets too … It happens anyway, [so] we’re gonna have to get some guidance on what’s acceptable, what’s not.”

The resolution passed unanimously, and Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene said the city will propose a pilot program to extend the DORA further while classes are in session.

Greene also presented a resolution with various amendments to Oxford’s employee handbook. City employees will now have six days of personal leave, up from five, to respond to Juneteenth’s new status as a federal holiday, and staff will have to provide 30 minutes notice of sick leave, up from 15.

The resolution also updates sick leave to clearly require a doctor’s note after two full days of absence, changes funeral leave to bereavement leave and adds eight weeks of paid parental leave with the option to extend using accrued time off.

“If you’re a young employee with not a lot of years of service, you may not have enough [accrued] leave,” Greene said. “They were having to ask for donations of sick leave to be off for the time that their doctor was recommending for the birth or adoption of a child.”

Council voted unanimously to adopt the resolution.

During the meeting, Council also heard nine first readings of ordinances, which have to be presented at two meetings before passing.

Finance Director Joe Newlin presented four ordinances to establish the city’s 2022 budget.

Newlin’s ordinances laid out just less than $1,000,000 in equipment purchases, just more than $10,600,000 in capital improvement spending and a $235,000 increase in salary and benefits, including the addition of a full-time social worker and a full-time code enforcement officer to OPD.

The financial ordinances also detailed budget transfers for 2022, notably to reallocate money from the city’s general fund to more specific accounts, including just more than $500,000 to the street fund and just less than $300,000 to the capital equipment fund. In addition, the proposed budget includes slight increases in city service costs including preschool, youth sports leagues, and fire and EMS services.

Each ordinance from the meeting will be heard again at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 16, at the Oxford Courthouse.