Often, the busiest places on an average night in Oxford are Brick Street Bar or Bagel and Deli Shop.
However, that wasn’t the case on Feb. 7 as the Oxford Courthouse nearly overflowed with residents.
Almost 100 people, many of whom were senior citizens, were in attendance that night for the Oxford City Council meeting, which only offered standing room for many.
Three resolutions were the main discussion points of the night, all connected by the fact that they require American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding from Butler County. The council had to rank the resolutions by priority so the county could determine where and how to allocate the ARPA funds.
The first, which started the night with a priority ranking of one, would require $1.5 million for a One-Stop Social Services Center with a kitchen, educational space and emergency shelter.
Priority two would be the $3 million needed to help the Oxford Seniors Organization build its new facility in association with the TRI Community Center. Butler County had already awarded $1.5 million to the city for the new senior facility the first time Oxford requested the $3 million. Mayor William Snavely explained Butler County only gave half the request amount, thinking it was actually awarding money for the one-stop center.
The third resolution was to apply for $1.5 million in ARPA funds to put toward a Social Services Facility fund, which the city could distribute to social services when needed.
Judy Kolbas, an adjunct faculty member in Miami University’s history department, shared how the senior center helped her navigate Oxford.
“When I arrived in Oxford 15 years ago, the senior center was my lifeline, and ever since, they’ve been very, very helpful,” Kolbas said. “I am visually impaired, and without the transportation I would not be able to do anything.”
Reverend Julie Fischer from the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church made a defense for prioritizing funding for the one-stop center rather than the senior center. While she respected Oxford’s seniors, he said, people who live in poverty don’t get as much representation.
“People who live in poverty do not have a lot of time to come to meetings like this and advocate for themselves,” Fischer said
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Jay Fagin, a resident of College Corner, talked about how he grew up in poverty in Oxford and how the city’s resources helped his family. Fagin questioned why Miami wasn’t contributing money to the projects and why the city was investing in an Amtrak station for a train he said would only stop in Oxford three days a week at 2:30 a.m.
The $2 million grant for the Amtrak station was obtained through the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments and could not be reallocated.
Although Councilor Alex French wanted to prioritize the one-stop facility, she also shared that she was upset to have to make a decision.
“When people ask where my head has been at on this decision, the first thing that comes to mind is that two organizations this important should not be competing over this few dollars,” French said. “To me, that is absolutely baffling and not a position we should have to be in.”
Snavely also wanted to prioritize the one-stop center, saying it was the most likely to receive the money needed.
“While both of these represent clear and pressing needs in our community, the one-stop social service facility probably represents the greatest need,” Snavely said. “It also is one that can be done with the $1.5 [million] that we’re pretty sure they’ll vote for, and they thought they already did.”
The resolution to apply for the funds for the one-stop center was approved with the priority ranking of one was approved five to one, with Councilor Glenn Ellerbe voting no and Councilor Jason Bracken recusing himself.
The resolution to apply for $3 million more in funds for the new senior center was approved with the priority ranking of two was approved six to one, with Ellerbe voting no.
The last resolution for the $1.5 million for a Social Services Facility fund failed by a vote of six to one, with Ellerbe being the only councilor to vote yes, even though he had wanted to raise the proposal to $3 million.
“I think it’s a good idea, but … if it hasn’t been discussed already, I think just throwing something new in front of them will look like we’re scattered,” Councilor Amber Franklin said. “Maybe there’ll be another opportunity at some point, but I think advancing the two that we’ve already voted on is the best option.”
City council will meet again on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Oxford Courthouse.