Oxford City Council’s meeting Tuesday night drew an unusually large standing-room only crowd as community members voiced their opinions on two of the city’s future projects.
As a result of miscommunication between the City of Oxford and the Butler County commissioners, an unintentional “competition” between the two projects arose. A large portion of the two-hour meeting was spent with citizens taking to the podium to justify their organizations being funded.
The first project is the construction of a $1.5 million, 6,000-square-foot one-stop social service center for use between the Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services and the Family Resource Center. The proposal would establish a one-stop social service model and add operations for a housing non-profit led by the FRC, a commercial kitchen, and education space for feeding and food education programs. It also would add a basement level that includes emergency cold shelter operations, as well as a tornado shelter for the adjacent mobile home community.
The one-stop social service center was originally discussed in 2019, but after TOPSS wrote a letter to City Manager Doug Elliott stating their current operation was sufficient, the city lost interest in the project.
Credit: Nick Graham
Credit: Nick Graham
In August 2021, Council learned that American Rescue Plan Act (COVID-19 pandemic relief) money could fund the project, and Oxford once again considered it.
After approving a resolution, the city asked the Butler County Commission for $1.5 million in funding for the project.
In November 2022, city staff said they conducted more information on housing approaches and pivoted toward permanent housing models instead of an emergency shelter model. City staff also said they were concerned about the project’s viability, due to staffing levels and a tight timeline of ARPA funds.
“At the time, I’ll admit we were working very closely with Family Resource Center, and we were sensing a lot of stress and transition from their staff,” Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene said. “So [City Manager Doug Elliott] and I spoke and we felt like maybe it wasn’t time for a large capital project for them.”
On Nov. 1, 2022, city staff said they asked the County to scrap the one-stop social service building proposal in favor of a new project.
Credit: Nick Graham
Credit: Nick Graham
The new project is a $3 million multi-generational facility that would renovate the Talawanda Recreation Incorporated (TRI) building to allow the Oxford Seniors Organization to move in. Doing so would also allow the Talawanda School District to take the existing Oxford Seniors building, and demolish the Nelson Morrow building for Amtrak construction. As a result, Oxford increased its ask for $3 million to the county.
The change in plans didn’t come without consequences, especially after Oxford failed to inform TOPSS of the decision.
“And I’ll admit, that we also recognized during December, that with this pivot that we did in November, we failed to contact the Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services and inform them of our decision to pivot,” Greene said.
In December 2022, The Butler County Commissioners passed the original resolution for $1.5 million for the one-stop social service building. Confusing city staff who thought the County would be voting on the $3 million project instead.
“The biggest community miscommunications was with the county administration when they were reading one thing and talking about something else,” Councilor David Prytherch said. “I think the city was relatively straightforward with what we were presenting to them,”
As a result, both TOPSS and Oxford Seniors became frustrated over what they felt were funds that at one point or another belonged to their respective group.
“With those two things at the same time, we had a lot of public dissent,” Greene said. “We formally asked the county commissioners to hit pause on their grant award and let Council reexamine both proposals and decide what you’d like to do.”
The floor was then open to the public, and the next hour, various citizens took to the podium to speak on behalf of their organization.
The first was former Oxford mayor and current President of the Oxford Seniors board, Kate Rousmaniere.
“Oxford Seniors thought we had been awarded the $1.5 million as Mrs. Greene mentioned, in fact, we voted on it and debated on it at our Dec. 15 board meeting on what we could do with that $1.5 million,” Rousmaniere said. “...So then something happened and now we don’t have money, so we are as surprised as everybody else about why I’m standing here.”
Judy Colbus, a member of Oxford Seniors, advocated for the program during her time at the podium.
“They need more space because they’ve got more action going,” Colbus said. “They also have the person in charge of daily activity, she works out of a renovated storage closet.”
Ellen Price, a representative of the League of Women Voters of Oxford, advocated for the one-stop social service proposal.
“With so many in our community in need of services, committing this funding to the TOPSS facility would be in alignment with the purpose of ARPA funding,” Price said.
A woman who identified herself as Caroline, a recent graduate student at Miami University and a volunteer at TOPSS, spoke on behalf of the organization.
“I just wanted to kind of emphasize the importance of the food pantry to the community as a whole and especially to students. I’ve seen students whose first paycheck goes completely towards bills and they realize they have no money for food.” Caroline said. “...I’ve had young people come in, old people come in, it’s just such an important part of the Oxford community and especially to the Miami students in the Miami community to have a reliable source of food.”
Afterward, the conversation shifted back toward city council members, who were optimistic that they could move forward with both projects, even if it meant both projects were not being fully funded initially.
“Whatever happens, if the county funds both of them, I think we’re still going to have to go forward with looking for money,” Councilor Prytherch. “If they only fund one of them, and it happens to be TOPSS, then I’m personally committed that we have to find ways to fund number two.”
In the end, councilors passed both resolutions, with a vote of 5-1 and 6-1, prioritizing the one-stop social service model over the Oxford Seniors resolution.
“While both of these represent clear and pressing needs in our communities, the one-stop social service facility probably represents the greatest need, it is also one that can be done with the 1.5 that we’re pretty sure they will vote for, and they thought they already did,” Mayor Bill Snavely said.
“I think that we should not be timid about going back to them because we know [Butler County Commissioner] Cindy Carpenter told us they have more money, and I think we should say ok, we want this one-stop social service center that you’ve already talked about and the council has recommitted to, but now we also need $3 million for the senior center.”
About the Author