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Oxford voters finally settle on future city office

Oxford residents have almost unanimously voted to buy the building at 127 Pottle Road from Stephens Memorial Hospital for its new municipal office after the Board of Selectmen signaled that the Helping Hands Food Pantry could continue to co -locate with the administrative staff there. Nicole Carter / Democrat announcer

OXFORD — After years of debate, Oxford has finally decided — officially — to have a new civic seat.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a proposal to purchase Stephens Memorial Hospital’s 6,500 square foot office space at 127 Pottle Road, which most recently housed its accounting department there.

The sale price of $750,000 will be financed by Androscoggin Bank for a period of 10 years. Including interest, the total loan is expected to cost taxpayers $808,123.50. The building would need to undergo some renovations to make it more conducive to residents’ business. Other modifications include the construction of spaces for committees, the board of directors and other public meetings.

Voters had rejected previous attempts by elected officials to vacate the existing municipal office at 75 Pleasant Street in favor of temporary leased space; once at a special municipal meeting in March 2021 and again at the annual municipal meeting last June.

Despite continued flooding, black mold and decaying structural conditions on Pleasant Street, residents insisted city officials follow the recommendations of a facilities committee that concluded, after two years of research, either build new buildings or add them to the Public Safety building on State Route 26.

However, when the Pottle Road building was vacated earlier this year, City Manager Adam Garland went ahead with the acquisition based on a tip from a resident. The property was never put on the market; Oxford and SMH agreed terms in late March.

The move to an established office will save taxpayers at least $2 million on new office construction, a proposal that met with virtually no opposition and about five minutes of public comment before voters approved the move. ‘purchase.

The only question posed to the board about the move from Pleasant Street to Pottle Street came from resident Chuck Howe, who wanted selectors to advise whether the Helping Hands Food Pantry would be given a home at the new city office.

The Pantry is co-located with City Administrative Services at the Pleasant Street office. Selectmen had not included the future of the pantry when considering the various options and locations, other than briefly considering establishing it in a barn in the Kay House Museum next door or the Center Meeting House on King Street, who have no heating or running water.

Moderator Henry Jackson quizzed board members on their positions ahead of the townspeople’s vote, as Howe’s statement that he wouldn’t vote to approve the purchase without a response resonated with others residents.

President Caldwell Jackson said that as a co-founder of Helping Hands, he was in favor of keeping the pantry in the municipal office. Selectman Dana Dillingham agreed, saying there was enough space in Pottle Road to accommodate the community group. With Floyd Thayer joining President Jackson and Dillingham to form a majority, moderator Henry Jackson called for a vote on the article. Only a few voters raised their hands in opposition. Once the moderator announced it was a vote, applause erupted in celebration of the result.

All the other articles on the municipal assembly were easily passed during the meeting, which lasted barely an hour. Oxford’s budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year will be $5,382,915. The city’s share of Maine School Administrative District 17’s budget for next year is expected to decline slightly. The eight communities in the Oxford Hills School District will vote on the school budget in the June 14 statewide election.

The only issue that sparked debate was a proposed adjustment to the city’s marijuana ordinance, which was passed at the March 2022 special town meeting. Many residents took to the floor to complain about the volume of recreational cannabis stores that have opened and the smell that emanates from them.

Voters have been urged to revise the ordinance to give elected officials more leeway in granting, renewing and billing cannabis retail licenses. The current ordinance is written so that as long as growers and sellers follow state laws, they get approval. The new ordinance would also close a loophole that allowed at least one culture/medical dispensary to be established in a residential area, which was never the intention.

In 2020 and 2021, as elected officials and the city’s ordinance review committee worked to expand marijuana regulations from a business model to a recreational business model, they followed the former city manager’s recommendation. Bruce Asselin, then Codes Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey, of not limiting the number of stores and letting free market practices determine results. His assessment that no more than four businesses could operate was based on a review of the Oxford shopping area and available spaces.

But the opposite happened and locals said they were fed up with the booming business.

Howe was first on the mic and referenced a comment made at last week’s elected officials meeting by a marijuana business owner that Oxford should consider lowering licensing fees as some have done. other cities. Currently, cannabis license fees range from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on the type of facility.

“One guy was upset that Oxford didn’t match other cities on cost,” Howe said. “I really don’t care what other cities charge. We should charge whatever we want.

“All those licenses,” said another resident. “Are we going to have restrictions on how many? Or are we going to have 25? What is happening? We are a little tired of feeling everything. These places are popping up everywhere. … Enough is enough. Are we going to become “pot-central USA”? »

Several people stepped in to agree and applauded this speaker’s comments.

Garland responded that while the revised order does not limit the number of licenses issued, unlike the current one, it does allow the Select Board to consider more than correctly checked boxes on an application.

“In this ordinance, it allows (the council) to see the big picture when reviewing licensing,” Garland told residents. Currently, “if (an applicant) is a prohibited person with a criminal history, he cannot take that into account and deny the license.”

Dillingham pointed out that residents voted for the ordinance without any restrictions and urged anyone who now wishes to limit the number of licenses to circulate a petition and present it to council.

Residents voted to approve the ordinance as revised in the terms of reference.

Asked after the meeting ended about the current number of cannabis businesses operating in Oxford, Garland said he did not know the exact number but would provide details on Monday.

At the start of the meeting, President-elect Jackson presented outgoing Chief of Police Michael Ward with a plaque acknowledging his 35-year career in law enforcement.

District 72 Representative Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford presented Ward with a public service award and also presented Public Safety Chief Paul Hewey with the Spirit of America Award for the Oxford Fire and Rescue Service on behalf of of the Maine Senate and Legislative Assembly.

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