Oxford Town Clerk Elizabeth Olsen, far right, announces the start of the annual Town Meeting on Saturday as selectmen look on. From left are Dana Dillingham, Sharon Jackson, Caldwell Jackson, Vice-Chair Samantha Hewey, Chair Scott Hunter, and Town Manager Adam Garland. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

OXFORD — After close to an hour and a half of question and debate over two articles regarding the immediate future of Oxford’s town offices, voters took less than 15 minutes to approve all 35 other articles at Saturday’s annual town meeting, held at Oxford Elementary School.

Among those articles was the town budget: All articles for the 2021-2022 budget of $5,261,210 passed unanimously, representing a decrease of $420,372 from the current budget, or 7.5%.

Ultimately, residents rejected Article 36 authorizing the town to enter into a three-year lease for municipal office space and approved Article 37 authorizing the town to sell the current office property at 85 Pleasant St. And they almost unanimously approved Article 39 to accept 42 acres of commercial property as a gift to the town.

In a repeat of last March’s special town meeting and last week’s select board candidates’ night, townspeople questioned selectmen’s move to vacate town offices at 85 Pleasant St. for leased property with no set plan to build a new town office.

For years the current town office has been beset by basement flooding, moisture and mold issues, as well as structural deterioration that forced officials to close off sections of stairwells.

Oxford’s Facilities Committee, which spent about two years studying the need to build a new office, had put forth recommendations that an addition be built on the Public Safety Building on Route 26 and that the 85 Pleasant St. location be sold. Last fall selectmen determined that a standalone building would best suit the town’s needs. The board solicited bids for design and build proposals at the end of last year, but in February rejected the three proposals it received when contractors’ plans did not match what the building committee had advised for square footage and other features.

At that point, considering skyrocketing construction costs and the continued degradation of the town office’s conditions, then Town Manager Butch Asselin began negotiating to temporarily relocate to the former SAD 17 space at Oxford Plaza while selectmen continued looking at solutions for when and where to eventually build a new municipal headquarters.

Oxford voters were presented with a proposed five-year lease for the Oxford Plaza space at a special town meeting in March and defeated the move by a vote of 39-30. At that time many voters expressed dissatisfaction with the prospect of being tied to a lease for so long.

A second round of bids from commercial construction contractors last spring brought in proposals for rehabbing the current space, adding onto the Public Safety Building and building a separate office building. Selectmen rejected them all, again citing the poor timing to build when building supplies are limited and costs excessive. New Town Manager Adam Garland was directed to renegotiate a shorter-term lease with Oxford Shopping Center Trust, to be considered by voters at Town Meeting.

At Saturday’s meeting residents doubled down on their disapproval, with one stating that he had spoken to a builder who was never asked to bid on anything other than a standalone building. That person declined to identify the source of his information.

Selectman Sharon Jackson disputed the validity of what the resident had been told, informing voters that the requests for bids for rehabilitation, addition and standalone construction were all advertised in the Sun Journal, the Maine Municipal Association’s website and on Oxford’s website.

“Anyone who wanted to bid on the three proposals that we had out had the opportunity to,” Jackson said. “When you go out for bid for something and they don’t call back or bid according to specs, you refuse their bid.”

Another voter was under the impression that selectmen had decided against building an addition to the public safety building because the departments could not get along.

Selectman Caldwell Jackson challenged that resident to identify who on the board had made such a statement. It was then asserted that a candidate had said it during a select board candidates’ meeting last week.

“That comment was not made by one of the candidates,” said Select Vice Chair Samantha Hewey. “It was made by a speaker (in the audience) at candidates’ night, who had been a past employee. But that issue was from 2003 and of no concern for this board. This board has worked very hard to be objective with our decisions.”

Many voters felt that selectmen had not done any financial planning or saving toward an eventual new office until just in the last week, when the board approved designating $300,000 from the town’s reserve fund toward the process. Others questioned why they should approve a short-term solution when there was no long-term solution being communicated to townspeople.

Select Chair Scott Hunter read off key dates and benchmarks for the design, voter authorization and construction for a new town office within three years, but residents remained skeptical that he was explaining an actual plan.

When the article was voted on it was defeated 39-24. The next article, to authorize selectmen to sell 85 Pleasant St., was passed with 37 in favor and 21 opposed.

The only other article that initiated debate was Article 38, which was whether to accept a donation of 42 acres of commercially zoned property from John Schiavi. Some voters questioned why Oxford as a town should be involved in real estate development or take a parcel off the tax commitment. Others pointed out it could be immediately put up for sale. The measure passed easily, with only 3 voting against it.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: