Source: Sherman Publications

News
To sell or not to sell? Voters will be asked

by CJ Carnacchio

November 30, 2011

Next year, when Oxford Village voters go the polls to cast their ballot regarding who should occupy the White House, they must also decide whether or not they wish to see two pieces of municipal property put up for sale.

The village council last week voted 4-1 to ask voters, via questions on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot, for permission to sell the W. Burdick municipal complex and the land it sits on, plus the 3.42 acres it owns at 98 S. Glaspie St.

“We can’t do it unless we get voter-approval,” noted village President Tom Benner.

Voter-approval is required by the village charter “to sell any property of value in excess of $5 per capita, according to the last preceding U.S. Census.”

Based on the 2010 Census, which counted 3,436 people in the village, any property worth more than $17,180 requires a public vote.

The current municipal complex consists of the village office, police station, council chambers, community room, township parks and recreation department, Downtown Development Authority (DDA) office, the Oxford Chamber of Commerce office, the vacant township office, the old fire hall and a large, paved parking lot.

Purchased by the village in March 2006 for $700,000, the 3.42-acre former industrial site at 98 S. Glaspie St. has a 20,000-square-foot vacant building. Other than leasing the property to a private business for boat storage and allowing the DPW to store road salt there, the village hasn’t really used it.

Even if village voters give permission to sell one or both properties, it would still be up to council to decide whether or not to actually put them on the market and accept or reject any offers from potential purchasers.

“It doesn’t mean that they automatically get sold the day after the election or anything like that,” said Councilman Dave Bailey.

The proposed ballot questions were sparked by a suggestion made by Benner a few weeks ago.

He proposed, as “food for thought,” selling the municipal complex located at 18, 20 and 22 W. Burdick to a private party and using some or all of the proceeds to build a new complex on the property the village owns at 98 S. Glaspie St.

“This building could be (placed) on the tax roll and help create revenue that is desperately needed to help run this community,” Benner said.

Moving the municipal complex to 98 S. Glaspie St, which is located next door the village’s water system and Department of Public Works (DPW) facilities, would have the added benefit of geographically consolidating all of the public offices and services.

“That way the DPW, the village offices, and everything would be at one location,” Benner said.

Benner stressed that his idea is “just a proposal,” not a done deal.

“It doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that there’s a buyer waiting to take this building and do something with it.”

Councilman Kevin Stephison, who also chairs the DDA board, favored the idea of selling the municipal complex.

“I would love to see this put up for sale because if you look at our master plan, both the downtown and the village, it calls for this to be developed into, at some point, brownstone-style retirement housing,” he said. “I would love to see the development move forth.”

The only issue Stephison had was the possibility of moving the DDA office to S. Glaspie St., which is far-removed from the downtown district’s boundaries.

“One of the things that we have fought for over the years is to keep the DDA office as close to the downtown as possible,” he explained.

Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn, who is a village resident and DDA board member, suggested the DDA office could be moved to the Oxford Veterans Memorial Civic Center, which is located downtown and owned by the township.

“We’ll work out a deal for you,” Dunn said.

Bailey suggested that perhaps the village could indulge in “one of the recent fads” known as “privatization.”

“The village could sell this complex and stay here as a tenant with a landlord,” he said. “That would be privatization of the village buildings, wouldn’t it? Why not? If you’re going to have (a) private corporation come in and serve lunch to kids, maybe we have a privatization of our village offices, so that we’re a tenant in somebody else’s real estate. That’s how open-minded I am.”

Benner did not like that idea.

“I would not want to sell this complex or any other building complex and then turn around and pay rent to stay there,” he said.

Councilman Tony Albensi was the one who suggested placing the 98 S. Glaspie St. property on the ballot with the municipal complex in order to get as much public input as possible.

“I’m not one that has the tunnel vision that says we only need to put one on the ballot,” he said. “I would be in favor of letting the public decide on both properties.”

Albensi noted council can discuss both properties’ potential futures once the voters have rendered a decision on them.