Much to anticipate in 2022

Published 10:08 am Friday, December 31, 2021

Ringing in the new year is always cause for celebrating what’s to come, but it’s also a good time to reflect on everything we’ve accomplished in the last 365 days. 

When we take a step back and look at 2021 as a whole, our community has accomplished some incredible things despite the hand we were dealt. The pandemic, a winter storm, rain storms and flooding, budget restraints, rising costs of materials, employee and supply shortages could have knocked us down but the Oxford community does what it does best and demonstrated the resilience that has been part of our #OxfordStrong spirit from day one. 

There was much to celebrate in 2021 – a new State flag flying over Mississippi, formation of the OPD Community Response Team to walk hand in hand with victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse, creation of Coalition for a Safer Highway 7 and renewed interest by state officials to address the need to four-lane Highway 7 South, completion of sidewalk projects on East Jackson Avenue and Bramlett Boulevard, construction of a new Fire Station, a new “Greetings from Oxford” mural, unveiling of our first large scale roundabout sculpture, a new Ward 3 alderman, official formation of the Affordable Housing Commission Board, opening of East Jackson Avenue streetscape, parades and community celebrations for our Ole Miss Women’s Golf National Champions and local Oxford Olympians Sam Kendricks and Shelby McEwen, weekly pop-up vaccination sites with physicians and translators on hand to answer questions, reestablishing of curbside recycling, establishing a successful Animal Resource Center and renovating the current building to provide better care for our community’s animals, securing state funding and a T-Mobile Grant to build a downtown pocket park, hosting large football crowds and ESPN College Game Day, ending with our most successful Christmas Parade ever, ice skating, and carriage rides all under our canopy of lights. All of this was accomplished while giving our amazing City employees much deserved, sizable salary increases and providing a tax cut to our residents. Whew. And that’s just a quick highlight reel!

As we move into 2022, the City of Oxford is poised for success.  Fiscal responsibility, infrastructure improvements, small business support, space and succession planning for City departments, creating events and projects to continue to improve our quality of life, building partnerships, and securing funding from state and federal resources will be our focus in 2022.  

Your Mayor and Board of Aldermen work for you every single day.  We take very seriously our role in spending your dollars and making them go as far as possible.  Working to secure funding from state, federal, and other grant funding sources has been a priority for us over the past year and we experienced great success.  This funding will allow us to facilitate projects across our community without creating financial burden to our taxpayers.  

As many communities are struggling, we are seeing growth and record sales in retail and real estate. Sales tax revenues have rebounded and experienced significant growth in light of the pandemic.  While sales tax diversions to the City of Oxford dropped by 6% from FY 2019 to FY 2020, the amount of money the City received in sales tax diversions for FY 2021 increased by 13% from FY 2020 and over 6% from FY 2019 reaching a new high of over $10.6 million.  This record setting influx to sales tax diversion revenues, which lessens the burden on our ad valorem taxpayers, included two months of revenues from the diversions of over $1 million.  The total sales tax diversions for FY 2019 was $10,034,201.50, for FY 2020 was $9,389,173.15, and for FY 2021 was $10,648,586.69.  Through the first quarter of FY 2022, the sales tax diversions have exceeded $1 million for all three months which is on pace for a record setting year.  

The long-awaited intersection improvement at Highway 7 and University Avenue is moving forward. The City of Oxford and Mississippi Department of Transportation reached an agreement last month to allow the City to get started on the intersection project with $5 million dollars being provided by our State legislators, $1 million being provided by the City of Oxford, $1 million being provided by Lafayette County and the remainder of the project being funded by MDOT.  Plans are underway with hopes of construction beginning in late 2022.

Multiple utility infrastructure projects are underway and will provide much needed capacity and facility upgrades to serve our citizens.  This year the City of Oxford budgeted over $17 million for utility infrastructure upgrades for our electric, water, and sewer systems. Yearly, these projects are planned, designed, and constructed without much discussion and under the “radar”, but I will mention a few specifically.  One important project is the addition of a water supply well and water supply lines which is a $2.2 million project of which $1.7 million is funded as part of a Untied States Army Corps of Engineers Section 592 Program. 

Also, to facilitate growth the City is planning and designing a new water booster station to better serve the east side of Oxford.  Finally, as part of the future Highway 7 Improvement or widening project, utility relocations and upgrades are being designed and should be started in the coming year.  While some of the projects budgeted for are multi-year projects, the City of Oxford and Oxford Utilities are hard at work to insure our citizens are provided the best service possible in the most sustainable manner.  

 

Other infrastructure projects in planning stages are the connection of Pegues Road to Ed Perry Boulevard and a connector road from Brittany Woods to F. D. “Buddy” East Parkway.  Federal funds totaling approximately $1 million have been secured to assist with the costs of a cemetery creek project, South Lamar culvert project and a lift station generator project that will be facilitated this year. 

We were so appreciative to receive $250,000 from our State legislature during the 2021 session and a T-Mobile Hometown Grant of $50,000 that will allow us to transform an underutilized building and space in our historic Courthouse Square District next door to City Hall, into a green space where people will be able to read a book, enjoy their lunch break, visit with a friend, or listen to a local musician.  We continue to look for ways to provide free opportunities to enjoy our downtown area. Demolition of this area should begin in February with construction being completed in the fall of 2022.

Plans for a new City Pool are underway.  The Oxford Park Commission is working with citizens and the Oxford School District to determine what our community desires to see in a new City Pool.  We are really excited to get started on this project that will be a gift to our community for decades to come.  The Oxford Park Commission is currently finalizing the plans for a new Splash Pad that will be constructed this year beside the Skate Park.  Get ready for a great space for young children to splash and play!

Knowing that public art can be a powerful tool for building better cities, we will continue to find ways to incorporate creative art in city spaces.  Public art has long been recognized as a community asset in Oxford.  A new mural will be added in the downtown area in the Spring of 2022 and another roundabout sculpture is in the works!

A growing City means a growing number of employees to serve our residents and facilitate our amazing City services.  In 2022, we will begin implementation of a long-range plan for City offices.  Plans are to move Development Services to the old Park Commission building under the water tower.  The space freed up in City Hall will allow for additional employees to be hired to serve different departments. A new Oxford Police Department is desperately needed and plans are in motion to convert the Oxford Enterprise Center into our new Police Department.  Once the Oxford Police Department is relocated, the Oxford Park Commission will relocate into the current OPD building, allowing us to designate a Park Commission campus from the current City Pool to the Activity Center, with offices to oversee those facilities.  With many key department heads and supervisors being eligible for retirement in the next two years, we are focusing on succession plans and employee training.  We are also focusing on ways to retain employees, including compensation increases over the next few years.  We are committed to taking care of the employees who make Oxford the greatest place in the nation to live.

I say it often, but when our greatest challenges are the result of enormous growth, we should not complain.  And so, we won’t.  We will diligently and creatively plan.  We will establish policies that allow us to grow and protect the parts of Oxford that we treasure.  We will continue to look out for those who need our help the most. We will continue to problem solve and find ways to be more efficient. We will continue to seek ways to gather community input and communicate the plans for our growing community.

We are determined to make 2022 the best year yet! We are stronger together.