FISH looking to Oxford for new digs

Oxford Township and Village officials last week expressed their unanimous support for the idea of letting Oxford/Orion FISH lease the old fire hall.
Now, the local charity and two government entities must work out all the details to make that idea a reality.
‘I think it is absolutely the correct thing to do for the community,? said village Councilman Steve Allen.
‘Every one of these board members would be more than happy to have FISH in that building,? said township Trustee Pat Fitchena.
FISH representatives went to the Nov. 9 village council and Nov. 10 township board meetings asking officials to lease the old fire hall (behind the municipal office complex on W. Burdick St.) to the group.
FISH is an all-volunteer social services agency that since 1973 has provided a wide range of assistance to local needy families and individuals. They collect and distribute emergency food, help pay rent and utility bills and provide emergency transportation for prescription drug pick-ups, visits to the doctor’s office and social service appointments.
At Thanksgiving and Christmas, FISH provides holiday meals and gifts for those whose dinner tables and stockings might otherwise be empty.
‘Any little thing you can think of that you might need, but don’t have the money or the means to obtain, we try to help out,? said FISH Secretary Margaret Monprode, who addressed both governing bodies.
FISH wishes to use the old fire hall to house its emergency food pantry and establish a new resale shop (or thrift store) to generate more revenue for the group.
Currently, FISH’s food pantry is housed in the basement of Immanuel Congregational United Church of Christ on Hovey St., where it’s been located for the last 30 years.
‘We have outgrown that space,? Monprode told officials.
FISH wants and needs to have a ‘central space? to serve as the base of operations for its charitable efforts, according to Monprode. She said right now, with the exception of the food pantry, the group is ‘mostly housed out of volunteers? homes.?
‘We’re not asking you to give it to us,? said Monprode of the old fire hall. ‘We are willing to pay a reasonable rent (and) reasonable maintenance.? FISH would also be willing to pay the utilities.
Monprode told officials FISH understands ownership of the hall is presently ‘under contention? between the township and village.
The village claims it owns 100 percent of the building, while the township asserts the Oxford Public Fire and EMS Commission owns it. The old fire hall is one of the disputed assets involved in the township’s pending lawsuit against the village and OPFEC. Through the lawsuit, the township is seeking to remove itself from OPFEC and dissolve the safety authority once and for all.
‘If both governing bodies can agree to let us occupy it, the building can be (used) to the benefit of both communities,? FISH wrote in a letter to the governments. ‘Oxford/Orion FISH hopes you agree that it is unfortunate for any building ultimately owned by the public to sit underutilized when it can be put to good use for the public.?
Monprode said FISH considers use of the old fire hall a ‘short-term solution? to its facility needs.
She said FISH would like to lease the old fire hall for ‘at least two years, so we can establish a shop,? but ‘five years would be better so we wouldn’t feel rushed.?
‘We hope that we would be able to move on to something else down the road,? she said.
Village officials responded favorably to FISH’s request.
‘It’s always been a consensus of this council to do something with that old building that would be beneficial to the community,? said Councilman Allen.
By a 5-0 vote, the village council Nov. 9 passed a motion to ‘preliminarily approve the leasing to the Oxford/Orion FISH of a portion of the old fire hall for their food bank and store, and authorize (FISH Secretary) Margaret Monprode, (village Manager) Joe Young, (village Building and Zoning Official) John Elsarelli and (village Police Chief) Mike Neymanowski to work out the final details of such a lease.?
Township officials also responded favorably to FISH’s request, however, they expressed their belief that the lease agreement should be between OPFEC and FISH, not between the village and FISH.
Treasurer Joe Ferrari said he thinks FISH is a ‘wonderful organization? that does ‘wonderful work for our community,? but his ‘only issue? with the request is the township board is ‘not the right venue.? He said FISH needs to make its request to OPFEC because the old fire hall is ‘not technically a township asset.?
‘I believe it’s a fire department asset,? the treasurer said. ‘When it comes in front of OPFEC next Wednesday, I’ll be the first one to vote for it because I think it’s a very valuable cause. But I don’t know if it’s up to us to basically allocate a fire department asset.?
Trustee Fitchena agreed. ‘OPFEC is where that really has to come to,? she said.
Monprode told Ferrari FISH had already planned to make its request again at the Nov. 17 OPFEC meeting. ‘We as an organization are covering our bases. We’re going to all three meetings,? she said.
Despite its belief that OPFEC is the proper body to address FISH’s request, the township board did approve the following resolution by a 6-0 vote:
‘Whereas, this township board is advised FISH desires to lease and use the old fire hall located in the Village of Oxford; and
‘Whereas, the township board has no objections either in its capacity when acting on behalf of the township, or in its capacity as a member of OPFEC to the use of the old fire hall by FISH; and
‘Whereas, the township has taken the position and continues to take the position that the old fire hall by agreement is properly owned by OPFEC.
‘Now therefore, be it resolved that the township continues to assert the old fire hall is owned by OPFEC, and OPFEC is the property party to be entering a lease with FISH, not the Village of Oxford. The township, as a member of OPFEC, however, has no objection and in fact, supports FISH using and occupying the old fire hall for its charitable purpose. The township reserves the right in the pending lawsuit with the village to claim its ownership interest in the old fire hall upon dissolution of OPFEC.?
Basically, the township’s resolution supports FISH using the old fire hall and supports OPFEC leasing the building to the charity, but at the same time makes it clear that this support in no way means the township is relinquishing its ownership claims to the facility.
FISH will make its request again at the Nov. 17 OPFEC meeting, before both the township board and village council, which make-up the safety authority board.