By Rod Lee
Oxford Town Manager Brian M. Palaia smiles self-deprecatingly when asked if it is true that he has a reputation for being “level-headed and solution-oriented.”
“Maybe level-headed,” he said from behind his desk in Memorial Hall on June 26th, as if jokingly leaving unsaid his agreement with the other half of the description.
Two and a half years in the position may be too short a time to determine whether Mr. Palaia fully measures up to the expectations Oxford’s Board of Selectmen had for him when he was hired by unanimous vote. But in departing Milton, Vermont for Oxford in 2015 he carried with him the ringing endorsement of that municipality’s lead selectman, Darren Adams, who said that Mr. Palaia had done “an outstanding job” and that his five-year tenure was marked by “a good rapport with the citizens of the town.”
A native of Bristol, Connecticut, a graduate of Salve Regina University with an MBA degree, the holder of a certificate in construction management from the University of Hartford, a husband (to Amy, a schoolteacher) and father of three children, Mr. Palaia is perfectly content with his latest assignment.
“My family’s happy, we’re glad to be back in southern New England,” he said.
The Palaias are living in Oxford.
Mr. Palaia has every reason to feel good about how Oxford is doing, business-wise and otherwise.
The newly minted Oxford Crossing complex, convenient to I-395 and anchored by Market Basket and Home Depot, is “awesome,” he said. “Native Wings moved in within the past month. I am hearing a lot of positive feedback about the dental business (KidsZone). Oxford Crossing is a great addition to the tax base.” He noted that there is room in Oxford Crossing for other businesses to come aboard.
Mr. Palaia was present for the recent opening of Harrington HealthCare’s Urgent Care Express facility directly opposite Oxford Crossing. Urgent Care Express is still waiting to be discovered by some of the town’s residents, he acknowledged, but “Oxford Fire & Rescue has been there a few times a week for calls and I’ve taken my kids there.”
The town has partnered with the Oxford Business Association (OBA) as it did for a business-and-infrastructure forum that coincidentally occurred as monies are being sought for road improvements and sewer work on Rt. 20 from its junction with Rt. 56 in Oxford to the Charlton town line. “Our application for a grant for sewer work on Rt. 20 was denied because it didn’t meet normal requirements but $50 million in state and federal dollars for the road work has been approved” and another $2 million is still being sought for the sewer work, he said.
“It would be an awful shame to not do the sewers first,” he said.
The town should be hearing soon, Mr. Palaia said, on state and federal funding for the much-anticipated and much-ballyhooed “sidewalk safety” project coming into Oxford via Central Turnpike in Sutton. Progress toward bringing this project to fruition continues and the town is “ready to go” if a state grant is OK’d.
One of Oxford’s premier businesses—IPG—“continues to grow” to “favorable reviews” and with impressive stock performances. The company is building a co-generation facility as it continues its quest for further efficiency, he said.
A zoning change due for consideration at Fall Town Meeting that would rezone land on the north end of Rt. 56 from residential to commercial signals the opportunity for still more commercial/industrial growth.
Mr. Palaia pointed out that while business/industrial growth is moving slowly in Oxford, that sector accounts for “20%” of the tax base. “In 1980 the nonresident tax base was 6% or 7%, so that’s a healthy” change.
There is even a reprieve coming for motorists frustrated with water-line work being done on Charlton St. west of the traffic light in Oxford Center by Aquarion that has resulted in delays and detours. That work is now finishing up. “Aquarion will be doing night work there and on side streets for the next few weeks and then that will be done,” Mr. Palaia said. Eight million dollars in grant money has been secured for the reconstruction of Charlton St. “but that won’t happen until 2018.”
In talking about Oxford “then and now” since he arrived, Mr. Palaia said “when I started we had a negative outlook on our bond rating which was very troubling.” This has been turned around. This spring when he asked the review board for “a continuance” in order to keep trying to get the rating in better shape the board took another look and said “the town has done a good job, we’ll remove the negative outlook and restore you” to good standing.
Of no less significance, he said, is that “the relationship between the schools and the town has improved” which is heartwarming to him in that “the superintendent (Dr. Mark Garceau) and I arrived about the same time.” The schools have improved from “Level 3 to Level 2” and the high school “to Level 1,” he said.
If there is a down side it is having gone on the roof of Memorial Hall during recent “re-pointing” work, Mr. Palaia said.
“I won’t be doing that again,” he said, laughing.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.
Oxford Town Manager Brian M. Palaia, eager to share the good news about business growth in the municipality.