A decision to place an Orange Township fire levy renewal on the ballot won't be made until 2012.

A decision to place an Orange Township fire levy renewal on the ballot won't be made until 2012.

Outgoing trustee Nelson Katz said he could not support going forward after trustee-elect Lisa Knapp told trustees Nov. 21 she needed more time to be properly informed about the levy issue and fire department budget.

Katz and trustee Chris Masciola lost their trustee races Nov. 8. Debbie Taranto also was elected a trustee.

Masciola and trustee Rob Quigley agreed to delay the levy decision.

Trustees had discussed asking the Delaware County auditor to certify a millage amount to raise $7.5 million a year.

"I'm truly not comfortable making that motion (seeking millage certification) knowing one of our future trustees is not on board," Katz said.

The current three-year, 5-mill levy expires at the end of 2012. It raises about $5 million a year for a department that has an annual operating budget of more than $7 million. Katz had told the other trustees that it was likely a 7.3-mill levy would be needed to maintain fire service at current levels. Dec. 7 is the deadline for placing an issue on the March ballot.

Knapp said she knows the township needs a good fire department, but the public must be educated on the need for a larger levy.

"I also worry about two trustees leaving soon and putting something on the ballot and then you have new people coming in. I don't know how people would perceive that," she said.

Taranto told the trustees, "I've looked at the budget. I've talked to the (fire) chief. I've talked to you (trustees). I'm comfortable with what you are doing."

Westerville Fire Department Lt. Ken Yarnell, who ran unsuccessfully for Masciola's seat, told trustees that Knapp is right to want to wait. He said while a renewal levy is needed, the timing is not ideal.

"People are tired of taxes," he said, pointing out that many school and other levies were defeated in the Nov. 8 election.

Last summer, Katz, Quigley and then-trustee Jennifer Christian opted not to seek a fire levy in the November after deciding the timing was not right. Christian resigned in August because she and her family were moving out of state and Masciola was appointed to succeed her.

Quigley said at the Nov. 21 meeting that time for a levy campaign is limited. Knapp said county Auditor George Kaitsa told her a levy could be put on the June primary. She showed Kaitsa's emails on the question to the other trustees.

Ohio has scheduled two primary elections next year - in March and June. Quigley and township legal counsel Mike McCarthy said uncertainty exists about how the June primary will work.

"If June 12 is not possible, you only have one more chance (in November 2012)," Quigley said.

Because a police levy failed in 2010, he said, the township has to spend about $500,000 a year from the general fund to pay the county sheriff's office for eight contract deputies to patrol the township.

A fire levy defeat would create a much larger strain on the general fund, he said.

The fire department anticipates having between a $2.9 million and $3.2 million cash carryover into 2012.

Township officials said that year-end balance has been shrinking and is expected to fall to about $1.7 million by the end of 2012.

Fire Chief Tom Stewart said the department has been frugal regarding equipment purchases and hiring new employees. The department now has 43 full-time firefighters and about 12 part-timers.

The township expects to start 2012 with a cash balance of about $11 million, $6 million of which is earmarked for roadway projects over the next five to 10 years. Fiscal officer Joel Spitzer said trustees can instead spend that roadway money for general fund operating costs, if needed.

Also at the meeting, trustees set hearings at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 on rezoning requests by Highdev Inc., Mernards and Evans Capital Investments Ltd.

Highdev and Menards want to build a 162,000-square-foot home improvement store on 27 acres north of Orange Point Road on the east side of U.S. Route 23. Another 43 acres would be rezoned for outparcels for a restaurant and other commercial use.

Evans Capital Investments wants to rezone 92 acres behind the proposed Menard's store for light industrial and commercial use. Both rezonings have been recommended for approval by the township zoning commission.