Olentangy Valley News

Olentangy Valley area

Failure of fire levies, subsequent scrambling made the news in ’12

Sunday December 30, 2012 5:14 PM

Divisive campaigns to secure increased funding for the Liberty and Orange township fire departments dominated 2012 headlines in the Olentangy Valley area, while residents united against proposed developments and for a presidential hopeful.

Here’s a look back at some of the area’s top stories of the year.

 

Bitter ballot

Liberty Township officials were left scrambling in November after voters rejected a proposed fire levy on the Nov. 6 ballot by a razor-thin margin.

The expired operating levy was the sole dedicated funding source for township’s fire and EMS services.

Fire officials said approval of the levy would have allowed the township to preserve staffing levels and continue to provide the current level of fire and emergency medical services.

After it failed, the board of trustees scrambled to place a five-year, 5.6-mill emergency levy on the Feb. 5, 2013, ballot to keep the fire department running.

It gained support from all three township trustees, unlike the defeated 6.6-mill levy, which saw vigorous opposition from Trustee Melanie Leneghan.

The failed campaign to pass this year’s levy was divisive. Opponents claimed the fire department is overstaffed and accused supporters of fear-mongering.

Once the issue was voted down, trustees laid off 10 part-time firefighters and cut overtime hours to help boost the department through to the February election.

They pledged to forgo layoffs for the remainder of 2012, though this week laid off four full-time firefighters, effective Jan. 11.

In Orange Township, voters rejected a three-year, 7.8-mill fire levy Nov. 6, forcing township leaders to look for money elsewhere to fund the fire department in 2013 and beyond.

While township Trustee Chairman Rob Quigley and Trustees Lisa Knapp and Debbie Taranto voted to put a three-year, 7.5-mill levy on the special election ballot in February 2013, no money can be collected from that levy, if it’s successful, until 2014.

Collections on a three-year, 5-mill levy that has expired will run out at the end of 2012. An estimated carryover of $1.5 million is expected for 2013 – enough to last about three months, according to fire officials.

A blunder by township leaders in not meeting the special-election levy deadline Nov. 7 has further muddied the waters for the cash-strapped township. Incomplete paperwork was presented to the Delaware County Board of Elections and the filing was made two minutes after the 4 p.m. deadline.

The board of elections later voted unanimously to kick the issue off the ballot.

Email filings sent by the township at 3:52 and 3:53 p.m. that day prompted the township to take the matter to the Ohio Supreme Court under the assumption that those filings should be sufficient. However, Ohio law does not address the validity of email filings for election issues.

Township officials are hopeful the Supreme Court will expedite the case and order the levy back on the ballot. It is not known how long the process will take, as the case was expected to be filed with the

Supreme Court by mid-December. Regardless of what happens with the Supreme Court, there will not be enough money to carry the 65-member department, which includes 42 full-time firefighters, through 2013 without either borrowing money or using other township funds.

Trustees took action in early December to provide $1.1 million from the general fund to keep the department operating until May. Without that action, it was likely 22 firefighters would have lost their jobs.

Pink slips were handed out Dec. 6 notifying the firefighters that they would be laid off in 30 days. Those layoffs have since been put on hold while the township juggles its finances and awaits the fate of the special-election levy.

 

A win in Powell

City officials began planning for upgrades of Powell’s infrastructure after voters OK’d a capital-improvements levy on the November ballot.

Planned projects include various road and sewer repairs, completion of the Murphy Parkway extension, construction of a new park on Seldom Seen Road and new bike paths.

The 10-year, 1.8-mill levy is effectively a renewal of the city’s existing parks levy, which expires next year. It won’t raise taxes.

Mayor Richard Cline said the vote ended a “longtime struggle” to find ways to fund much-needed improvements in the city.

Several amendments to the Powell city charter, initially proposed to appear on the November ballot alongside the levy, were delayed to avoid dividing voter attention, according to officials. Residents instead will vote on the amendments in the spring of 2013.

 

Bridge work

A task force of Liberty Township residents reviewed numerous options in 2012 as part of an effort to save the historic Orange Road Bridge.

The volunteer group explored ways to preserve the structurally unsound bridge, located just east of Olentangy River Road and south of the new bridge that replaced it, after county officials ordered it renovated or closed in 2009.

Some suggested moving the bridge to a nearby park, where it would stand as a historical exhibit, though keeping the bridge in its original location wasn’t ruled out.

Task force members made plans to continue studying options in 2013.

 

Complex response

Plans for four new apartment complexes in Powell, Liberty Township and surrounding areas within the boundaries of the Olentangy Local School District sparked protests from local residents in the second half of 2012.

Many residents and officials worried the new apartments would bring unwanted traffic and compromise the character of the Powell area. Others warned the apartments would add too many new students to the crowded Olentangy district.

In 2012, just one of the complexes, located at the northeast corner of U.S. Route 23 and Lazelle Road, received approval to move forward.

Other projects remained in various states of development, including proposed apartments west of Sawmill Parkway, just north of Home Road; west of Sawmill Parkway, just south of Seldom Seen Road; and south of East Powell Road near the former site of Germain Amphitheater.

 

Campaign trail

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recognized the importance of the Delaware County vote with his Aug. 25 stop at Village Green Park in Powell.

Around 5,000 people packed the park to hear the former Massachusetts governor and his running mate, Wisconsin state Rep. Paul Ryan, speak about their plans for the country’s highest office.

Romney’s frequent tours of Ohio also included an October visit to the city of Delaware. Ultimately, the campaign would fall short of success as President Barack Obama won a second term in November.

 

Smoking ban

This year, Powell and Liberty Township officials enacted “soft” bans on smoking in local parks to keep smoking far from areas where children play.

In July, the Liberty Township Board of Trustees voted to prohibit smoking near township playgrounds and sports fields. Smoking still is permitted in parking lots and on bike trails.

Powell City Council followed in October with a ban on smoking within 15 feet of city playgrounds, under picnic shelters and near park bathrooms. As in Liberty Township, smoking is still allowed in other areas of the parks.

Officials said the laws will be self-enforcing because residents will feel justified asking smokers to stop.

 

Storm havoc

Southern Delaware County was hit hard by a storm that tore through central Ohio on June 29.

That night, it ripped through the Powell Festival, catching vendors by surprise as it threw tents and tables and forced organizers to call off the event for the evening.

Downed trees and power lines were reported across the city and much of the community was left without power.

Traffic signals were dead for days, several unoccupied buildings were damaged after trees toppled into them, and two storm-related fires were reported.

Overall, heavy rains and high winds caused power outages for more than 660,000 American Electric Power customers statewide.

Tom Sheehan contributed to this story.

 

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