Plans for a community recreation center in Orange Township have been shelved indefinitely as township trustees concentrate on getting a levy passed to save the fire department.
Trustee Chairman Rob Quigley said during the board's meeting Monday, Dec. 17, that his main priority is the fire department following the defeat of a three-year, 7.8-mill levy on Nov. 6. Trustees will try again next year with a three-year, 7.5-mill levy being sought for the Feb. 5 special election ballot, although the Ohio Supreme Court holds the fate of that levy in its hands.
Earlier this year, plans called for moving forward on a recreation center that was estimated to be about 89,000 square feet and to cost as much as $29 million. A bond issue likely would be needed to pay for the center.
"There have been a lot of questions about the community center," Quigley said. "One of the things (to do) is to table it indefinitely. ... My focus is strictly on the fire levy. We need to focus on the priorities."
Trustees Lisa Knapp and Debbie Taranto also thought postponing the recreation center is a good idea.
"I do agree with that completely ... I don't want to spend another dollar (on this)," Knapp said. "Have we stopped work on the next phase?"
Parks Director Beth Hugh told trustees that some work seeking further detailed information, including design work and land acquisition, still must be wrapped up.
But the project can be put on hold for six months, a year, or however much time is needed, she said.
Trustees last year approved a $55,000 study, including a community survey, to gauge interest in a recreation center. The study, conducted by an Indianapolis consulting company, indicated residents want a center.
Fiscal Officer Joel Spitzer questioned the need to hold up the recreation center, since money for it would come from different sources than money for the fire department.
He estimated that over the past several years, up to $300,000 has been spent on surveys and other costs looking at whether a recreation center should be pursued. That money could be wasted if it takes another year or two before moving forward, he said.
However, Quigley reiterated the focus now needs to be on the fire department.
One problem facing the township is that the Delaware County Board of Elections has ruled the February levy off the ballot because it was filed two minutes late by hand-delivery and didn't have all the necessary paperwork.
Township officials sent email filings prior to the 4 p.m. Nov. 7 deadline and have gone to the Ohio Supreme Court seeking to have the issue ordered back on the ballot. The township contends the email filings are valid, although Ohio law does not address the filing of election issues by email.
Officials said at the Dec. 17 board meeting that they do not know the status of the court case other than it was filed Dec. 12 and seeks an expedited ruling from the justices.
During the meeting, resident Kirby Nielsen questioned trustees about the fire levy.
He said the 7.8-mill levy was too big, coming on the heels of a three-year, 5-mill levy that has expired. The new 7.5-mill levy, if it stays on the February ballot, also is too much and likely will lose as well, he said.
"The failure to have a contingency plan (following the Nov. 6 levy defeat) led to high drama and threats of dire consequences," Nielsen said. "Do some long-term and comprehensive planning (and seek) a successful levy in May."
Resident Steve Kenish said he agreed with Nielsen's remarks and handed trustees copies of a statement he said echoed many of the same concerns.
Trustees have adopted a plan to use some general fund money, along with an expected fire fund carryover of $1.5 million at the end of the year, to help keep the department running in 2013.
No money from a levy passed in 2013 can be collected until 2014, but loans could be sought that would be paid back over the life of a successful levy.
The 65-member department includes 42 full-time firefighters. Township officials previously took action to begin layoffs of 22 full-time firefighters, but that has been put on hold.
As a gesture to save a little money for the township, Fire Chief Tom Stewart and Assistant Chief Matt Noble have decided to pay their 10 percent pension pick-up portion. The township now pays that portion for all full-time firefighters.
Stewart will pay $9,400 next year and Noble $8,700 toward their pensions. Stewart also has told trustees that he plans to retire next year, but has not decided when.