All three Orange Township trustees see maintaining the township's fire department as a top priority for 2013.
Other important issues in the new year will include infrastructure maintenance, improvements to township parks, and revisiting the contract with the Delaware County Sheriff's Office that now provides eight contract deputies for the township at a cost of $500,000 a year from the general fund. (Trustees approved appropriations for 2013 in a special meeting last Thursday, Dec. 27, and cut the contract to $250,000.)
The failure of a three-year, 7.8-mill fire levy Nov. 6 left the fate of the fire department in turmoil as funding will dry up in 2013.
A three-year, 7.5-mill levy is being sought for the Feb. 5 special election, but that levy is in limbo as the Ohio Supreme Court decides if it can be on the ballot. The Delaware County Board of Elections ruled the issue off the ballot because it was filed late with incomplete paperwork.
Township officials maintain that email filings prior to the 4 p.m. deadline Nov. 7 are sufficient to meet deadline requirements. Ohio law is silent on the issue of email filings for election issues, so the township has asked the Supreme Court to intervene. No ruling had been made as of Friday, Dec. 28.
Even if a levy is successful this winter, no taxes can be collected until 2014, so the township must borrow from the general fund and possibly seek loans to keep the department operating this year.
Trustees Debbie Taranto, Lisa Knapp and Robert Quigley responded in emails to questions about the fire department and other issues for 2013.
"I will be working on the fire levy and the future of our fire department," Taranto said. "Will it be the same or look different moving forward?"
"We must pass a fire levy in 2013 or we will not have a fire department," Knapp said. "Instead of focusing on the fire levy in 2012, the proposed community recreation center and numerous other non-urgent issues were made a priority. It's time to get the township back on track."
Quigley said in his email that "we are still making cuts and changes ... (Fire protection) is a core service for a township to provide to the residents, and I want to make sure we are able to continue to provide this service."
Taranto said the township's parks levy is due for renewal this year but stressed no additional funds would be sought.
"We have received $1.4 million from (the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission) towards the (planned pedestrian) bridge over U.S. Route 23 and that will be the major parks project in 2013, along with the trails that lead to and from it," she said. "We will now have safe access across 23 that leads to our North Orange Park, pool and the library."
Taranto said she also would focus on the dangerous intersection of Orange Road and Route 23. Meetings will be held with Delaware County officials over proposed road improvements for East Powell Road, Bale Kenyon Road and Worthington Road.
"In addition to the above projects, I will be working on Orange Township's budget and health insurance contributions," Taranto said.
Knapp said strong leadership is needed in 2013 from trustees and other township officials. While she disagreed with the other two trustees in 2012 on some matters, including the millage amount for the fire levy and the need to pursue a community center, she said cooperation and compromise is needed by trustees if residents are going to support a fire levy.
Finding other revenue streams to help the fire department is also important.
"We need to begin EMS billing as soon as possible; this has been considered for years but still not implemented, and we have lost out on millions of dollars of revenue as a result," Knapp said.
She estimated that hospital transports, which would be covered by insurance and not be charged to residents, could bring in about $400,000 a year.
"We also need to analyze every expenditure, even longstanding ones, to ensure that our money is being spent wisely," she said. "For example, we're paying for additional police service even though the residents told us they didn't want us to when the (police) levy failed two years ago."
She also said it is important to obtain more and better public input on each issue to ensure the township is doing what residents really want.
Quigley said keeping a firm grip on the township budget is important.
"Orange Township is still growing, but at the same time aging," he said. "We need to be diligent in making sure we control spending now to ensure we are able to maintain the strength of the township and prepare for future growth."
Quigley also said he thinks the township can work more closely with the county and surrounding townships to find more ways to be efficient and cut costs.
"This can be done by working together to find areas in which we can share or utilize resources already in place, he said. "I already have some plans I want to implement that will help control costs for Orange Township and at the same time allow us to be more efficient."
Economic development is important to the financial health of the township as well, Quigley said.
"Commercial growth can help alleviate the tax burden," he said.
"Orange Township has a tremendous opportunity to grow and we are fortunate to see 2013 as a year of opportunity that we need to build upon.
"Menards (home improvement store) will be completed, a tire distribution warehouse has submitted (building) plans, Triple T Transportation headquarters plan has been approved and we have seen an increase in interest in Orange Township by developers," he said. "These developments will not only help increase the valuation of the township but they will also bring jobs to the area.
"I want to make sure we continue to focus on growth and retention, guaranteeing a stronger future for the township."