Olentangy Valley News

Orange Township runs out of money for extra deputies

Township calls account for 25 percent received by department, sheriff says

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Orange Township no longer has deputies for extra police protection after a contract with the Delaware County Sheriff's Office ended this month.

The $500,000 budget for the eight contract deputies was cut in half from the township's 2013 general fund budget at the beginning of the year, providing enough funds for only the first six months of the year.

The cut was made as a cost-saving measure as the township faced uncertain financial issues in 2013, particularly with its cash-strapped fire department.

Trustee Rob Quigley, who is the liaison for public safety, said at the board's meeting Monday, July 29, that the issue is in the hands of Delaware County commissioners, who must also sign off on any new contract.

While the township pays for deputy salaries and other expenses, the county picks up costs for pension, uniforms and more.

Trustee Lisa Knapp said at the meeting that she has heard from residents who are worried about the loss of police coverage.

Although the sheriff's office must provide deputies to patrol the entire county, including Orange Township, Knapp said, "My whole point is we need the (extra) coverage."

Quigley said the township is being proactive in its approach to the issue, but still must wait on action from commissioners.

Sheriff Russ Martin, who earlier this year said he hoped some kind of compromise could be worked out, issued a statement Tuesday, July 30.

"Orange Township remains one of the busiest areas in the county, with 25 percent of all calls or reports taken in 2012 coming from Orange Township residents," the statement said.

"The supplemental deputies went a long way in helping to respond to crime and problems in the area in a prompt manner. We'll do the best we can with limited resources."

The township had a police levy in the past, but a renewal levy failed in 2010. After remaining funds from the levy ran out, the township used general-fund money to pay for the contract deputies.

 

Numbers questioned

During a somewhat testy portion of the July 29 meeting, several residents raised questions about ongoing financial and legal issues in the township.

Bob Ruhlman, who has announced he will run for the board of trustees in the Nov. 5 general election, questioned the $1.3 million in savings that fire officials and other leaders have said would be realized from fire labor union concessions this year.

He contended that based on figures he has seen, the savings will be much less.

"There's a certain stigma out there that we're being lied to," Ruhlman said.

Quigley said no one is being lied to about township finances and that Ruhlman appeared to be grandstanding.

Quigley said a lot of variables must be considered when projected cost-savings are made in budget estimates and added he thinks the township will realize such a savings by the end of the year.

Both he and Trustee Debbie Taranto said there have been significant savings in fire overtime costs this year.

But Ruhlman was adamant about the figures he has.

"I don't believe you really know the answer," he said.

Ruhlman also questioned a letter to the editor by Fiscal Officer Joel Spitzer that ran in a May edition of ThisWeek Olentangy Valley News.

The letter said, in part, that Spitzer, Quigley and Taranto had negotiated a health insurance renewal package that ultimately will save the township $1 million.

Ruhlman asked where the savings will come from and how long it will take.

Spitzer replied that officials were able to get the numbers down.

"I wrote (the letter) and I stand by the figures," Spitzer said.

Resident Kirby Nielsen, who has had discussions with Spitzer and other township officials about insurance costs, said he doubted such a large savings could be achieved.

Nielsen worked for 29 years in the insurance industry and said factors such as higher future premium costs would have an impact on such savings.

Nielsen also wondered why the township has not moved forward with EMS billing. Knapp brought up the issue last year, estimating the township could bring in up to $400,000 a year by billing for hospital transports made by the fire department. Insurance companies, not residents, would be billed.

"I'm getting frustrated not knowing where we are going on this," Nielsen said. "This has been hanging around for a long time."

Quigley, who previously has said he thinks less money would be brought in through EMS billing, said he is working with county officials on the township being part of a countywide effort for EMS billing. He said such efforts take time, but ultimately could be a benefit to the township rather than Orange Township billing on its own.

Knapp said the township could move forward on its own and start bringing in revenue now.

Resident James Sensel also spoke up, saying he was concerned about the Raechel Peters case.

Peters, who was fired as a firefighter in 2007, won a $1.8-million gender discrimination court case against the township earlier this year. She has since settled for $875,000 and her job back.

"We seem to have an ongoing issue with the fire department so this sort of thing doesn't happen again and waste taxpayer money," Sensel said.

Quigley said township officials are working on policy changes and mandating additional training. He said the township is doing its best to ensure nothing like this happens again.

While an investigation by a private firm was conducted regarding the Peters case, Knapp said she will call for further investigation into what happened and whether township policies were properly followed.

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