Orange Township trustee Lisa Knapp's seat is up for grabs in the Nov. 5 election, and Knapp herself -- plus challengers Robert Quigley and Ben Grumbles -- all are angling for it.
Here are the candidates' thoughts on three questions posed by ThisWeek Olentangy Valley News:
What is the biggest issue facing Orange Township right now, and how would you resolve it?
Grumbles: The main issue facing Orange Township is lack of a diversified tax base.
Orange Township has consistently grown over the years. That growth spiraled out of control after years of elected officials making poor decisions that lacked vision. We need a cohesive group of elected officials focused on securing the right opportunities for Orange Township.
My plan to diversify our tax base revolves around smart economic development. Using public-private partnerships, we can generate funding and reduce the tax burden facing residents. This will allow us to fix roads, improve safety services and complete trails without raising taxes or adding new levies.
I am well-versed in establishing public-private partnerships and actively manage them in my current role with the Department of Defense.
Knapp: Over the past eight years, I have worked relentlessly to overcome dysfunction, lack of fiscal oversight and poor service to our residents, and my efforts have been successful. We are now finally on the right track, working together as a team to move Orange Township forward.
Projects are being completed, costs are being reviewed and financial forecasts are being prepared. Legal fees are lower than they have been in years. Our new management is motivated and eager to accomplish great things for you.
Orange Township is poised for the future, so it's imperative that we maintain the current dynamic of the board in order to continue this progress. One trustee is brand new; the other two are experienced. Each of us has our own strengths that we bring to the table; working together, our results have been exponential.
My unique strength is 21 years of township experience; my knowledge of township operations and finances has taken years to build and is unparalleled. I have excellent working relationships with staff, years of institutional knowledge, I know what questions to ask, and I can answer most questions off the top of my head.
Quigley: In speaking with residents, the main concerns are taxes and ensuring the township's budget is managed efficiently. Safety, managing growth effectively while maintaining a sense of community and improving infrastructure to alleviate traffic issues are also items of concern.
As a former trustee, I have the experience working with community leaders to be proactive in developing plans and solutions to address these areas. With a focus on proper economic development, my goal is to alleviate the tax burden while maintaining your investment in the community.
We also need to ensure we focus on what is needed and not waste money on frivolous ideas. A solid budget is the foundation of ensuring an organization can prosper. I will be proactive with working with our county sheriff's department to bring more coverage to the township. By working closely with Delaware County, this can be done in a cost-effective way.
As the township continues to grow, what can trustees do to manage that growth?
Grumbles: To ensure we regain control of our township's growth, we need to build strong relationships, plan strategically and take action methodically.
As mentioned above, relationships have the ability to generate capital. The presence of capital will enable us to make more proactive decisions. By planning strategically we can develop a uniting vision our community has lacked for years, coordinate projects more effectively and communicate more proactively.
We have adequate feedback from the community and it was used to develop our township's Comprehensive Plan. Our studies and plans must be brought together with a strong implementation plan.
Being methodical in using the resources noted above, we can further prepare ourselves to take advantage of opportunities when they surface. This cycle of controlled, intentional growth is at heart of smart economic development and why it is critical to our community's future. In addition, it lends itself well to establishing a community culture attracting partners who want to integrate and be part of it.
To do all of this, Orange Township needs fresh perspective, and that requires electing a new trustee.
Knapp: When I began working for Orange Township in 1998, the population was only 7,000; it is now over 31,000. We have as gone through several major growth spurts over the years, but we are now 82% built out and the building boom is over here.
I will adhere to our zoning resolution's densities and continue to encourage the development of housing that will bring in as few school children as possible, as 80% of our taxes go to Olentangy schools and the number of school children continues to increase.
Also, with that growth has come traffic congestion and construction. We have completed several major roadway improvements during my term that have greatly improved congestion, especially the South Old State widening. I will continue to work with the county on common-sense road improvements, and continue to monitor costs and aesthetics, as well.
Also, now more than ever, it is important to continue to attract high-quality businesses that will help balance our tax base, and I will continue to do so. The strong partnerships that we've formed with Delaware County have assisted us with attracting many such businesses to the township over the past few years.
Quigley: Trustees are in a unique position where they can only do what the state statute allows them to do. With that, we can ensure our zoning code is tightened up to outline the specifics on what growth would look like. Make sure we adhere to that code and do not pass up opportunities to maintain green-space.
We also need to be more proactive with our infrastructure. I have the experience working with the county and state with projects to improve traffic flow like the completion of the intersection of U.S. 23 and Orange Road. Working with the county engineer, I have also introduced the idea of a tunnel under the railroad track on Orange Road. It can and should be done.
Should the township have its own police department? Why or why not?
Grumbles: Our community has grown tremendously over the years, and it is critical that emergency services keep pace.
In 2013, our township's elected officials failed to maintain an agreement with the Delaware County sheriff to provide extra patrols in the community. At the time, the sheriff noted Orange Township accounted for 25% of all calls received and the decision would force him to "do the best we can with limited resources." Safety of our residents has to be our top priority, and it is irresponsible as leaders to ask first responders to keep our rapidly growing community safe with less.
That is why I support reviewing all options to address safety concerns. It is important to find the best solution to ensure adequate law enforcement presence. That includes considering sources of funding. To continue improving Orange Township we need to start with smart economic development. As mentioned above, by engaging in public-private partnerships, developers and commercial partners will start contributing their fair share to our township and schools. These revenues can be used to help address safety concerns and bolster emergency services.
Knapp: Per reports from the sheriff's office, crime has actually decreased in Orange Township since 2013 proportionally to population growth. By law, the sheriff is required to provide adequate police services to Orange Township, and I believe they have done a very good job, recently adding several new officers. Their average response times to Orange Township are very good.
Police departments are very expensive to start and to run, at around $4 million-plus annually, and the startup costs can be up $10 million or more. Not including startup costs, the average cost to residents would be around $600 to $700 per year. Our general fund cannot pay or sustain that. We would need to put a bond issue and operating levy on the ballot for the residents to decide.
Another solution is to hire special deputy officers to patrol or direct traffic, which we do frequently, and the cost is very reasonable. Ultimately, it is up the residents, and I will respect their desires. However, I would want to hold public forums and get input from the residents before making any such decisions.
Quigley: Over the years, I have reviewed the crime reports from the Delaware County Sheriff's department. They do not show a drastic increase in crime, but we all know and hear more and more about car break-ins and other concerning safety issues.
We do need community police presence for quick response and visibility to crack down on break ins and speeding, building relationships with residents and our children. I do not believe we need to propose a new levy to build a police station and buy equipment and then another levy to operate the police station. I do believe that we can work closely with the Delaware County commissioners and sheriff to increase the coverage in Orange Township. This can be done in a more cost-effective manner that won't put a heavy tax burden on the residents while providing for a safe community.