LEWIS CENTER — Orange Township has four candidates running for two trustee seats. What is unusual, however, is that a trustee who is not up for reelection is seeking a different trustee seat on Nov. 2.
Trustee Ben Grumbles was originally denied by the Delaware County Board of Elections to be on the ballot; but he appealed, and the Ohio Supreme Court said there was nothing in the state law that prevented him from doing so. Also on the ballot is incumbent Ryan Rivers, former Trustee Lisa Knapp, and newcomer Kristie Ramsey. Incumbent Debbie Taranto is not seeking reelection.
The Gazette asked the candidates why they are running, what is the top issue facing the township and how they intend to handle it, and whether they support local COVID-19 guidelines. Here are their responses, in alphabetical order:
Ben Grumbles: “I am running for Orange Township Trustee to give residents an alternative to someone provably beholden to developers and political influencers. I have fought to safeguard the voice of our residents against both and consistently put our community first. During my previous campaign I promised to lead with respect, collaborative spirit, professionalism, and vision. I committed to reducing property taxes, improving infrastructure, and making safety services a top priority. I have delivered on all of the promises and commitments I made to Orange Township’s residents.
“I want to ensure the progress made over the last two years is solidified. We have so much momentum right now, a very strong team, and a lot of work in process still to complete. It will take an engaged leader focused on the community, and not self-promotion, to ensure continued success. Our township deserves to have an alternative to a disengaged incumbent who placed his own political ambition ahead of Orange Township’s future for four years. I am running to ensure residents have that choice on Nov. 2.
“External pressure from developers and political influencers is the main issue facing Orange Township. For years, Delaware County has been one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, schools have remained strong, and quality of life is consistently rated high. This dynamic started a housing boom in the southernmost portion of the county that has continued north for years. In Orange Township, we have very few large parcels left for housing. Because the market price per acre remains high, developers are shifting focus to apartments that deliver far higher return per acre on their investment.
“Township trustees ultimately control zoning, and zoning dictates development. The easiest way for apartment developers to increase density and approve their projects in Orange Township is to convince trustees to vote for them. Candidates with the largest campaign funds statistically win by an overwhelming margin.
“I respect common-sense legislation and open collaboration with other government agencies. We continue to learn more with time, and we need to ensure our rules and regulations evolve as our knowledge does. I have been able to work with our local Health District to find middle ground when needed.”
Lisa Knapp: “I’m running because I truly care about our community. I moved here in 1998 and later that year, took a position at Orange Township working in zoning. I decided 13 years later to run for trustee because I saw areas in which we could improve service to our residents, which led to two terms as a trustee from 2012 to 2019. During that time, I worked very hard to achieve fiscal transparency and accountability, something that had been lacking prior, and to put residents’ needs first, and to improve employee morale.
“Since 1998, I have worked extensively in our community, not only as a township official, but as an advocate for our school children, and as a volunteer anywhere I’ve been needed.
“Orange Township needs leadership that has extensive experience with township operations and understands not only its history, but also what is necessary to protect itself from outside interests who are only concerned with profits. Outsiders, especially developers, are often eager to take immediate advantage of freshman trustees, which we have seen over the past few years.
“I am the only candidate who is not supported by developers, and the only one with the necessary extensive, well-rounded knowledge of township operations and departments, especially zoning.
“The overdevelopment of our Township is of great concern to me. Over the past two years, unprecedented development has taken place in Orange Township, not only increasing our taxes but also traffic. I will use my 22-plus years experience in township zoning to ensure that all applications are thoroughly vetted and are the right fit for our community.
“Also of concern is the current board’s ‘two-to-one’ philosophy. Rather than working together, trustees spend their time arguing at the meetings, with their personality conflicts getting in the way of progress. This is counterproductive and I will end that. We need three responsive and neutral trustees who are not beholden to each other or others, but instead to the township residents, and who can work together, despite any differences, towards that goal. I am one of them.
“As always, I support and will follow all Ohio laws. I support logic, and fact-based science and data.”
Kristie Ramsey: “Unfortunately, years of political instability and in-fighting has resulted in unnecessary lawsuits, wasted tax dollars, and lost business opportunities in Orange Township. It has cost our community greatly, and our families are ultimately left footing an ever-increasing tax bill as a result. I believe that taking the oath of office is a sacred commitment no matter what level of government you serve. My goal is to bring professionalism and respect to the trustee position. Years of experience serving on boards has taught me to have a level head in the decision-making process, and to lead with a servant’s heart.”
Ramsey listed three issues facing Orange Township:
“Taxes — Orange Township had a rapid population increase and there was not a solid plan in place to balance the new residential growth with the right mix of commercial growth. This has left our area with an unbalanced tax base, and too large of a share of taxes to support our schools now fall on the shoulders of our families/homeowners … I will work with all levels of government and focus on long term growth planning that will promote Orange Township’s success.
“Roads — Delaware County is one of the most desirable places to live in the state of Ohio. This is reflected in the tremendous growth within the county during the past 30 years. As typical for areas that experience this type of rapid growth, our transportation infrastructure has failed to keep pace. Our community is experiencing safety, congestion, and travel time issues on our roads. As trustee, I’ll focus on infrastructure as a key component of planning and development.
“Safety — As Orange Township’s population increases, the need for long-term safety planning increases. Safety is a priority of mine because if we don’t have our safety, we don’t have anything. As trustee, I’ll do my part to make sure law enforcement has the resources it needs to keep our community safe.”
With regards to the coronavirus, Ramsey said, “The Delaware Public Health District director has done a great job updating the trustees and residents of Orange Township throughout the pandemic. As trustee, I would maintain that strong line of communication and stay informed as COVID-19 guidelines evolve at all levels of government.”
Ryan Rivers: “I am seeking re-election to see through the commitments and projects started in my first term. Through collaboration with the private sector, county and local officials, we have been able to complete long-pending projects and get positive results. In my next term I will continue to protect our tax dollars, move forward infrastructure projects, and support law enforcement to keep our community safe.”
Rivers listed three major issues facing Orange:
“Infrastructure — Working with Delaware County and the private sector, the much-needed Home Road extension, that has been talked about for almost 20 years, is becoming a reality. As a community leader and relationship builder, I’ll continue to focus on our roads and infrastructure as a key to our success.
“Safety — With our growth the need for long-term safety planning is a top priority. I will support law enforcement and work with all levels of government to provide the resources law enforcement needs.
“Taxes — 20-plus years ago came the development of Polaris Parkway. Since, Orange Township has had an explosion in growth without a solid vision in place to balance the residential boom with more businesses. The lack of balance has left our homeowners to shoulder the taxes as more students were added to our school district. To be competitive and attract desirable businesses to help balance our tax base, we must have a solid long-term plan with stable leadership from our elected officials. I have a proven record in working with the private sector, local government, and stakeholders for a shared long-term blueprint for our success. It is critical we have teamwork and political harmony to move Orange Township forward.”
Lastly, Rivers said, “I have worked with the DPHD director since the very beginning of the pandemic. Going forward, I plan to stay informed and work with all resources as COVID-19 guidelines change.”
Also on the ballot for Orange Township residents is a Fire/EMS renewal tax levy. The language reads: “A renewal of a tax for the benefit of Orange Township, Delaware County, Ohio for the purpose of providing and maintaining fire apparatus, appliances, buildings or sites therefor, or sources of water supply and materials therefor, or the establishment and maintenance of lines of fire alarm telegraph, or the payment of firefighting companies or permanent, part-time, or volunteer firefighting, emergency medical service, administrative, or communications personnel to operate the same, including the payment of any employer contributions required for such personnel under section 145.48 or 742.34 of the Ohio Revised Code, or the purchase of ambulance equipment, or the provision of ambulance, paramedic, or other emergency medical services operated by a fire department or firefighting company at a rate not exceeding 7 mills for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to $0.70 for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for 3 years, commencing in 2022, first due in calendar year 2023.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.