BUTLER TWP. – Sharp differences of opinion emerged among the three candidates for Butler Township Trustee during a candidate forum Thursday night.
The forum, sponsored by the Vandalia-Butler Chamber of Commerce and the Vandalia Drummer News, was held at Christian Life Center.
Doug Orange, the incumbent, is being challenged by Joe Flanagan and Tom Zeigler.
The candidates discussed a wide range of issues including the Township’s budget, annexation and the City of Union, truck traffic, and Limited Home Rule.
When asked why they are the best candidate for the position, both Orange and Flanagan touted their experience.
“I have the experience, education, and 25 plus years of working at the Township level, all spent aggressively moving up the ladder,” said Flanagan.
Orange countered with experience of his own.
“I was a member of the zoning commission before I was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1995,” he said. “The Township has come an incredible way in the last 20 years, and I have been the one constant in that. Having lived here my entire life, I believe I have the pulse of the community.”
Zeigler said he was trying to be an advocate for the residents.
“I’ve been very active the last two years with citizen groups, county leaders, the TID (Transportation Improvement District),” said Zeigler. “We all moved to the township for local government, not to be sucked up into another city.”
While all agreed that the Township’s revenue sources and budget are a source of concern, they differed on how much of a problem it is and how to address it.
“Our top issue is funding,” said Orange. “We have suffered significant revenue loss over the last five years and trying to offer the same high-quality services to residents is a challenge.”
Zeigler said that the biggest issue facing the Township is loss of land due to annexation, but said the Township should be more aggressive in economic development.
“We need to be going after more manufacturing jobs which are better than the service jobs on Miller Lane,” he said.
Flanagan blamed the state legislature, but also blamed the current trustees for their inaction.
“The state is balancing the state budget on the backs of local townships, cities, and school districts,” Flanagan charged. “The budget of Butler Township is at a critical juncture.”
He said that the Township’s carry over funds will be zero in 2018 or 2019 based on current budget projections.
“This will cause a reduction in the police force, and nothing is being done to address the budget issues,” he said. “Spending has gone up without any economic development to offset more spending. They (Trustees and staff) are more worried about branding the Township versus building infrastructure to encourage economic development.”
Orange said that Flanagan’s charges were untrue.
“The Township has made several budget cuts over the past few years, and the carry over balance in 2015 is higher than it was in 2009,” said Orange. “We have invested $1.3 million in the Miller Lane district. While we are concerned about the budget, the picture Mr. Flanagan paints is worse than it really is.”
Flanagan called for the Township to go to zero-based budgeting – starting each line item at zero each year.
“To continue to do things as they have in the past won’t work,” he said.
Flanagan said that Trustees have erred in not reviewing levies and increasing them as needed and in not making the Joint Economic Development Zone on Miller Lane a two percent tax instead of the current one percent.
“They should have also taken it up to the interstate (I-70),” he said. “I’m not sure why they did that.”
Orange countered by saying taxes on Township residents have not been raised in nine years.
“Not many townships in Ohio can say that, especially while they maintained a high level of services.”
On the subject of increased truck traffic in the Township, Zeigler and Flanagan said the best option was to discuss the issue with neighboring Union.
“I would love to get together with John Applegate (Union City Manager) and see if we can work together for the whole area,” said Flanagan.
“We can’t stop some of the things that have already happened, but I think working with the TID and county agencies more than we are now will help in the future,” he said.
Orange said that the Township’s Limited Home Rule proposal, which is also on the November ballot, would not solve the issue but would give the Township more tools.
“Limited home rule is not going to fix the problems, but it can help,” said Orange.
Each candidate proposed getting tough with the City of Union in an effort to prevent annexation and what many fear as the drive to turn rural property into commercial development.
“When the City of Union and the TID uses the term collateral damage in referring to Township residents that gives you an idea of the kind of people we are dealing with up there,” said Orange. “As long as the county commission is behind them, Union will keep doing what they are doing.”
Flanagan said that residents should band together to raise funds to create legal challenges to any new development.
“I would suggest we consider telling John Applegate that the next time he moves dirt he is going to get sued,” said Flanagan. “The Township may lose that case, but word will get out that every time they try they are going to get sued and they will quit coming to the area.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.