2009-02-21 / News

Baltimore faces challenges in 2009

By Scott Rawdon

BALTIMORE - Financial challenges have not stopped the Village of Baltimore from providing its residents and businesses with excellent services, said Mayor Robert Kalish during his State of Village address Monday morning at Liberty Union High School.

"Like virtually all other communities, we are faced with financial challenges," said Kalish. He said the village has made budget cuts and delayed some capital projects, and will continue to be vigilant in balancing its budget, "always mindful of possible cuts in revenue." Kalish thanked Fiscal Officer Flo Welker for the village's receipt of a clean audit.

Kalish said Pastor Michael Donnally's Group Work Camp was a 2008 highlight. Last summer, 345 youths and adults descended upon the village from nine states and Canada to improve more than 50 seniors and single parents' homes. "The 345 youths and adults paid to come to Baltimore to the Buckeye State Group Work Camp and work on homes of people that they never knew," said Kalish. The Baltimore Christ United Methodist Church and the Liberty Union-Thurston School District worked together to bring the work camp to town.

Kalish said Baltimore is home to more than 80 businesses, which shows that Baltimore is a "great place to be in business in Fairfield County and in Central Ohio." He said the village welcomes the Oil Can, an oil change businesses owned by Greg Bishop, to 600 North Main Street. "This represents an investment in Baltimore of $400,000," said Kalish. Wickham Automotive and an antique store on East Market Street recently opened in Baltimore, he said.

Kalish highlighted Bob George's Twin City Frozen Foods as the oldest continuous family run business in Baltimore. It's celebrating its 65th year. He said George grew his business 2008 revenue 13.4 percent despite the sluggish economy.

Kalish said last year the village's Empty Store Front Campaign, whose goal is to fill every vacant storefront with a viable business by Dec. 31, received the endorsement of the Fairfield National Bank and its commitment of loans up to $500,000 for business creation and expansion. "Bill Arnett and Linda Kauffman of Fairfield County's Economic Development Office worked countless hours on this project," said Kalish.

Additionally, Kalish said the village partnered with the Fairfield County Economic Development Office, the Baltimore Chamber, and the Downtown Restoration Committee to launch Baltimore's first Baltimore Retail Business Assessment online last autumn. The assessment survey asked what consumers shop for in Baltimore, why they shop outside of Baltimore, and what types of businesses they would like to see. The survey showed more than 80 percent of respondents believe Baltimore offers excellent quality of life and nearly 83 percent of respondents have an annual household income between $40,000 and $80,000.

Kalish said the village hopes to work together with the business community to develop a formal marketing program for Baltimore, including a marketing DVD. The DVD would highlight Baltimore's school system, police initiatives, economic development programs, and community reinvestment areas. "This type of project can help us tell the Baltimore story," said Kalish.

Village Administrator Marsha Hall discussed her 2008 highlights, such as the creation of a new zoning classification for the downtown business districts-the Market Street Overlay District. The district's purpose is to allow flexibility for mixed uses within the district, encouraging the successful reuse of buildings that may otherwise be vacant or in disrepair. At the same time, development guidelines are in place to protect the residential properties within the district and maintain the existing character of the district, she said. Hall said the village worked with a committee including the Downtown Restoration Committee, the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce, property owners within the district, the planning and zoning Commission, and village council to come up with the purpose, district boundaries, permitted uses, and development standards for the district.

Hall said paying for the necessary improvements to village water and wastewater systems and plants without over burdening the residents continues to be a goal. Council gave the administration direction, with the intent to not exceed the current $27.00 per month debt service charge, and ultimately to move the wastewater debt service charge to a water debt service charge. She said 2011 was the original timeline to begin, but the village reduced expenses and obtained grants for some of the wastewater work, and began this in January.

Hall said one project begun in 2008 and to be completed in 2009 is a joint project between the Village, the Liberty Union-Thurston School District, and the Ohio Department of Transportation. She said the village was awarded a grant from ODOT for the creation of a School Travel Plan through ODOT's Safe Routes to School Grant Program. The purpose of the plan is to enable middle and elementary school students to travel to school safely by means other than a vehicle. A portion of the plan will consist of ODOT recommendations for needed infrastructure improvements, such as sidewalks, bike paths, and pedestrian bridges, and is a required component for the Safe Routes infrastructure grant program. The infrastructure grant program may pay for 90 percent of these recommended improvements. "We are pleased to be working with the school on this project," said Hall.

Welker said the village worked hard to make adequate budget cuts so the village would not be forced to lay off employees. She said employees are helping by paying partial benefits.

Baltimore Police Chief Michael Tussey said the school district, the Baltimore Police Department, and the Village of Baltimore are working together to provide full-time resource officer Jason Hargett to the Liberty Union district. The police department applied for an $11,000 DARE grant, the district is providing $10,500, and the village is providing $24,700 toward hiring the officer, who will serve on the village police department when school is out of session.

In addition to providing security, Hargett will also provide a positive role model for the students, who will learn that officers are good people trying to do the right thing. "This is one small way of trying to make (the school district) better," said Tussey.

The police chief said the police department had two bicycle officers and implemented mandatory cruiser shut-down timeswhen the cruiser is parked and the officer walks a beat-to help control fuel costs. The steps led to a small surplus in the department's fuel budget. Tussey said the officers are assigned cruisers and aggressively maintain them so the cruisers will last longer and the department won't be forced to replace them as often.

The department appreciated working with "Amy's Army," a team of auxiliary officers who pay for their own equipment and training. "That's huge for a community this size," said Tussey.

The chief said the department joined Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen and several other law enforcement agencies in a new drug and alcohol prevention program called S.C.A.L.E.-school, communities, agencies, and law enforcement. The SCALE program includes environmental strategies with a coordinated, multi-layered approach to drug prevention including education, enforcement, and prevention.

According to a press release from the sheriff's office, for the first time multi agencies are working together to address drug and alcohol problems in Fairfield County. Agencies including police, schools, and social agencies will work hand-in-hand to reduce the availability of illegal drugs through education and aggressive enforcement action.

Tussey said business owners should be aware that officers are working undercover to determine if anyone is selling tobacco or alcohol to minors. He said the department is taking a "zero tolerance" stance regarding illegal sales. Tussey added the department received a $24,000 COPS grant toward computers in the cruisers.

Superintendent Paul Mathews said a new middle school is in the design phase with bids expected to go out this spring, and construction to begin near the start of the 2009-2010 school year.

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