Baltimore weathers tough economic year
BALTIMORE – Baltimore Village weathered the recession better than most communities and experienced some real progress last year, said Mayor Robert Kalish in his annual State of the Village address Monday morning at Liberty Union High School. The address included presentations from some village department heads and Liberty Union-Thurston Schools Superintendent Paul Mathews.
“Like virtually all Ohio communities, we are faced with financial challenges,” said Kalish, before introducing Fiscal Officer Flo Welker, whom he credited with steering the village through those challenges.
“It hasn’t been as bad as it could’ve been,” said Welker. She said tax and state funding revenues were down roughly ten percent or greater last year. The village compensated by doing many services in house and two long-time employees retired last year; new employees earning less replaced them. The village also established health savings accounts for employees to save on benefits. The goal this year is to maintain services, said Welker.
Kalish said the village secured more than $950,000 in grants for several projects during the last three years. “This was done to minimize the financial impact to Baltimore residents while performing needed capital improvements,” he said. Kalish said Village Administrator Marsha Hall is key obtaining and managing grants and projects.
“The goal last year was to more with less,” said Hall. No employees grumbled about tightening belts and several presented ideas for cutting costs, she said. “This winter’s been atrocious,” said Hall, which has only added to the village’s expenses.
Hall said 2009 saw some projects started, some completed, and some planned. The vast majority of Baltimore capital projects are completed in conjunction with the receipt of funds through various grant programs, through cooperation with local partners, or both.
The village was awarded $719,086 for the East Water Tank and Waterline Project for the construction of a 500,000-gallon water storage tank and supply waterline to provide additional water pressure and fire protection to the village. It is the intent of the Basil Joint Fire District to have the ISO rating re-evaluated; this should help to provide property insurance savings to village property owners said Hall. This project is 99 percent complete, and should be on line shortly.
Fairfield County Commissioners also awarded a CDBG grant in 2009 for the installation of an eight-inch waterline along South Main Street, from Ohio 256 to Fairview Avenue then west on Fairview.
“I am also pleased to report that the wastewater treatment plant expansion has been completed other than some final items,” said Hall. In 2009 the Village was also awarded $305,180 from Ohio Public Works Commission for sanitary sewer and manhole rehabilitation work.
“Alt Park is one the village’s crown jewels,” said Hall. The village administration coordinated with the youth recreation organizations to develop a second phase to Alt Park. Senator Tim Schaeffer assisted the Village in obtaining a $25,000 grant through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that will be used for an additional baseball diamond, an additional soccer field, additional parking and fencing along the entrance drive. The soccer and baseball associations will provide the local match and the village staff will provide the labor for the parking lot and fence construction.
Hall said State Senator Schaffer also helped the village to obtain a $50,000 grant through the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission to perform rehabilitation to the exterior of the town hall.
In conjunction with the Downtown Restoration Committee, the Village received a $1,500 grant from the Gannett Foundation to paint the old Basil firehouse on West Market Street.
Hall said two projects planned in 2009 should be complete this year. Both projects are coordinated efforts with the Liberty Union Schools. The first is a grant the village was awarded through the Ohio Department of Transportation for the creation of a School Travel Plan through its Safe Routes to School Program. It encourages or enables children in grades K-8, including those with disabilities, to walk or ride their bikes to school safely. The affected schools are the elementary school and future middle school located on SR 158 in Baltimore.
The second project involves Christ UMC, Faith Lutheran Church, Fairfield Homes, the village, and the school district. This group of property owners worked together to develop a storm water project to serve these properties and a large segment of the southeastern portion of the village that has drainage problems. The village was awarded more than $157,000 in grant funding through the Ohio Public Works Commission program, and the participants will share the $29,000 local match said Hall.
Kalish said the Baltimore Police Department consisted of part-time officers and part-time coverage. Today the department has a full-time chief and two full-time officers, “and a department that has received kudos for the work they perform,” he said.
Police Chief Michael Hussey said his department responded to 1029 calls for service last year, not counting traffic stops. He said compared to the national average, Baltimore has very low crime instances. “We are a very safe place for people to live and raise their kids,” said Hussey. He said his officers are very aggressive about traffic stops but usually favor giving advice over citations. Most drivers who are pulled over, said Hussey, aren’t deliberately breaking the law and usually just need to be reminded of the dangers of doing so.
Hussey said Officer Jason Harget has established himself with the Liberty Union-Thurston School District as a trusted D.A.R.E. officer and advisor to students and not merely as law enforcement. He plans to begin a community block watch program in the spring and Pleasantville will contract with Baltimore for police protection.
Kalish said he intends to re-establish a Baltimore Mayor’s Court. “This does several things,” he said. It enhances service to the community and eliminates long waits at Fairfield County Municipal Court and fines stay within the village. The village will contract with an outside attorney to act as prosecutor for mayor’s court.
Kalish said the village will work with the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce on a “Buy Baltimore” campaign this year. The chamber will announce a “Buy Baltimore” loyalty card for participating local businesses so consumers can receive instant savings. He said the village’s greatest economic development tool is the Liberty Union-Thurston School District and introduced Superintendent Paul Mathews.
Mathews said he’s awake at 4:30 a.m. each day recently to monitor road conditions. He commended village services for running the plows early and said his district hasn’t missed as many snow days as others. Mathews said Phase I of high school renovation is going well and there will be many renovations this summer. District personnel are considering what changes SR 158 may need to accommodate new school construction. Mathews expects the district to receive roughly ten percent less in state revenue this year and intends to place a renewal levy on the May ballot. “It’s not a new tax,” he said, and has nothing to do with construction. The levy will only help the district maintain its current income.
“It’s been said that Baltimore is a
honk and wave’ community,” said Kalish, whose citizens pull together to help the less fortunate. He recognized Basil firefighter Steve Denney for organizing the firefighter Christmas toy drive every year, and Kalish recognized coach Jim Reed for completing 106 athletic seasons at Liberty Union High School.