Baltimore prepares for challenging year
BALTIMORE – Baltimore Village officials expect a bumpy 2011, but they’re ready for it.
Mayor Robert Kalish hosted his annual State of the Village address Monday morning at Liberty Union High School. Administrators focused primarily on the financial challenges they expect the village to face this year, particularly in the face of state funding cuts, which everyone expects, but no one knows how much.
“The state of the economy is really down,” said Fiscal Officer Flo Welker, who described the village’s financial challenges before Village Administrator Marsha Hall outlined plans to address them.. Welker said most expenses, such as utilities, police, fuel, and staff health insurance, have all risen significantly during the last few years, yet the state continues to reduce the revenue it provides Baltimore. She said the village received less state aid in 2010 than it did in 2007. Vacant homes are also costing the village revenue since no one is purchasing village utilities or paying the village income tax. Welker said overall village revenue is down from 2008, but 2010 is slightly better than 2009.
“It’s a bad time to be talking about the state of the village,” said Hall. “We just don’t know how funding will be cut.” She said her goals for 2011 are to hold down the costs of services while trying to minimize the impact to residents. Hall said the village can’t undertake capital projects except those that are a collaboration with other bodies and include grant funding.
Hall said three projects are planned. First is the South Main Storm Improvement Project. An Ohio Public Works Commission Grant would fund it, with Christ United Methodist Church, Faith Lutheran Church, Fairfield Homes, and the village sharing a local match. The project also includes the school district. The second is an OPWC grant funded North Main Street waterline, and the third is the Safe Routes to School program, which involves a requested ODOT grant. This project is in collaboration with the school district and no matching funds are necessary.
Hall said critical supplies such as utilities, fuel, and chemicals all increased in price last year and she expects the same for 2011. To offset the excepted increases, Hall said the village will continue to use alternatives, such as sharing equipment and services with other entities, like Liberty Township and the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, while continuing to search for the best prices.
Baltimore has 18 employees. Since 2006, four full-time positions and one part-time position were eliminated or left vacant, according to Hall. The street department lost one full-time position, and the water and wastewater departments only meet minimum Ohio EPA requirements. Village administration is down one fulltime and one part-time position, and the police department is down one officer.
Hall said additional cuts may be needed. “What we look like in the future may be different than what we look like today,” she said. Hall was clear that any additional cuts would affect services to residents and the residents may need to re-evaluate their expectations of village services. “We’re looking out for your money,” Hall said. She said that in a time when it seems like people are set on reducing government, they don’t want their own projects and benefits affected in the process.
On a brighter note, Police Chief Michael Hussey said the police department is effectively working with many community programs. For example, he said the DARE program is a partnership with the Liberty Union-Thurston School District to discourage student drug use. Baltimore Officer Jason Harget teaches the DARE curriculum and 114 students graduated from the program last year.
Harget also acts as the school resource officer. “It’s good to have someone in the school deal with problems before they get out of hand,” said Hussey. In a surprising statistic, he said 43 percent of school incidents involving the resource officer take place on Wednesdays. “Wednesday is a hot day for us, for some reason,” said Hussey. He said Monday’s next, with 21 percent of the incidents, followed by Tuesday and Thursday, each with 14 percent, and seven percent of the incidents take place on Saturday. Fridays have been incident-free since September.
Hussey said bullying, theft, and disorderly conduct each accounted for 17 percent of incidents, and counsel, battery, assault, tobacco, harassing phone calls, and sexual battery each accounted for eight percent of all incidents.
Hussey said the senior outreach program is designed to teach seniors how not to be victims to scams and other crimes. “We know that we do stop crime and people wanting to do harm to our seniors,” he said. On the other end of the age spectrum, the Crimes Against Children Multi Jurisdictional Task Force teaches kids about the dangers of the Internet. “The Internet can be scary and dangerous place,” warned Hussey.
Hussey said officers solved several high profile crimes last year, including arresting Richard Wood, who was found with more than 176,000 images of suspected child pornography and more than 5,000 videos depicting underage persons. “These people are out there; they’re everywhere,” said Hussey. “We take the exploitation of our children very seriously. We’ll investigate, identify, pursue, and arrest any person who attempts to harm our children.”
Baltimore police identified two juveniles who were “tagging” vehicles and home with spray paint, and officers identified and charged four people who were trafficking drugs. Hussey said officers identified and arrested a student from another high school who was supplying drugs locally. Finally, Hussey said Baltimore’s volunteer reserve officers saved the department $38,590 last year.
Liberty Union-Thurston Superintendent Paul Mathews said things are “exciting and challenging” for the district. There are plenty of things to be excited about, he said, including former school board member Joe Farmer being appointed to the state board of education. Nearly $10 million in renovations at the high school are nearly complete. A new middle school will open this fall.
Mathews anticipates finances to be challenging as state officials figure out where to make cuts. “We’re concerned about what will happen,” he said. The state may cut school funding 15 percent. “This will be challenging for us,” said Mathews, who added that could fofrce staff and program cuts.
Kalish recognized “two who have worked for a better Baltimore.” He recognized the Baltimore Area Community Improvement Corporation for helping to relocate E.F. Murphy, Inc.– a company that restores Rolls Royce and Bentley automobiles – from Franklin County to Baltimore. The mayor also recognized the Baltimore Thurston food pantry. “The Baltimore-Thurston food pantry has been a life saver to many,” said Kalish. “Ruth Crutcher-Beckwith, the food pantry’s founder, has spent thousands of hours making sure that the food is there when the need requires.”
Although presentations were often somber, Kalish remained optimistic. “As all have stated, our struggles are many,” he said. “However, we are confident that we can remain stable even in this time of financial instability.”