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Baltimore seeking a 4-mill police levy

BALTIMORE – Baltimore Police Chief Michael Tussey said he joined the Baltimore department five years ago with the goal of creating a full-time and full service police department.

“We’ve accomplished that,” said Tussey, whose department conducts all of its own investigations. However, while creating a plan for the next five years Tussey realized that the department still has much to do and its budget is far too tight to do it, or even remain solvent.

Village council members agreed to place a four-mill, fouryear levy on the November ballot. The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home roughly $108 per year and would raise $180,000 per year for the police department.

Tussey said that currently the Baltimore Police Department operates on roughly $340,000 per year and the chief said a department of Baltimore’s size requires at least $400,000 just to maintain operation. “We’re $60,000 behind the curve,” he said. “We can’t rely on auxiliaries. We have crimes against children in the area.”

Tussey said that currently the department is unable to pay overtime. Including Tussey, there are five fill-time officers on staff, one of which is devoted solely to the Liberty Union-Thurston School District. He said four officers are trying to cover 21 daily shifts.

Tussey would like to hire another officer. He said he and the deputy chief are the only salaried employees and they work hard to cover the empty shifts. “It begins to wear you down,” said Tussey.

The chief said the administrative side of the job is beginning to suffer because of the lack of manpower, and the state mandates many things. “Once you get behind, it’s tough to get ahead,” said Tussey. “We’re functioning on the good graces of our volunteers and donations.”

Tussey said Baltimore residents say they really appreciate the level of patrols they see in the village, but even maintaining that is becoming difficult with the rising price of gasoline and soft rubber tires, which patrol cars must use for liability reasons. The cruisers themselves are aging and need major work or replacement. One has 140,000 miles and the department risks putting far more money into the cruisers for repair than the vehicles are worth.

Tussey doubts two of the vehicles will last another year. “People ask us why we have four patrol cars,” he said. “At any time I have two that are broken down.” In addition, some officers don’t have ballistic vests and are working at their own risk. Tussey said the department has been forced to draw money from the village’s general fund just to remain solvent.

Still, Tussey said his department is doing things on its own to raise revenue. Pleasantville contracts with Baltimore for police protection, which garners the department about $5,000 a year. Also, the department brought Baltimore’s firing range up to state standards through donations. “It was a train wreck before,” he said. Now that it’s up to specs, Eastland Vocational School and Columbus State are interested in using the range for training students. This could generate up to $10,000 per year for the village’s general fund (not exclusively for the police department).

Even though the department is generating some income, the reality is clear. “At some point we’re going to be overwhelmed by costs,” said Tussey. It isn’t that the department is spending more, it’s that everything is costing more. “People have an expectation of quality of life,” he said. “We’re trying hard to give the community what it says it wants.”

Tussey said the department has a five-year plan in place. At the end of that five years, he’d like the community literally to grade the department on its service. “All we’re asking them for is a chance to show them what we can do,” said Tussey.

“Response time is crucial,” said Baltimore Mayor Robert Kalish. He said the village conducted a community survey, which showed that people want more police coverage. “We have the best police department we’ve ever had,” said Kalish. “We know times are tight, but this is honestly what’s needed.”

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