Cumberland County will use its general fund balance to pay the up-front costs to expand the county’s School Resource Officer program with full-time officers in each elementary school.
“We may be able to get one SRO in the schools before school is out. The goal is to have one in every school by the beginning of next year,” Jerry Jackson, captain with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department.
Jackson said internal applicants for the SRO positions were being held this week and the deadline for applications for deputy positions was Friday. He hoped to hold interviews for those positions next week.
“The sooner we get started, the better,” Jackson said.
The county commission approved expanding the program during its March meeting with a resolution from John Patterson, 9th District commissioner. Sheriff Casey Cox had said he could need as much as six months to expand the program to eight SROs. Patterson said the resolution was intended to allow Cox to get started on the hiring and equipping so that new officers would be in place by the first of the 2018-’19 school year.
“It wouldn’t be possible unless we move quickly,” Patterson said.
The resolution had called on the county to use the undesignated fund balance to fund up to $350,000 for first-year costs; however, the commission approved authorizing the sheriff’s department to move forward with the hiring process and called on the budget committee to determine from where funding would come.
Brock noted he had been unable to attend the March commission meeting but had worked with the sheriff’s department to determine the initial costs to hire four additional SROs. He offered a pro-rated budget for the remainder of the 2017-’18 fiscal year that ends June 30 which included salaries and benefits, training, and equipment for a total of $251,887. Most of that is the cost of four new patrol vehicles, at $171,428.
The new patrol vehicles will be used for new deputies on the road while older vehicles will be used for the new SRO positions, Jackson explained.
“We were told to go ahead and start the process,” Jackson said.
The second-year cost of the program would be $201,701, which includes deputy salaries and benefits.
“The commission approved it, and the budget committee has to work out the details for how you’re going to implement it,” Brock said.
He said there were several funding options available, such as a capital outlay note.
“With time being of the essence the quickest way to get to that would be through the fund balance,” Brock said.
Brock told the Chronicle the county is projecting ending the fiscal year with about $4 million in fund balance reserves.
The Tennessee General Assembly is considering a budget recommendation by Gov. Bill Haslam for about $30 million for school safety, though that budget has not yet been approved. It is also unclear how funding would be allocated to school systems. That includes $5.2 million in recurring funds and $25 million in one-time funding.
But commissioners noted the bills under consideration required school systems to apply for grant funds. Many grants also do not allow grant money to be used for existing programs, as well.
Rebecca Stone, 3rd District commissioner, said, “We’re guessing because we don’t know how it will go through, but it says SRO officers or other security measures. I already anticipate that being a need.”
School officials have discussed multiple facility needs to enhance school safety, such as buzzer systems for entry doors, window treatments, door locks and other possible equipment needs.
Stone encouraged the school system to seek any grants available to help defray those costs, if possible.
Wendell Wilson, 6th District commissioner, said that had already been discussed with school personnel. “That’s exactly what they plan on doing,” he said.
Director of Schools Janet Graham said, “Some schools have different issues…There are several places you can’t just lock down.”
That’s particularly difficult at schools with exterior buildings, she said. There had been talk of a doorbell system at doors that are used by students coming and going to class. The school system is also exploring card access systems, but those are quite expensive, Graham said.
“There are a lot of things grant dollars may allow us to do to harden the security that is not tied up in personnel like a School Resource Officer,” Graham said.
Tom Isham, 2nd District commissioner, asked if the county would possibly lose state funding if SROs were established as a funding priority for the grant system. The county would not be able to apply for funds for an SRO expansion if it had already funded the program, he said.
“Would 30 days make a difference?” he asked.
The General Assembly anticipates finalizing the budget by the first of May, but other commissioners noted there was no timeline for how long it would take for the state to implement its safety grant system.
Jackson said, “Fentress County’s got SROs in every school. Other counties have them. Come on, guys. You’ve already voted on it and approved it.”
Stone moved to approve using $251,887 from fund balance to fund the SRO expansion for the remainder of the fiscal year, supported by Wilson. The motion was unanimously approved.