Earlier this week, the budget committee of the Cumberland County Commission dipped into the county’s reserve funds and allocated about $250,000 to fund four additional School Resource Officers for our schools.
Though the program’s expansion had already passed the full commission in March, the panel had been tasked with determining how to pay for it within a budget that had been set for the fiscal year.
Cumberland County has about $4 million in its general fund reserves, according to the county finance office. The start-up costs for the program include new patrol cars and other necessary equipment and training. These costs won’t come back year after year like personnel costs do.
Ongoing costs for salaries will be right at $200,000 a year. As previously stated by several members of the commission, the county just paid off about $1 million in debt, saving approximately 1 cent on the tax rate.
In Cumberland County, a penny on the tax rate is worth $148,362 this year. That goes a long way towards funding the ongoing salary costs.
But some commissioners worried the county might miss out on some state money to fund the SRO program. Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed $30 million in school safety funds for next year, but most — $25 million — is non-recurring, one-time money. These funds have not been approved. The state has not developed policies or procedures or priorities for such a grant program, either.
In the meantime, four elementary schools are without a School Resource Officer at some point during the school day. Sheriff Casey Cox has said repeatedly he needs time to hire new deputies to take the place of new SROs in patrolling the community. Waiting on the state to decide what it will do can only delay the process and keep schools without this extra protection and intervention even longer.
It’s never a good idea to tie programs that involve salaries to one-time grant funds. When the funding runs out, would we simply abandon the program?
Instead, the school system is developing proposals for equipment that can help enhance the safety of our schools, and administrators have said they will seek any funding opportunities available to defray those costs.
Cumberland County shouldn’t wait for the state to move forward with SROs in all our schools. There are plenty of needs for whatever funds become available.