A member of the county commission Monday night wanted the full body to vote on the hiring of four School Resource Officers in the DeKalb County School System but the move was blocked for now.
Second District Commissioner Jack Barton made the motion, saying the county commission should do everything it can to protect our children and secure our schools. Fourth district member David McDowell seconded the motion.
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Sheriff Patrick Ray, in a previous county budget committee meeting, had requested that funds be budgeted next year for the School Resource Officers. If approved, the new SRO's would be assigned to the four schools that don't already have them.
Normally, the county budget committee, in formulating a new spending plan each year, considers all funding requests first and then decides whether they be included in a proposed budget for the entire county commission to consider. In this case, Barton wanted the county commission to approve the hiring of the SRO's and to direct the budget committee to come up with a way to pay for them. "I would like to make a motion tonight to address the need for the school resource officers of the four schools that do not have them. About two months ago Billy Miller, who is a TBI agent, school board member, and parent came and gave us a pretty informed presentation. At that time, he and the sheriff addressed what SRO's do within the structure of our schools and how much of an impact, even beyond an armed guard, that they could be. Since that time, we have discussed and begun to gather figures for our budget process and we are underway with our deliberations. It will be a very tight year. This subject matter is a very grave one because I know as a parent, I want to make sure we as a legislative body have done everything we can to protect our children, secure our schools, and develop a bond of trust between our children and law enforcement officials who would serve as their resource officers," said Barton.
"As a member of the budget committee I feel pretty strongly that this matter deserves to be heard and voted on before our full body and not just within the budget committee. At our present estimation, sheriff Ray said the first year will cost around $249,209 or around five and a half to six cents of property tax. In the second year, that cost would drop to $143,669 or about 3.2 to four cents on the property tax, given our present collection rates and what we set a penny at last year. The schools are doing a lot to improve their security infrastructure by installing cameras, doors, and more secure methods of access. We can and should help in these efforts. No community should have to endure the loss of life that other communities have experienced when we have the ability to buy this kind of insurance to potentially safeguard against violence in schools. My motion would be to vote on the hiring of these four additional officers so that each school has one and advise the budget committee to plan for that expense in the coming deliberations," said Barton.
Some members of the commission along with County Mayor Mike Foster, apparently caught offguard by Barton's motion, felt that it was too early in the budget deliberations to be making a decision on this without first considering the costs and the impact on next year's budget.
"If you approve the hiring of them (SROs) you've got to fund them. How do you propose to fund them?," asked Foster.
" We know how much SRO's are going to cost. I propose for us to have the $249,000 allocated in the budget," replied Barton.
"But from where does it come?. We've got to have a (funding) source," said Foster
"The source may very well be, even without the resource officers, that we would have to have some tax increase. We're facing that with the Affordable Health Care Act," answered Barton.
"I think if we're going to vote to do it, you've got to have a funding mechanism. I don't think you can just say we're going to hire them and not have some way to fund it," said Foster.
"My motion is to advise the budget committee to plan for that. The budget committee is who sets the funding source and approves that to the full commission," added Barton.
Seventh District Commissioner Larry Summers made a motion that Barton's motion be tabled for now to give the commission more time to consider it. " I make a motion that we table this for further discussion. We haven't really discussed it thoroughly enough. Everybody knows where our hearts are. We just have to see how we can pay for these things," said Summers.
First district Commissioner Mason Carter seconded the motion to table.
The vote was 9-2 to table Barton's motion. Those voting to table were Mason Carter, Elmer Ellis, Jr., Bobby Joines, Jeff Barnes, Jerry Scott, Wayne Cantrell, Jerry Adcock, Larry Summers, and Marshall Ferrell. Commissioners Jack Barton and David McDowell voted against tabling the motion. Commissioners Jimmy Poss and Bradley Hendrix were absent when this issue was addressed.
County Mayor Foster said the issue would likely be brought up again at the next meeting in June. Of course, members of the county budget committee could still address it themselves at their own meetings.