By SHANNON WATKINS
At Tuesday night’s town council meeting, discussion was renewed in regards to the county’s request for grant match assistance in getting school resource officers (SROs) in Pulaski County schools.
Mayor Jeff Worrell advised council that this was going to be a recurring issue and it that they would need to decide how to address it, and asked Councilman Jamie Radcliffe to further enlighten council.
Radcliffe said, “Some of the discussion I’m hearing out on the street is that basically town council didn’t want to do anything, and that’s far from the truth. There’s no one sitting in this room that didn’t want to put an officer in every school.” He said that the problem was that by the time an SRO was trained, uniformed and put in a vehicle, the cost would not be the approximately $4,000 discussed in the last meeting but anywhere from $20,000-$40,000.
He said, “I think what threw people was, they saw the number $4,000 and they got to questioning. That may have been what the grant split was (with the county for one month’s salary), but that’s not what it costs to put an officer in school.”
Police Chief Gary Roche said that the cost per officer would be $46,325 for salary and benefits, $4,152 for the hiring process and approximately $34,000 to equip a vehicle for a total of $84,477.
Radcliffe asked if the numbers Roche provided would only go up over time.
“That’s true, and plus we have to replace that person,” said Roche. “We’re not going to put a brand-new officer in school. There are two academy classes a year. We’re going to have a delay of nine months between when you put a person in the academy and when they come out on the street.” He said that the police were already short-staffed and that even with “all the money in the world” there was no way to have an SRO ready for school this year simply due to time limits.
Worrell asked if he would put an experienced officer in the schools and seek a new officer for the town, and how long SRO training would take. “That would be my preferred way of doing it,” said Roche, and informed Worrell it would be a 40-hour course, along with a conference.
Roche pointed out potential difficulties to consider, such as whether the grant would be renewed in the following years, and whether or not it would be for the full amount, or the percentage of the grant would taper off. “I don’t guess we’ll know until the general assembly this winter,” he said.
“It just came up on us so quick,” said Worrell.
“The whole thing just came down after school (started), before we could get an officer,” said Radcliffe. “The day school started, you had to have one trained and in school that day. There’s no way we could have done it.”
Worrell advised discussing the matter with state legislators.
“Let’s be honest here,” said Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman. “You know what Richmond does. Each year, they give a little less of a grant. They keep doing that until the grant runs out. And then they tell you that you have to keep doing it. If we fund this, how much is needed? We’ve got four schools here in town. If we fund it fully, this will be about $200,000 a year. That is a large part of the budget for us, especially with what we’re trying to do.”
He continued, “I want a resource officer in every school, let me put that first. I think we need to have it. I was in high school during Columbine, I was at Virginia Tech during the shooting, I know how important that is. But we as county citizens pay for what goes on in the schools. Our town citizens already pay for what goes on in county schools. Why is it the town citizens should contribute more than other county citizens? What they’re asking us to do is pay for it more than once.” He compared it to a “back door tax increase.”
“I’ve talked to some officials in other towns within the county and they made that exact point,” said Worrell.
“I think it’s key that we start the conversation,” said Councilman Greg East. “We as the town of Pulaski need to start talking to the county of Pulaski. On how we handle this issue, and what’s the smartest way to do that. This all kinda happened last minute. This got dropped in our laps and we just didn’t know what to do with it. I wouldn’t want to see that happen again next year.”
Roche said that if the council plans to have an SRO ready for fall of 2014, someone had to be placed in the police academy no later than February of 2014. Goodman said that by then the town would be into the new budget and able to figure out how much would be available to contribute.
Hawley said, “If you already put it on the agenda for the next meeting, I think that is the very next step you want, is to get two board supervisors and two council members talking and saying, ‘This is what we think is reasonable.’ And then it becomes a budget decision.”
East asked Roche when he would need to know about a decision in order to get someone ready for the academy.
“As luck would have it, we’re testing applicants this Saturday,” Roche said. “So we’ll be working a group anyway. So that kind of takes a little of the heat off, so I’ll just need to know how many. The very least I would say would be January 15.”
“I’d say we probably have about 60 days to at least have something to come out of committee with,” said Goodman. “Mr. Mayor, if you could reach out to Dublin and impress on them the importance of attending those meetings as well.”
As a final caveat, Roche warned council that he didn’t know when news about the grant for 2014 would be announced, but if council put an SRO officer in the schools next year before the grant is passed, Pulaski might not be eligible for it. “We couldn’t use grant money for a decision we’ve already made,” he said.
“You’re just full of good news, aren’t you?” joked Worrell.