To the Advertiser-Gleam:
When is a Marshall County School system Security Resource Officer (SRO) not a SRO? It is when the Marshall County Commissioners establish 14 fully equipped sheriff's deputies paid for by some of the county’s vehicle owners and calls them SROs. We are giving the Sheriff $1 million to increase his staff under the guise of SROs.
The Commission's public hearing on June 26 to discuss a “possible license plate (tag) fee” to pay for 14 new SROs was not as advertised. We were not asked for ideas how to fund school SROs. We were told the sheriff needs $1 million and how these new “SROs” were going to actually be used. I agree SROs are needed but not per the plan presented.
Commissioner David Kelly said a tag fee was just one tool in the Commission's tool box to pay for SROs but these other tools were never revealed. Commission Chairman James Hutcheson kept saying the tag fee had not been decided. Yet, all questions brought up by citizens were answered with previously decided details of the funds raised by a tag fee. We could not even get an answer if the moneys currently being paid from the General Fund and County School Board would continue.
Citizens' suggestions on increasing the pool of types of vehicles to levy the tag fee were shot down: no dealer plates, no RVs, and no motorcycles. Considerations on vehicle value or family income levels were rejected. Exemptions for over 65, handicapped, or no more than 2 vehicles per household were not solidified, only that they were being considered.
A request to ask our politicians in Montgomery to increase the $30,000 they give for 4 part-time SROs was laughed at.
Suggestions on decreasing the lavish, fully paid medical benefits paid to all county employees to put more money in the General Fund was vehemently denied by Chairman Hutcheson. He even addressed all county employees and said their benefits would never be decrease as long as he is in charge. To guarantee one funding option for any future need as already off the table is unconscionable.
Decreasing the number of vehicles needed (1 per SRO) even at school campuses where multiple SROs would be working) was refused as was making the SRO a lower pay scale employee because their work areas were considerably safer that a deputy on patrol duty. The sheriff needed “flexibility” to manage the SROs.
That is when we discovered we were not talking about SROs but fully trained and equipped deputy sheriffs. And their vehicles (bought with exclusively SRO funds) would end up in the sheriff’s vehicle pool and get worn out 4 times faster than if they were exclusively used by SROs at schools.
The sheriff even said he needed SRO funding to get him current maps and contact information for each school campus. Really, our county sheriff’s office does not have basic information about our public schools? This is pitiful.
In the justification for SROs, county schools superintendent Dr. Wigley said there are things going on all of the time at schools including feeding programs, summer school, teacher training, etc. We all regularly drive by schools and see no children and no vehicles indicating the facility is vacant. What are SROs going to be doing during summer breaks, Christmas break, spring/fall breaks, or teacher training days?
SROs will have some training time, as do all deputies, but when school or activities are not happening, they will be used to do normal deputy duties across the county (patrolling, serving warrants, making arrests, etc.) while not encumbering the sheriff’s manpower budget. Having these extra deputies will make scheduling easier for other Deputies during Christmas and the summer when most people take vacations and schools are not in session. Is this SRO funding being use for only SRO activities?
Per Dr. Wigley, SROs are needed at sporting events, special student training camps, and other after school activities. But how can an SRO work an 8 hour day, 40 hours a week, then cover a Friday night ball game or a weekend tournament? They cannot. I hope the sheriff will cover these needs with other deputies. I also hope he will not charge their time against the SRO funds.
Chairman Hutcheson repeatedly said money from a tag fee would go into an SRO only account. But, with the Sheriff manning, equipping, and training these people to be regular deputies, they will not actually be SROs. He can hire entry level deputies with SRO funds then swap them with higher paying existing deputies and increase the salary cost to the SRO fund. He will have full control.
I agree schools need SROs. I do not agree that only some of the county vehicle owners are being forced to increase the sheriff’s staff for use across the entire county under the guise of SROs. This charade is why citizens cannot trust our elected officials.
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