Your two cents worth: School resource officers on the way for all Sullivan County Schools

J. H. Osborne • Sep 18, 2018 at 8:43 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — On Monday, the newly seated, all-GOP Sullivan County Commission unanimously approved spending about $1 million to add school resource officers to all county school campuses. That money will come from the county’s general fund surplus. But before the vote it was made clear to commissioners they’ll have to go looking elsewhere for the estimated $757,000 per year in recurring costs each year going forward.

That would equal about two cents on the the county’s property tax rate. But the funding could also come from some unexpected growth in other revenues or from cuts to other programs or services.

The resolution approved by commissioners authorizes new Sheriff Jeff Cassidy to hire 14 new SROs with an estimated starting pay of $16.45 per hour. They will join the four SROs already on staff with the sheriff’s office. Current SROs are assigned to the county’s four high schools.

Resolution sponsor Angie Stanley had deferred action on the issue after Cassidy defeated Wayne Anderson in the county general election last month, saying she wanted to give Cassidy a chance to weigh in on the details. Prior to Monday’s vote, Stanley amended the resolution, cutting the original requested appropriation from nearly $1.39 million to $966,000 — thanks to Cassidy’s commitment to use money already in the sheriff’s office budget to provide cars for the new officers.

Cassidy said he also expects some other costs to perhaps come in less than estimated. For example, he said, he already has as many as six applications on his desk from potential new hires who already have the required training to serve as SROs. That would mean less cost for the county.

“I want a highly skilled tactical officer in these schools,” Cassidy said, noting that SROs wear multiple hats when working in their assigned schools. Just like officers on patrol, an SRO is required to deter, detect and prevent crime — but they also become role models, counselors of sorts, and develop trust with students. “If we’re going to dedicate SROs, we need to have them full-time in the schools.”

Cassidy said he will expect officers assigned to serve as SROs to conduct mock active shooter drills at the schools.

“I’m going to be expecting a lot from our resource officers,” Cassidy said. “It’s not just going to be walking around and looking for smokers outside.”

Cassidy said it will take time to get all the new SROs in place, even if he can move quickly on the new hires already qualified. After the vote, Stanley told the Times News it could be the beginning of next school year before all 14 are in place.

In other business Monday:

• The commission voted to move the group’s monthly meeting time from the third Monday morning to the third Thursday at 6 p.m.

• Elected Mayor Richard Venable to serve as commission chairman. Commissioner Pat Shull also was nominated. Venable received 18 votes. Shull got six. Thirteen votes were needed.

• Elected Commissioner John Gardner to serve as speaker pro tempore (a position that serves as chairman in Venable’s absence). Gardner received 13 votes. Other nominees and their vote totals: Angie Stanley, eight: and Michael Cole, three.