Stone: Funding still needed for SROs

LISBON –Columbiana County Sheriff Ray Stone is looking for money to keep two school resource officers because county commissioner do not intend to provide the additional funding.

Stone said he was contacted recently by county Department of Job and Family Services Executive Director Eileen Dray-Bardon about the possible availability of JFS funding that could be used to help pay for school resource officers (SROs) at the United Local school district and the county Career and Technical Center (CTC).

Following the February school shooting in Florida, Stone assigned deputies to United Local and the CTC at the request of both schools, starting in March, with the districts paying the sheriff’s office $40 an hour. That is the same rate Stone charges the Southern Local school district, which has contracted with him for a SRO since 2015.

A deputy was hired to replace the one assigned to Southern Local, and Stone told commissioners in June he would need to do the same thing if the sheriff’s office is to continue having SROs at United Local and the CTC. He said his department is understaffed and cannot afford to continue having deputies serve as SROs without hiring replacements.

United Local and CTC officials told commissioners they were willing to continue paying $40 an hour for the nine months school is in session if the sheriff’s office would be pick up the remaining three months. United Local Superintendent Lance Hostetler said Commissioner Mike Halleck stopped by his office in early July to tell him that because of county budget concerns commissioners were unlikely to provide Stone with any additional funding.

“I understand they have budget constraints themselves,” he said.

As a result, Hostetler said his school board is exploring hiring a school security officer on their own to serve as a de facto SRO by approving a job description and beginning to accept applications. He said they are still considering contracting with the sheriff’s office too, with a decision expected to be made at the Aug. 15 board meeting — 12 days before the start of the next school year.

“Right now, I want to present the board with several options so they can make a decision. I just don’t want to give them one option,” Hostetler said.

CTC Superintendent Chuck Adkins hopes to have an officer in place by the start of school, one way or the other. “That’s an option,” he said, referring to creating a security officer position like United Local, “but I would prefer to contract with a law enforcement agency,” which would be the sheriff’s office.

Adkins said the issue will be brought up at CTC’s August board meeting.

Stone said Dray-Bardon contacted him after his June meeting with commissioners to explain she may have funding available that could be used for SROs. The two met this past week for the first time, which Dray-Bardon described as an informational meeting. “We’re not ready to comment publicly” as to the details, but she said they expect to meet again this week.

“We hope to move quickly if we can do this” since the start of school is only a month away, she added.

Stone was not surprised by commissioners’ response given they cut budget appropriations for all county departments by 6 percent in 2017 and kept them at the same level this year, although commissioners provided the sheriff’s office with an extra $300,000 toward the end of last year to prevent layoffs.

Commissioners are concerned about the expected loss of $2.1 million a year in funding because the county sales tax can no longer be charged on Medicaid-managed care services. To prepare for this, commissioners have taken nearly $10 million in surplus funds from the county’s year-end carryover balance over the past several years and put it in a rainy day fund.

Commissioners would have to provide the sheriff with about $212,000 extra per year to hire two additional deputies and pay 25 percent of the salaries and benefits of the two SROs.

“We would love to have SROs for everyone, but the fact is we have limited resources ourselves,” Halleck said.

Commission Chairman Tim Weigle agreed, saying that while things are going good now, the county faces an uncertain financial future that make it impossible for them to undertake a long-term commitment of this sort.

Halleck pointed out commissioners are already providing $100,000 a year to subsidize the cost of local police departments assigning officers to the county drug task force and they just cannot afford to take on any more future financial commitments until they learn the how deep the sales tax cuts are going to be.