BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Equipping each Greeene County school with a school resource officer (SRO) would come with a hefty price tag that the Greene County Budget & Finance Committee hopes not to face with county funding.
Sheriff Steve Burns presented on Tuesday during the committee's seven hours of budget-request hearings a detailed budget specifically for the cost of hiring, equipping and training 20 school resource officers for Greene County's 17 educational facilities.
Currently, there are no SROs in the county, and only security officers at the high schools, Burns reported.
"This is only for your information and your consideration," the sheriff said. "I put together a school resource officer budget just to show you how much it would cost if you want to do it."
Burns explained that the first year would include start-up costs for equipment and training that would put the budget at a closely estimated $1.84 million. Each year following would then cost about $1.2 million, he said.
Security in schools has become a major topic of national debate.
Locally, armed officers have been placed in all city schools, and discussion has already started on how to continue the measure in the next school year.
The cost for Greeneville to place officers in city schools is estimated at only $145,000.
In contrast, the county school system has been working with Burns, their administration, and county commissioners to determine what safety measures are needed and feasible in the county.
In addition, Sheriff Burns said that it would take between two to three years to train all officers.
Should the matter be placed under his department and in his budget, however, he said the feeling among law enforcement officers across the state is that the standard in training and expense should be no different than for any other deputy.
This way, the SROs would be prepared to fill in in other areas and manage any situation, Burns said.
Private security, or in any way lesser trained security than SROs, could be less expensive, but should not come under his budget or department, he said.
"I didn't imagine there would be much movement on it, but if you're going to talk about it, you need to know what you're talking about," he said.
The committee agreed and thanked Burns for the information, declining to act Tuesday on the matter.
However, Burns did request that the committee allow him to maintain this new "Other Public Safety Resource Officers" budget with only the $2,500 in evaluation and training that currently exists in his budget.
That way, he said, having the line items in place and the budget in existence will prepare the county should he and Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk manage to arrive at any solutions on the matter in the coming year.
The committee agreed to maintain these line items on record, although all line items were zeroed out except for the $2,500 for evaluation and training.
The committee also reviewed numerous other budgets under Burns' oversight, including the Sheriff's Department's budget.
Burns requested a nearly $4.72 million budget for 2013-2014, with increases such as 5 percent pay raises for his employees that would match his own state-mandated 4.61 percent salary increase for elected officials.
Burns was one of several officials to request 5 percent raises for employees, although the committee denied these requests.
Shelton explained that state law requires, however, that the county set the elected officials' pay raise at no less than the state minimum, which includes this year's mandated increase.
This increased the sheriff's salary from $88,778 to $92,870, plus increasing corresponding benefits.
Burns also had included in his request additional funding of about $5,500 for contract fees and maintenance items.
The committee denied all increases except for the state-mandated salary increase, which they asked that Burns absorb within his budget to return the bottom line to the prior year's $4.45 million.
Once these changes are made, Burns was asked to appear back before the committee for their final budget recommendation.
The committee also tentatively approved for further review keeping the following smaller budgets under Burns' oversight at the same amount as the prior year:
* Courtroom Security at $190,800;
* Special Patrols at $221,400;
* Administration of Sex Offenders at $2,600;
* Drug Control at $33,000;
* Waste Pickup at $102,100; and,
* Alcohol and Drug at $12,000.
However, the committee declined to offer even tentative approval to the jail budget, which includes the Greene County Detention Center and the Workhouse.
This budget request also included pay raises, which the committee said that they would deny.
In addition, Burns included in the request the addition of 12 new correctional officers and increases in part-time personnel and overtime pay.
He explained that he would not request both, but would need the committee to consider approving either the new officers or the increases in part-time and overtime due to the need for additional staffing at the detention center.
"I'm not demanding it. I just know what we're up against," he said, noting that the state's evaluation of the center called for more staffing.
Burns indicated that increasing staffing may also be a means of showing a "good-faith effort" to regain state certification at the overcrowded facility.
The cost of 12 new positions would be about $310,200, and would allow for three additional officers on each of the four shifts, he said.
"We need to get a new facility so that it's modernized, not double folks," Commissioner Robert Bird said.
"If we have to do that, we'll never get it paid for." The committee agreed, with everyone echoing around the room that adding staff is a "forever" expense.
"I think, realistically, we're still understaffed," Burns said.
However, the committee agreed that it is too early to determine the need for additional staffing until there is more progress on the possibility of the county's building a new, more staff-efficient facility to regain certification.
"I'm trying to hope that we're doing the right things to get him recertified without spending another $300-and-some thousand just in personnel every year," Bird said.
Burns had also requested another $42,500 in non-salary line items for maintenance and repair items, noting that his budget is not currently set up to cover such costs but that the county has exhausted funds that would normally aid in covering these expenses.
At the end of discussion, the committee agreed to deny the salary raises but declined to vote on any other matters of the sheriff's proposed budget until later in the budgeting process.