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Commissioners again reject funding SROs at schools in city

Henderson County Commissioner Bill Lapsley's effort to cover the cost of School Resource Officers at four county schools in the Hendersonville city limits failed for a third time Monday night.

Lapsley's proposal was a compromise under which the city and county would split the cost of the officers at Bruce Drysdale and Hendersonville elementary schools, Hendersonville Middle School and Hendersonville High School. Commissioners rejected a proposed $205,000 appropriation to cover half the cost of the SROs.

In 2018, Lapsley tried and failed to add $428,000 to the county budget to cover all the cost of the officers. Then in June 2019, during the county's budget drafting discussions, commissioners agreed to allocate $200,000 for the SROs in the schools in the city limits provided the city agreed one year later to switch the SROs to sheriff's deputies. The City Council declined, because council members said the city officers had established relationships with the student they protected and knew their families and situations. Absent county support, the City Council has continued to fund the SROs in the four schools.

The four commissioners who spoke against the $205,000 funding for the fiscal year 2021-22 budget all linked the SRO decision to a larger ongoing conflict between the city and county, which involves the city water and sewer system, the city's rates and its policy requiring annexation for sewer service.

“The county schools and sheriff needs to be the one manning those positions,” Commissioner Michael Edney said. “The city prefers to have city officers there. … They’re county schools. The sheriff is responsible for SROs for county schools. I see no difference in these schools and others.”

Commissioner Rebecca McCall said the county would have to pay more — a total of $370,000 — if it placed sheriff's deputies in the four schools.

“Basically our cost to provide these services would be considerably higher,” she said.

If the Board of Commissioners desired, “I’m happy to take on this responsibility," Sheriff Lowell Griffin said. "But I understand sometimes that when we interact with these students we find out about issues at home. When these students are meeting officers and he is familiar with the neighborhood sometimes it’s easier for that message to be relayed internally and these officers are able to look at the homelife and maybe even visit the home as we have to do occasionally because they are in that jurisdiction that they cover.”

Commissioners refused to endorse Lapsley's compromise as long as the utility issues are unresolved.

“I would be more apt to support it if we could get some further agreement from the city on the water and sewer issue,” McCall said. An even bigger issue than equal rates, McCall and two other commissioners said, is the city’s policy requiring annexation in exchange for city sewer service. An example from last week starkly underscored their grievance about shifting newly developed property from the rural fire district tax rolls to the city’s. The City Council on Thursday rezoned property in East Flat Rock for a 30-home development less than a tenth of a mile from headquarters of Blue Ridge Fire & Rescue.

“Basically they’re cherry picking,” Commissioner David Hill said. “I call it forced voluntary annexation.”
“The water and sewer rates are one thing but the annexation is hurting a lot of people,” said Commissioner Daniel Andreotta, who serves on the Joint Water and Sewer Advisory Committee. “I do feel like this is a time for us to work with several major issues that affect everybody for the betterment of everybody. It’s a good time to make some strides.
“They talk about required voluntary annexation,” he said, calling the policy an oxymoron. “I think it’s a good time to get everybody at the table and talk about all these things.”