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County rejects funding SROs at schools in city

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners turned down one commissioner's request to fund police officers in schools in the city of Hendersonville, a shift in budget policy that would have given a break to city residents who are facing a tax increase to pay for new officers.

The Hendersonville City Council had already agreed to add officers to all four schools in the city limit and to pay for them as it currently pays for two officers. The council's plan to add three more officers, including a "floater" to be deployed as needed, would require a 3-cent increase in the property tax rate.
The county, too, has agreed to fund an SRO in every school. As long as it’s doing that, Commissioner Bill Lapsley said, the county should pay for all of them.
“If we’re going to fund them at the other schools, we need to fund them at the four city schools,” he said. “My understanding is obviously we have a county school system, all the schools are under the county school board — Fletcher, Mills River and the city of Hendersonville. The city of Hendersonville has funded the school resource officers inside the city limits. When I find that the city taxpayers are in effect paying for school resource officers when they’re also county taxpayers it seems to be this board and the School Board should include funds to provide school resource officers no matter where they’re located.”
He said he agreed with the current arrangement to cover the schools in the city limits with city police officers. The county should still cover the cost for the city, he said. Lapsley made the request to add that funding to the budget — roughly $428,000.

Hours later, when commissioners gave thumbs up and thumbs down on special funding requests that department heads or individual commissioners had requested, four other commissioners said no to Lapsley’s idea.

“I think if they’re willing to help out we should give them a thank you letter, appreciate it” and move on, Grady Hawkins said.

“My question is, have they asked?” Charlie Messer said.

“The city voluntarily decided” to fund the officers, Tommy Thompson said. He praised the city council for “showing interest in their children. If that’s what they want to do, let them do it. I vote against.”

Lapsley appealed once more for the appropriation, to no avail.

“They stepped up early when the county was only funding a limited number of officers,” Lapsley said. “If they want to continue to do it on their own, that’s great I thank them very much. I think we should at least offer like we do all the other schools.”

The board’s action was not the last opportunity to make changes to the budget. Commissioners recessed their meeting on Wednesday and will reconvene next Thursday to finalize several remaining budget issues.

In another new funding request, schools Superintendent Bo Caldwell asked for $40,000 to start baseball in middle school, on the grounds that extracurricular programs are shown to prevent kids from dropping out. Why now? One reason, he added, is that the city and county have made new fields available, at Berkeley Mills Park and at the Blue Ridge Community College.
The schools also are requesting $640,000 for social workers in schools.
“You look at every school safety budget, from the state to the federal, they’re putting in some kind of mental health-social worker (funding). We can’t leave it out of our budget as well,” Caldwell said.
In addition, the School Board asked for $645,000 for safety improvements in school buildings and plans to fund a $120,000 analysis of the school buildings to find out what's needed for safety and security purposes.