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Commissioners agree to fund SROs in city

In what one commissioner called “an olive branch” to ease conflict with the city of Hendersonville, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted to fund SROs in four schools in the city limits — but with a change the city may resist.


Having twice rejected in 4-1 votes the city’s request to fund the school resource officers, commissioners added an asterisk: the SROs would come under the sheriff’s office in the school year that starts in August 2020. Currently, the SROs that cover the four schools are city police officers, an arrangement that City Council members have said they want to maintain.
Bruce Drysdale Elementary School and Hendersonville elementary, middle and high schools are the four county schools in the city limits. Commissioner Bill Lapsley pointed out that he had first sought the appropriation for the schools in the city limits a year ago and again in January.
“I continue to strongly support this," he said. "It’s the fair and right thing to do."
Commissioners decided that for consistency in safety and security training and other reasons, the SROs should be sheriff’s deputies, not city police officers.
Lapsley argued for granting the City Council’s request for $200,000, which city officials say covers the cost of the police officers’ work when they’re actually guarding the schools.
“These positions are currently filled by the city of Hendersonville police department. What the city has requested is for the county to share that cost,” Lapsley said. “If we were to hire all four of these as we have for the other schools, it would cost a lot more than $200,000 to fill all those positions. From the way I see it, it’s a pretty good bargain.”
Seeing support for putting the school security for all schools under the sheriff, Lapsley amended his motion, which commissioners unanimously approved. Sheriff Lowell Griffin said his office is currently three hires short of having an SRO in every school.
“We’re still aggressively pursuing some folks,” he said. “What happened was the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association changed the standards of who we would be assigning as school resource officers and that kind of set us back a half a step.”
Griffin endorsed a one-year delay to transition the school SROs to the sheriff’s office.
“I think that is a good plan,” he said. “For us to try to absorb this now in the short term is going to be a very difficult process. The main thing is to make sure we’ve got the safety and security of our children covered, right now we’ve got the children in the city covered” by city officers.
County Manager Steve Wyatt said the county would offer the proposal to the city. Commissioner Michael Edney tied the offer to the county’s demand that the city end its policy of charging out-of-city water customers more than those inside the city limits.
“I would hope the city would see this is an olive branch … to work with us on their verbal commitment to equalize water rates,” he said.