The Board of Commissioners gathered with Ashe County Sheriff James Williams and Ashe County Interim Superintendent Donnie Johnson during Tuesday’s BOC planning meeting to discuss adding additional law enforcement officers to each school to protect Ashe County’s students.
A proposition to add three more School Resource Officers to the two already in action was the focus of the school safety discussion. This would result in each Ashe County school having one officer.
“If we’re going to do something, we need to do it now,” said Johnson.
If three new officers are added, the BOC will pick up their expenses. The remaining two officers’ expenses will be picked up by the Board of Education.
After their last school safety meeting, Williams said he did research about the cost of adding three more officers. The start up cost would be between $85,000 - $100,000 per officer. This cost includes salary and benefits, as well as initial start up costs like vehicles, weapons and training.
“People are interested in those three positions,” said Williams. Those candidates have already been trained.
Commissioner Gerald Price was hesitant to agree with this proposal so quickly.
“This is the first thing we have put on the table and everyone is ready to run with it,” said Price.
According to Price, these expenses would total up to $300,000 for three new SRO officers, and all of that funding will be placed on the backs of Ashe County’s tax payers.
BOC Vice Chair Judy Porter Poe responded by saying this figure is only a start-up cost; after the first year, the cost will be much less per year, she said.
“Has the school board genuinely looked at other options?” asked Price. One alternative Price mentioned was training teachers to carry and use concealed weapons.
Williams responded to Price by saying “the SRO is about the best way to go – and the cheapest.”
“I think it’s a better fit myself,” said Johnson about the SRO option.
Commissioner Gary Roark suggested it might be cheaper to hire private security guards for each school.
“My feeling is I’d rather have a trained law enforcement person,” said Williams. “The parents would much rather see a trained deputy opposed to someone outside of the county we don’t know.”
Commissioner William Sands also agreed with adding new SRO’s. Sands said this is also the best way to handle disgruntled parents, as well as other issues that might arise at the school.
However, Sands said he wasn’t sure if an SRO officer would be equipped well enough to stop a shooter with an assault rifle.
Williams said he has considered adding a locked cabinet with an assault rifle inside for each school encase of certain emergencies.
“At least you have a chance,” said Williams. “If you don’t have anything there, you have no chance.”
The Early Learning Center in West Jefferson will not house a School Resource Officer because the center does not have a school code and is in close proximity to the West Jefferson Police Department.
No official decision was made about adding new SROs, and this discussion is scheduled to continue in the coming weeks.
After the long discussion during the planning session, the BOC conducted their formal 3:30 meeting. Commissioner Poe ran Tuesday’s meeting because BOC Chair Larry Rhodes was unable to attend.
The first order of business was the approval of the Community Services Block Grant for 2013-2014.
Jessica Prevette, the BROC community Services Block Grant director, said Ashe County has been identified as “a depressed economy suffering from job loss.” This economy causes the most harm to dislocated workers, low income families, the elderly and the disabled, she said.
“Our long range goal is to move 18 families above the poverty guidelines by June, 30 2016,” said Prevette.
BROC’s strategy to accomplish this goal, according to Prevette, is to provide support services to 38 low-income families to break down the barriers that prohibit them from becoming self-sufficient.
Price motioned to approve the Community Services Block Grant and in a 4-0 vote, the grant was approved.
Ashe County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell updated the board about the impact of aviation on both the county and state.
In Ashe County alone, aviation has a direct, indirect and induced impact of approximately $32 million and contributes 220 jobs in the area, according to Mitchell.
At the state level, the aviation industry contributed nearly $26 billion to North Carolina’s economy and supported over 108,000 jobs in 2012.
Mitchell also said Ashe County’s airport will continue to extend its runway from 4,300 feet to 5,000 feet.
The project is scheduled to be completed by August or September 2013.
During the general session of the BOC meeting, Arvill Scott was appointed as a member of the planning board (first presentation) in a 4-0 vote.
“Arvill possessed a good understanding of the role of planning as well as its potential effect on economic development. He also demonstrated a good understanding of the importance of the 221 project,” said Mitchell in an email to the commissioners.