After a lot of discussion regarding last minute changes to the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget, the Liberty County Board of Commissioners voted to adopt the budget as presented during the public hearing held June 1.
The adopted budget cuts out the hiring of three new School Resource Officers (SROs) that were being requested by the Board of Education and the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office. Liberty County Chief Finance Officer Kim McGlothlin was asked to add funding to the budget that would facilitate the hiring of three new SROs.
“I know we are standing up the fire department and the EMS but I was concerned about the SRO agreement,” Commissioner Connie Thrift said.
“It is in the budget,” McGlothlin said. “Mr. Chairman to put it in the budget.”
“It’s in the budget?” Thrift asked expressing concern that the public may not be aware of the last minute changes.
“I was told to put it in the budget, so I put it in the budget,” McGlothlin replied. Board Chairman Donald Lovette said the SRO agreement was on the evening’s agenda, but Thrift pointed out that it was placed below the budget resolution.
“I don’t know that I can approve a budget if I haven’t approved an agreement,” Thrift said.
McGlothlin said the budget as presented June 1, had $74,000 set aside for the current SRO. The Board of Education would reimburse the County $62,975. That meant the County would have to pay $11.025 for one SRO. Under the revised budget the County budgeted $262,000 for the current SRO and the hiring of three additional SROs. They expected the BOE to pay $258,000 which meant the County only needed to pay the $3,601.00 difference.
“We are getting more bang for our buck,” Commissioner Justin Frasier said.
Lovette said he sent out an email regarding the matter indicating that the Sheriff’s Department said they would absorb all of the costs associated with outfitting the three new SROS with uniforms, roughly $29,000. McGlothlin confirmed the LCSO said they would cover that cost.
Lovette said he didn’t receive any feedback from his email, and asked McGlothlin revise the budget prior to adoption.
McGlothlin said as soon as she made the revisions the new budget was posted to their website.
The Board decided to discuss the SRO agreement before adopting the FY 2022 budget. County attorney Kelly Davis said the agreement is largely between the BOE and the LCSO and the Commissioners should only focus on a specific paragraph of the agreement which requires them to either approve or decline the budget request. Davis explained that the SROs would work at the schools for 10 months and be utilized by the LCSO the remaining two months to perform duties as needed.
Thrift said the Sheriff should have made the request during the budget presentations. But Lovette noted the negotiations were still a work in progress during that time and just recently finished.
Thrift asked how many new deputies had been approved for the LCSO since January 2021.
“Seventeen new positions for an annual impact of $962,000,” McGlothlin said.
“I don’t know why three of those 17 couldn’t be placed over there (at the schools),” Thrift said.
Commissioner Frasier said the agreement provided a better deal for the County and would result in more security for the kids.
Commissioner Gary Gilliard said he understood the need for the SRO program but in other municipalities, to include Hinesville, the BOE covers 100 percent of the costs.
“Now I want all the kids to be safe, “Gilliard said. “But if that is what the Board of Education desires, they should present that to this board and then we would get with the Sheriff to see how they could meet those obligations to grant their wishes…if that is what they want, that is what they should pay for.”
Commissioner Eddie Walden agreed saying if the BOE needs the SROs they should be able to fund it. He said the BOE has the flexibility of using the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (E-SPLOST) to fully fund their need for SROs, thereby not placing the burden on the taxpayers.
Thrift said she’s been on the finance Committee for 20 years since being elected
“And this is the first time that a budget has been changed…That is not the budget that I sat up here and worked on,” she said.
After discussing the matter for more than an hour, the Commissioners voted 4-3 to not approve the SRO agreement with Thrift, Gillard, Walden and Maxie Jones Jr. opposing the measure.
By voting the agreement down, the Board adopted the FY 2022 budget as presented on June 1, which was absent the funding of three SROs and the revenues and expenditures of those three SROs.
McGlothlin said the County has applied for America Rescue Plan funds and expect to receive 11 million. They are still learning how the funds can be spent. She said they need to open a separate bank account for those funds and maintain a separate accounting ledger for those expenditures.
To read more about the budget they adopted read the related article here: https://coastalcourier.com/news/county-holds-second-hearing-budget-tables-discussion-sros/