The Harnett County Board of Commissioners are reluctant to pay for temporary school safety officers.
Harnett County Schools brought a bill to finance officer Kimberly Honeycutt to cover the cost of temporary school safety officers from the start of school.
According to Harnett County Manager Paula Stewart, the school board is requesting the county reimburse them for somewhere between $28,000 and $29,000 for the guards. The payment spans the time since school opened in August and runs through the end of September.
Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming and school finance officer Tammy McGill approached Ms. Honeycutt and Mrs. Stewart about the reimbursement.
“They wanted to know if we were going to pay them back, reimburse them for the school safety officers,” Mrs. Stewart told the commissioners. “They did it last year on their own, then this year we voted to pay for SROs. But in the meantime they’re not all hired yet so they’ve had to contract with the off-duty or retired police and they’re doing school safety, so they want to know if the board is going to reimburse them for the school safety expenses or if it’s on them.”
Commissioners approved over $1 million in funding to supply school resource officers at schools not already staffed. Under the terms of the agreement, the county believes payments will begin starting Oct. 1. Commissioners are handing the ball back to the school board on funding the temporary officers.
“It’s our understanding, Kimberly and I, it’s on the school system because we said we would fund SROs, not the school safety officers,” Mrs. Stewart said. “I just want to make sure we’re all in agreement.”
The Harnett County Sheriff’s Office is currently in the process of hiring new officers or bringing lateral transfers to the schools, something which could take until January.
“They didn’t budget it and they didn’t anticipate having to do so,” Ms. Honeycutt said. “...the monthly amounts ranged from $28,000 to $29,000 for elementary coverage only, now they’re asking me to reimburse them.”
Commissioners Vice Chairman Howard Penny said the county is spending enough on the program, without any regrets, and now he feels the school board doesn’t want to spend their funding.
“I guess the part that bothers me is as commissioners we’re going to put $1.7 million dollars into it but they don’t want to invest $20,000 or $30,000 in the meantime for us to spend $1.7 million,” he said. “That’s the part I’m in disagreement with. It just bothers me they don’t want to put any skin in the game to use a country vernacular.”
District 5 Commissioner Joe Miller questioned why the temporary guards were being paid and put in place at all. He said that while school safety is and will always be a priority, he didn’t understand why school officials couldn’t show a little more patience with the process.
“I know school safety is the big thing and everybody needs to have armed guards and .50 caliber machine guns on top of schools,” he said. “But as we get them hired we are putting them in the schools, why are we spending the extra money as a county when we know as soon as the SROs are hired they’re going to a school. Why are we spending the extra money and why is the school board spending the extra money when they know as well as we do that when they’re hired Sheriff (Wayne) Coats is putting them in place?”
He admits there will be temporary periods where no SRO is present, but at the same time he questions where taxpayers will see the money come from to fund the temporary officers.
“Does that leave a few schools uncovered for a month or two, yes it does,” Commissioner Miller said. “But the last time I checked there wasn’t an oak tree outside dropping $100 bills.”
Ms. Honeycutt also expressed concern about how the school board handled the situation. She said it was done in a way she can’t pay without the board of commissioners’ approval.
“My concern is that they initiate an obligation and then give us the bill,” Ms. Honeycutt said. “As a finance officer I cannot pay that unless you approve and appropriate those funds.”
She said the struggle to find funding for the SRO program is difficult as is funding other things under the county’s purview.
“We’re constantly trying to scratch money out to fund these school resource officers and how to do the other items we need to do,” she said. “...we’re expected that money, we’re expected to have those resources. When does it stop.”
Mr. Penny, who made the original motion to the board to approve the SRO program said the funding was only for the permanent SROs and it would take approval of another motion by the commissioners to pay for the temporary officers.
“That was not in that motion,” he said. “It would take another motion because that was not in my original motion.”
The Harnett County School Board met in closed session emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss security issues. Board Chairman Bill Morris was not available for comment following the meeting.