Fiscal Court moving forward on memo concerning two SRO's in the schools

2-hour discussion begrudgingly leads to a compromise
"You told us the benefits were too high and it cost too much. We have a position with no benefits that saves money," said Deputy Sheriff Todd Dennie

With Pendleton County Sheriff Craig Peoples and Deputy Sheriff Todd Dennie presenting information on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on two School Resource Officers for Pendleton County Schools and answering questions from the four members of Pendleton County Fiscal Court and Judge Executive David Fields, the six individuals eventually came to an compromise on the issue at the August 6 caucus meeting.

While the SRO position is for the safety of students and staff of Pendleton County Schools, the discussion became focused on the nuts-and-bolts of putting the plan into action.

Fiscal Court cannot vote on an issue at a caucus meeting. They will take up the issue for vote at a special called meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, August 13.

The three issues that were the sticking point in the almost two hours of discussion was: 1) salary; 2) use of vehicle; 3) what percentage of time would the SRO's be allotted to the school district.

Magistrate Alan Whaley started the conversation but informing the court that the MOU had "come full circle."

"We made changes in the MOU, then backed up and added the original language back in," he said.

Whaley indicated Magistrate Bobby Fogle and himself had met with Superintendent Joe Buerkley on Thursday, August 2 and Sheriff Peoples on Friday, August 3.

Starting with the issue of salary of $40,000, Peoples explained that covers a total of 180 days; 172 school days, 2 days before school starts, 1 day at the end of school and five days of inservice training or 40 hours per year. There may be additional days if special SRO training becomes available that is a good option.

Sheriff Peoples indicated that other agencies pay $50,000 per year while Magistrat Fogle indicated that Harrison County Schools has just moved from a security officer to a SRO with the Cynthiana Police Department at $30,000 per year.

In the first tense moment that had several over the lengthy discussion, Sheriff Peoples said, "I agree with what Joe said in his message. We want an experienced police officer with law enforcement that we can hope to retain them. Pay them right with a competitive salary is what we need to do to retain them."

Peoples indicated that he has been in contact with a retired law enforcement officer who is interested in the position and has given him a salary number that it would take for him to assume the SRO position.

Fogle said he had a problem with the salary as it was "more than some teachers make."

Magistrate Rick Mineer added that the salary for the SRO was more than what some of the county Deputy Sheriffs make.

Peoples pointed out that the MOU is saving the county $60,000. Presently, they are paying $75,000 and their commitment would be $15,000.

Magistrate Gary Veirs asked if the SRO would be eligible for CPI and Judge Fields answered that part-time employees are not eligible for it. In a later conversation, Veirs explained that the CPI is the Consumer Price Index and pay increases can be based on that percentage but doesn't have to be. Since the MOU does not address that, he brought the question up for clarification.

Fields felt a $30,000 starting salary was more appropriate and Mineer agreed.

"Skilled labor does not make that much. Deputy Sheriff's with more risk to their safety makes less salary. They pull people over at night approaching cars and they make less. With the pension the retired officer will be drawing, they will make combined $90,000," said Mineer.

Peoples pointed out that we don't have the luxury of a lot of retired law enforcement officers to pull from. He has had a discussion with one who is interested and a candidate for the other position. The other candidate is recently retired and rules prevent them from having any discussion on the position till October 1.

After discussion about what Kentucky State Police officers make, Mineer expressed reluctancy to put all their financial "eggs in one basket to start."

Judge Fields proposed a compromise of $35,000 and the car stays at the school and does not go home with the SRO.

Both Peoples and Dennie firmly stated that it would not work.

Dennie said, "The guy is going to work very hard and be loyal to us and do a good job." He pointed out that the program means a lot to him as he was the first SRO in the county.

The discussion diverted to the possibility of the state getting involved in SRO's in the future with KSP starting their own program.

Dennie brought the discussion back to the point on hand by emphasizing that they have listened to what the fiscal court wanted from them. "You told us the benefits were too high and it cost too much. We have a position with no benefits that saves money."

Whaley asked why the SRO needed to drive the car to and from home.

Peoples provided a scenario that an incident could happen at school or on a bus as the officer is at home or driving to school and he would be able to quickly respond with lights and siren on.

Mineer challenged the validity of the scenario as county deputies and KSP would be responding and no need for SRO to responde with lights in another tense moment.

Peoples informed the court that KSP is not in the county till 10 a.m. and they would not be quickly responding.

"I'm not buying the need for a vehicle for SRO," Mineer flatly stated.

Veirs inquired about who would be paying for the fuel for the vehicle with Peoples indicating it would be in the sheriff's budget. Mineer grabbed that answer to make his point that the actual cost of this plan will be more than $15,000.

He and Peoples disagreed vehemently on this point.

Peoples pointed out that the money used in the line item for fuel is not tax funded. "Sheriff's office is a fee money generated office," he said.

Fields countered by pointing out that not all of the Sheriff's office is covered by the fees but benefits paid by the country with Mineer adding that if the sheriff budget is paying for the fuel than that is less money being returned to the fiscal court from the sheriff's office.

"It's $15,000 out of an $8 million budget," Peoples stated in another tense exchange.

Veirs asked Peoples what the compromise could be and the sheriff stated $38,000 and the car.

There was some discussion among members of the court and figuring on how much that breaks down to per hour.

Mineer reemphasized that he has a problem with SRO making more than a Deputy Sheriff.

Dennie said, "We have two great candidates to start."

Mineer replied, "This shoudl be an arm of the school and not their responsibility."

Peoples answered that it is too costly and too hard for a school district to have their own law enforcement agencies. In our area, both Nicholas County and Montgomery County have chosen that route. He explained it would be similar to the police of the state capitol that has no authority anywhere else.

Whaley brought the discussion back to the point at hand by reminding all that the MOU is for one year and any part that does not work can be looked out next year. He added, "It irks me everytime. No one here has ever said that we don't want SRO's."

This led to another very tense moment about the role of the Sheriff Office from Peoples and Mineer. Mineer felt "they should not be in the SRO business and by the constitution they are a tax collection business but the county has made them an emergency service business and now moving to a security business."

Peoples indicated that they can return to the previous way the office was run and the fiscal court could establish their own law agency but they could not afford that.

Since a compromise was not able to be reached on salary and use of the car at this point, they moved the discussion on whether the SRO would 100 percent of the time be at the school or be available to the Sheriff's office in emergencies.

Peoples flatly stated and never wavered that he could not agree to 100 percent at the school. "You cannot lock me into 100 percent. If something major happened, I need all hands on deck."

Fogle firmly pointed out that the person is hired as a SRO. If there is an incident and the school is locked down, "You just took them away."

Fogle and Peoples disagreed repeatedly the nature of the position. Fogle saying they were hired as a SRO and Peoples saying they have to be hired as Deputy Sheriffs.

Dennie gave the scenario of a wreck at the bottom of the hill from PCHS with hazardous material, a real possibility. We would need the SRO to come out to US 27 and reroute people away. With 100 percent written into the MOU, they could not do that.

The banter continued as Fogle pointed out that there is emergency management people to hand that.

Dennie pleaded, "Don't lock us to 100 percent. Wish you could trust us on this."

Mineer indicated that he knows how this works as he has seen it happen. It's put into place and too hard to change later and "it slaps us in the face."

Fields revisited the point that Dennie had just stated, "It's only one year."

He added, "If it's abused, then stand your ground on it."

The intensity racheted up again after Dennie asked for one year not at 100 percent and Peoples reiterated that he would not commit to 100 percent.

Mineer charged, "You don't want to."

Fields repeated the early statement that "the school needs to take law enforcement as their arm."

Veirs asked if we could add wording to allow for emergencies and Dennie proposed 95 percent of the time at the school. Fields suggested "95 percent of the time in the school and only pulled out by supervisor."

This led to a very tense moment when Fogle did not want them called out to work a wreck after Dennie explained the "all hands on deck" need in a situation like Charles Bruener who was running from multiple law enforcement officers, endangering citizens and after wrecking scampering to get to his weapons in the car.

Finally, the 95 percent wording was reluctantly accepted but a final decision will be made at the special called session at 7 p.m. on Monday, August 6.

With the percentage of time addressed the issue of salary and car usage was revisited and shortly the figure of $38,000 and use of the car was deemed acceptable for vote in the same meeting.