County Bailout?

First it was the new school in Loudon. Loudon City officials got all twisted up because the construction of the new school required cutting down some trees to build a road into the school. I guess they thought we'd just fly the kids in and out by helicopter or something.

Now there's the SRO, School Resource Officer, issue. Apparently Loudon City officials want the school system to pick up the tab for the two SRO's who work in the three schools in their city. According to Loudon City officials, It costs more than $150,000.00 per year for the two SRO's. The school board has been donating about $30,000.00 per year to the city to help defray the cost to the city for the two officers. The school board also has a similar per officer arrangement with the Sheriff's office for their four SRO's.

In this year's school board budget, the board voted to increase their contribution to the city but not nearly the full $150,000.00 being demanded by Loudon. (See Letter Below) According the the News Herald article below, Loudon City officials are considering their options which include pulling the SRO's out of the schools. Personally, I think the school board is being generous in donating any money to the city. They sure don't have to and probably shouldn't.

Loudon City officials say, give us $150,000.00 or we take away the security officers? In some circles that might appear to be extortion at worst and intimidation at best.

The three schools in question are in the city of Loudon. During the school day, there are more than 1700 children and adults in attendance. If the city of Loudon had any other event in the city limits with 1700 attendees, don't you think they would provide security for the event?

I'm one of those who hate the thought that our society has gotten so bad that police officers are needed at any schools but that's just the world we live in and to think that any government officials would threaten the safety of a bunch of kids in an effort to squeeze a little extra money from the schools is just sad.

There's no secret that Loudon is facing some serious financial issues with the loss of property tax revenues their two biggest industries who are contesting their tax assessment. But do they really think the county schools can or should bail them out? It really makes you wonder who's driving the train down there.

Loudon balks at funding SROs

Elizabeth Trexler-News-Herald

The funding of School Resource Officers within city limits dominated conversation at Monday night's Loudon City Council workshop, and it wasn't even on the official agenda.

The two SROs are members of the Loudon Police Department - even though they work full time in the schools - and a majority of their pay has been funded by the city. Loudon has been providing about $150,000 a year for the two officers, and the Loudon County Board of Education has been refunding $30,000 of that.

The city asked for the BOE to pay an additional $30,000 to "take the pressure off," Lynn Mills, city manager, said.

The county BOE countered with $3,500 for this year, with incremental increases in the coming years.

The school system currently has six SROs operating in the schools, and the board is paying $14,750 for each.

With the school system's new budget, it agreed to pay an additional $1,750 for each of the SROs and increase by the same amount over the next three years.

When looking at options for the city, City of Loudon Mayor Keller said there are two: pull the city officers out and let the BOE fund the program 100 percent, or leave the officers in.

"This is a great program, but the question is are the citizens in Loudon willing to pay for the program?" Keller asked.

Loudon High School Principal Cheri Parrish attended the meeting, along with SROs Kenny Ridings and Kent Russell. Ridings serves at Loudon Elementary and Fort Loudoun Middle School, while Russell serves at the high school.

"(The officers) help us maintain order," Parrish said, adding her school is a heavily populated area.

"These are county schools, not city schools," Councilman Michael Cartwright countered, adding that city residents also pay county taxes. "It's not fair that I have to pay twice as much as a person in Philadelphia."

Cartwright said the BOE's unwillingness to pay more shows it doesn't feel the program is important.

"I hope we can come to some sort of agreement some time soon, something that is reasonable," Jason Vance, director of schools, said. "We're talking about the safety of our children."

In an unrelated matter, council heard a presentation from Keener Billips of Wiley Brothers on the possibility of refunding, which is similar to refinancing, some of the variable-rate bonds the city is holding. The aim would be to lock in a fixed rate bond to save money.

The fixed rate would be 1.7 percent, about a half of a percent higher than the current average being paid. But with the current variable rate comes a lot of fees. Over the life of the bonds, the city would pay more than $300,000 in fees, not including interest, according to Billips.

"You will be paying less than half of the fees you're paying now, plus there will be no risk from interest rates," Billips said. "I suspect in the next nine years, 1.7 percent will look like a bargain."

Billips will be bringing more numbers and more information to a June workshop.

City council also discussed:

● Bond issue approval for Loudon Utilities. Bonds will be in the amount of $15 million for purpose of improvements to the water treatment plant. Of that $15 million, $10 million will be new debt and $4 million will be for refunding existing debt.

● Request for support from the city of Harriman for a Veterans Administration Hospital in Roane County. "If they've got a chance of doing it, we should support them," Keller said.

● Proclamation for safe boating week during May 19-25.

The next budget workshop meeting will be 5 p.m. Monday with a 7:30 p.m. council meeting to follow.