NEWPORT — With fiscal year 2019-20 drawing closer, Newport officials are discussing pursuing a school resource officer and debating who should pay for it.

The town council met for a budget work session Thursday. During the work session, the council discussed the proposed budgets for several departments, including the police department.

Chief Keith Lewis, who was present at the work session, said the operation side of his department’s budget hasn’t changed, but there are a few line items his department is requesting, such as a replacement for an 11-year-old vehicle and money to hire a SRO.

“I think we all agree there’s a need for a school resource officer,” Chief Lewis said. “We have three schools in Newport, and at any given time there can be 1,200 students in them.”

Chief Lewis said issues like school violence, drugs and vandalism are a concern for his department and school officials alike, things which an SRO is tasked to handle. The chief said he’s asking for a match from the county and town to apply for a state grant through the Safe Schools Program. He said the county receives state, federal and other funding for education.  

Mayor Dennis Barber and councilmen Mark Eadie and David Heath engaged in a heated debate on who should be responsible for funding a SRO position. The schools had a SRO position until 2008, when the grant that funded the position ran out.   

“A school resource officer would be a wonderful thing,” Mr. Eadie said. “It’s a shame the county hasn’t provided for this responsibility…we’re the only county right now that doesn’t have an SRO in our middle schools.”

Mr. Eadie said he wants to go before the county board of commissioners, request funding for an SRO and get the commissioners’ position on such a request on  record. Mayor Barber said he too is concerned about school safety, but they shouldn’t “bash the county” whenever town officials require county support.

“I understand the county needs to pay for its share (of an SRO position),” the mayor said, “but there’s nothing (in state statutes) to mandate that.”

Mr. Heath, meanwhile, said while he supports having an SRO, it’s his opinion the school board is responsible for providing one.

“I’m fine with approaching the county,” Mr. Heath said, “but not with taxing the town of Newport with it.”

Chief Lewis said he agreed with the points the councilmen raised.

“But we have to ask ourselves, what’s the greater good here?” he said. “If the county won’t do it, who will? We’ve had meetings with the school board, the superintendent and with the county board of commissioners, they were very unproductive. That was 11 years ago and we still have no SROs.”

In other news at the work session Thursday, Town Planner Robert Will said he thinks it’s time to start looking into houses with unrepaired hurricane damage.

After Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina September, the town had numerous houses which needed repairs. However, Mr. Will said some of the homeowners haven’t even started on the repairs necessary to make these houses habitable again.

“We also need to inventory houses people have abandoned,” Mr. Will said. He said between 15-20 houses have been condemned.

Mr. Will also said staff prepared a draft fee schedule for next fiscal year’s budget. He said the base building permit fee will remain the same under this draft schedule, but some new fees are proposed and others have been raised.

The following also occurred at the work session:

•    Town Fleet Manager Jim Bristle presented the council with the public works department’s budget, due to the retiring of former Public Works Director Marty Mench May 1. Among the line items on next fiscal year’s budget for the department is repairs for the roof of the town-owned Boy Scout building at 167 Howard Blvd., replacing the second half of the town’s street signs and a 40-foot by 40-foot building for storage of items currently kept in ConEx storage containers.

•    Recreation Coordinator Kathy Jo Buttery presented the council with the parks and recreation commission’s budget. She said she hopes to make the Newport Community Festival, formerly known as Newport Heritage Days, a self-sufficient event. She also said the proposed budget includes ideas for some new events, such as a skateboarding event.  

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

 

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