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Posted March 14, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Sheriff proposes school resource officer plan using asset forfeiture money

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK - Shenandoah County could keep law enforcement in all of its public schools under a deal the sheriff proposed this week.

Sheriff Timothy C. Carter explained to the Board of Supervisors at its work session Thursday night that if the county continued to provide some funding for school resource officers, his agency would supplement the rest of the cost.

Carter used the model the board initiated weeks ago under which the county allocated $50,000 to help cover the cost to put deputies in the schools without resource officers for the remaining 80 days of the year. The sheriff explained that his proposal would call for the county to continue that funding through the 180 days of the next school year. In exchange, the Sheriff's Office would provide supplementary funding to cover the remaining costs to employ resource officers at all 10 schools.

The sheriff also noted that such a deal should span at least five years, attempting to belay concerns that the county would need to find a way to fund the positions after the first year. The Sheriff's Office also would cover the cost of equipment for the officers, such as vehicles.

Carter proposed his office would use money collected through asset forfeiture. He told board members he had contacted officials in the agency that handles asset forfeiture and they confirmed on Tuesday the Sheriff's Office may use that money to supplement the salaries for the additional resource officers. Carter added that the official sources determined such a use of funds would not constitute as supplanting, which is strictly forbidden under the rules of asset forfeiture.

Board Chairman Conrad Helsley and Supervisor David Ferguson expressed some support for the concept. Ferguson asked the sheriff to provide the board with a detailed plan of how the county and his office would fund the initiative. Ferguson asked Carter to provide a document that states the county can use the money for the proposed purpose.

County Administrator Douglas Walker told the board he had concerns with using asset forfeiture money or any source on an ongoing operational expense. The appropriate use of such money has remained an issue in the county for years, Walker noted.

Vice Chairman Dennis Morris commented that should the county fund resource officers for one year, the board would need to keep the deputies in the schools permanently.

"When the sheriff came and offered this proposal to me I didn't look at it as kicking the can down the road," Morris said. "I appreciate the offer from the sheriff and his staff to step up to try to help out."

Ferguson explained that "kicking the can" meant the county, by using reserve money such as asset forfeiture funds, would postpone a tax increase needed to keep paying for the officers.

But Carter noted that the county's financial situation could change in five years.

Walker's proposed fiscal 2014 budget did not include asset forfeiture money as a source of revenue to cover personnel, the administrator noted.

"It doesn't mean you can't have that discussion," Walker said.

The administrator reminded the board it faces filling a $650,000 deficit to balance the next fiscal budget. Use of one-time money to fund an ongoing expense would further burden the county, Walker said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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