You can expect discussion between the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Bill Rasco during Monday’s meeting about the Sheriff’s Department budget, with the conversation to center on the school resource officers at some county schools.
School resource officers, or SROs, are deputies or police officers stationed at a school during the school day to ensure safety and security.
The DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department provides officers to Center Hill, Lewisburg and Lake Cormorant schools. A deputy is also staffed at Northpoint Christian School in Southaven.
Inside city limits, the SROs are typically police officers of the particular city the public schools are located in.
The discussion started among the supervisors and sheriff at a recent meeting when Supervisor Mark Gardner pointed out that it had been brought to his attention about SROs being cut from the budget, a statement he maintains is not correct.
“They have their budget and he has more than adequate funds to hire school resource officers,” said Gardner. “We gave him an increase this year and I think I even made the motion and even told the sheriff, ‘there’s your increase, go hire your SROs.’ In my mind, it’s been there, it’s why I voted for an increase, but I’ve always voted for an increase in the sheriff’s budget.”
The current operating budget for the Sheriff’s Department is more than $22 million for Fiscal Year 2018, which runs through September of this year and has grown each year in the last several years.
Rasco, however, said he cannot figure out where the board gave the money to cover SROs.
“They took our ending budget, which was $22 million and gave us $250,000,” Rasco pointed out. “I don’t know how they think the $250,000 would cover the school resource officers and the other stuff we had. You don’t budget for exactly what you have to have. You’ve got to have a little cushion to make sure you have enough money to finish out the year with. The $250,000 would not cover the SROs.”
Gardner stated the board does not cut personnel for elected positions, such as the Sheriff’s Department. That is up to the elected department head to hire or fire personnel.
“We’ve not cut chaplains, we haven’t cut SROs, we’ve not cut anything and the sheriff’s budget has grown substantially,” Gardner said. “It’s grown more than any other budget in this county because we put a very high emphasis on public safety and I think we have a fabulous sheriff’s department. We want to do everything we can to support them and we do. We do not give it lip service, we do it by raising their budget every year.”
“How they think they budgeted for school resource officers, I can’t figure it out,” responded Rasco. “When we go to present our budget, I don’t ask them for anything I don’t think we need to keep this county safe.”
The sheriff said he can’t hire additional school resource officers and not know where the money is going to come from.
“It’s got to be in the budget,” Rasco said.
Rasco also explained why the jail ministry position for a time was vacated after he had brought in Chaplin Curtis Pennington, first as a part time position and later to a full time status, before Pennington had to leave. He has since returned and his compensation is now covered through a separate Jail Ministry Fund and is not part of the Sheriff’s Department budget.
Rasco said Pennington’s comments about his departure in a recent item about the Jail Ministry are not accurate.
“He knew why I had to let him go,” Rasco said. “I took his position and another position that we had in the jail, the kitchen manager that handled our trustees and ordered all of the stuff for that. I took those two salaries and put a school resource officer in one of the elementary schools that didn’t have one. I didn’t tell him they (supervisors) didn’t fund the chaplain’s program. I told him that we didn’t get any school resource officers and I had to put some school resource officers into some schools.”
Supervisor Michael Lee also defended the board, stating it had nothing to do with Pennington’s departure.
“That was a salary that never existed until the sheriff hired that man to do something that the people did for free to begin with and then turn around and say the Board of Supervisors got rid of him and we did not,” Lee said. “I didn’t hire him and I didn’t fire him. We didn’t cut his budget.”
Lee went on to stress the jail chaplain post did not come from the board to begin with.
“What I was upset about was reading where he (Pennington) was telling us that the sheriff said that we cut his position and he had to get rid of him which made volunteer churches go out and raise money with a 501(c)3 and making us look like the board was responsible for this man losing his job,” Lee said. “We didn’t hire the man to begin with at half a salary. That was the sheriff’s doing, not the board. The only positions we control are those that fall under the Board of Supervisors.”
For Rasco's part, he expects his budget will be a topic of discussion when he meets with the board on Monday.
“I don’t understand it and we’re going to talk about it again Monday,” Rasco said.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.