(10/20/2009)
The Calhoun Commission declined to approve a $33,000 grant from the Division of Criminal Justice Services that would place a county deputy sheriff at Calhoun Middle-High School.

The long-discussed hiring died with the lack of a motion.

Commissioners continued to express nervousness about how the officer's hiring would affect the county budget, which is expected to tighten with decreasing revenues during the next year.

Commissioner's gave credit to Sheriff Allen Parsons for making considerable adjustments in his budget to soften a projected shortfall that would have been needed for the hire, in addition to the grant funds.

Parsons has maintained that behavioral problems have worsened at the school and the officer placement is sorely needed.

Principal Karen Kirby, acknowledging a small percentage of students create most of the problems, said most students are well-behaved.

The commissioners felt that the grant should have been in collaboration with Calhoun Schools, saying they are willing to work on a new application for next year in a cooperative effort.

Further concern was expressed that the sheriff's current budget, not including ancillary costs linked to the school officer, has an un-budgeted hole of about $40,000.

The hiring of Deputy Jeff Starcher was not requested by the sheriff in this year's budget, causing the problem.

Commission President Bob Weaver has continued to say the county is "on alert" because of decreasing revenues, mostly linked to the recession.

Commissioner Chip Westfall and Weaver said they have received lots of feedback regarding the possible loss of deputy Starcher in southern Calhoun.

Commissioner Westfall said the budget could get so tight, the commission might not be able to come up with additional funds for Starcher's position to continue.

Commissioner Kevin Helmick said "Not having enough money in our county budget has caused me to hold back," saying, "A couple years ago, we might not have been so concerned."

Weaver said "Sheriff Parsons has made some serious efforts to make this work," recalling problems the county faced about five years ago that caused lay-offs, with the commissioners holding back on issuing their own checks.

"The elected officials came to the rescue, and helped us get through that crisis," he said.

"We don't want to live through that again."

HISTORY OF THE GRANT

The commission was asked by Shari Johnson to submit the grant six days before it was due, with the commission being clear they had a number of reservations before making a final decision.

With the approval of the Criminal Justice grants delayed for several months, Sheriff Allen Parsons hired Charles McCroskey for the position, because such officers had to be sent for special training.

While the sheriff ultimately can hire whomever, the commission declined to approve the hire when no grant money had been approved.

The commission expressed concern that the grant should be in financial partnership with Calhoun Schools.

Sheriff Parsons told commissioners last week during a third special meeting, he is aware of the budgetary problems, even going so far to get a promise of a donated cruiser for the school deputy, which would have been the fifth cruiser operated by the sheriff's department.

While the issue has become contentious, commissioners assured a number of individuals attending the meeting, their end decision was based on budgetary concerns.


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