Jones County has a new volunteer fire department coordinator. Kyle Brooks was confirmed by the Jones County Board of Supervisors Monday morning for the position. Brooks spent one year at the Ellisville Fire Department, and he’s been with Laurel Fire Department for 16 years, according to County Administrator Danielle Ashley. While at Laurel, he obtained the rank of lieutenant and then captain. His starting date has not yet been determined. The VFD coordinator position in Jones County is considered part-time with a starting salary of $28,000 annually.
The Board of Supervisors spent much of their meeting time Monday focused on better school security for the Jones County schools, particularly the elementary school campuses. Jones County School Superintendent Tommy Parker addressed the supervisors.
“The primary reason I came today is that my Board met on Tuesday night a couple of weeks ago and one of our parents came. He said he had met with you and that he was concerned about security. I wanted to be clear that we didn’t have a misunderstanding,” began Parker, referring specifically to funding streams available to the school district through the county.
“The way I understand the funding process, we’re limited by the amount of money the 55 mills will generate for our schools. That’s where we’ve been the last two years and this year, right at that 55 mills,” added Parker, noting that the value of a school mill is less than a county mill. The reason for the disparity is that a school mill for the JCSD does not include assessed property values within the city limits of Laurel.
A county mill currently has a value of $507,000 while a JCSD school mill’s value (which excludes the city of Laurel’s assessed value) is $313,000, according to Jones County CFO Charles Miller.
“We have a large county population, but we don’t have a large assessed value,” explained Miller.
Parker said that the budget he submitted to the supervisors this year, if fully funded, will meet the needs he and his Board have budgeted for. “That’s not to say that it’s an endless list or that we got everything we wanted. We have to operate within that 55-mill cap.”
The superintendent said the JCSD already budgets over $300,000 annually for school security to pay for, among other things, school resource officers (salaries and benefits), to maintain vehicles used for security purposes, to provide security for extracurricular activities, to purchase radios on each bus, for upgrades to digital camera systems on the buses and to maintain security systems at the schools. The district spent an additional $200,000 last year for the BadgePass system to better protect the elementary schools. The district is looking to add that system to the middle and high schools in the future.
The JCSD budget presented to the supervisors this year is adequate to maintain the security measures already in place, noted Parker, but the school district does not have any additional monies to enhance security at the present time. The enhanced security is what the parent, Sherman Smith, has been asking the supervisors and the school Board for. Smith, who told the supervisors a couple of weeks ago that protecting Jones County’s students should be a priority when finalizing the budget, has attempted to coordinate discussion among the supervisors, the sheriff’s department and school district officials in order to find the funding needed to increase the level of security at the Jones County School District campuses. Smith was again in attendance at Monday’s supervisors’ meeting.
“One of our parents (Smith) came to our Board meeting and said he had met with you and that apparently there was some money available, and basically all we had to do was ask for that money. I’m not aware of any way that can be done,” stated Parker. “If there is a way, if there is a resolution, a request, a letter, a vote by my Board to do that, then if someone will tell me how we can do that, I’d like to present that to my Board.”
“Certainly we all care about the safety of our kids, and what we can do for them, but presently our school district, we feel like, is doing all we can afford. If there’s another stream of funding, something I’m not aware of, (like) grants, then I would certainly appreciate you letting me know about that so that I can inform my Board,” concluded Parker, who thanked the five supervisors for their help to his school district.
Smith addressed the Board after Parker, telling the supervisors that he had spoken with both sheriff candidates (Macon Davis and Joe Berlin) and that both men told him that if the Board would allocate the money to the sheriff’s department now, then they would stand behind having sheriff deputies at all the county's public schools. Davis was present at Monday’s meeting.
“They both agreed with me that we need to protect these children,” said Smith. “You were worried last time that if you gave this money to the sheriff’s department now, the next sheriff might not keep the school security going and would use the money for something else, so I made sure that they would stand behind this myself. I’m even willing to bet that they would sign paperwork for it. So we need $1.2 million, according to Mr. Hodge. The school Board has given up $400,000. Mr. Tommy has stepped out on a limb and said ‘We’ll do that.’ If you, the county Board, will give up $800,000, which is a lot of money, we can make this happen for all the schools and school functions.”
Smith told the supervisors that, according to his calculations, after the police cars are bought the first year, the overall cost to sustain the extra security personnel and measures will drop to around $697,000 each year – of which the school district would pay the majority of over time.
“I want us to all work together and talk about this. The last time when I got through talking, there was no talk. We moved on. I would like this time for us to sit down right now, discuss this, and figure out what we can,” he added. “That’s what I ask."
Later in the meeting Smith added, "If this happens tomorrow and a school gets shot up, how much is that going to cost us? We talk about money today – if a school gets shot up today, how much will that cost the county? Counties all around us, everybody is doing it, and we can't figure out a way. I'm not hearing anything yet.”
Beat 3 Supervisor Barry Saul broached an important issue, saying that the supervisors would have to identify a way, if there is one, to appropriate some of the county’s general funds specifically to the county's school district without indirectly posing an unlawful tax burden on the residents living inside the city of Laurel. Those residents cannot be taxed extra for a service they already pay for, similar to them not being taxed to support the county's volunteer fire departments.
The supervisors did not make a final decision on additional funding for school security Monday.