DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco this week discussed with the County Board of Supervisors his desire to increase the number of School Resource Officers (SRO) his department can provide to county schools.
Rasco explained to the board on Monday the department was four short of having an officer in all 13 schools of the unincorporated areas of DeSoto County. He told the board that there was money in the current budget to hire the four officers and has asked for $291,000 in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, starting in October, to continue funding those positions during the coming school year.
Supervisors agreed to Rasco’s request to fund the four positions in the FY 2020 budget, adding that SROs were a priority for the county and the Sheriff’s Department in the current year budget.
Including salary, equipment and training, each entry-level SRO comes at a price tag of approximately $80,000, said County Administrator Vanessa Lynchard.
“Around 2013, District IV Supervisor Lee Caldwell found a grant for partial funding of SRO’s,” said Lynchard. “The Board of Education has continued to get that grant and has provided $10,000 each for up to 11 officers. In Fiscal Year 2019, the DCS Board of Education agreed to provide additional funding of $80,000 for one additional officer.”
During Monday’s discussion, supervisors and Sheriff Rasco stated they had heard from many county residents that school security through the employment of SROs is a priority.
Supervisor Mark Gardner, in particular, Monday told Rasco that he was 100 percent behind the Sheriff’s mission to hire the officers before the start of the school year, which begins on Aug. 7.
Alerting the public to emergencies was another item among another long day of deliberations for the DeSoto County supervisors.
Mobile phone users in DeSoto County already receive Emergency Alerts on their devices that warn of weather threats and other messages of a general nature.
In the near future, DeSoto County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) personnel will begin issuing similar alerts more specific to a particular area of the county. The department can actually do that now but are in the middle of their final training of the IPAWS system. EMA Director Chris Olson provided the Board of Supervisors with an update on the program at Monday’s board meeting.
IPAWS stands for Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, which during an emergency can alert and provide the public with life-saving information quickly. This system will allow tone emergency alerts for weather, missing persons and other such issues on phones that have active emergency alerts in the “on” position.
“The county has already applied for and gotten permission from the federal government to be able to use the IPAWS system,” Olson said. “Now we’re doing our finalized step of training the users that will be inputting the messages if needed.”
What it means is that your mobile phone in the future may receive and display a message of a weather warning, for instance, that is specific to a certain part of the county, but not to another part of the county. Based on where cell towers are located, messages can be sent out to that specific location, but not to other locations. They will appear similar to what is seen when missing person Amber Alerts are received, for instance.
“It allows emergency messages to go out to the public,” Olson said. “A lot of times it’s using third-party means, going to television and radio stations, your wireless carriers so it goes to your cell phones. It can go to your NOAA Weather Radios and even some subscribers of internet partners. It’s a public warning system to get that emergency message out.”
Olson added the County EMA is not tasked with originating the weather warning messages, but it is their job to add additional warnings to a message.
“If the National Weather Service puts out a warning for a tornado, for instance, that’s typically radar-indicated. It doesn’t necessarily mean there is one, but there is one in the atmosphere,” Olson explained. “If we find out from our storm spotters and fire departments that they actually see a tornado on the ground and is moving toward a highly-populated area, we may piggy-back and add a message. Cell phone towers in a certain range are the ones that would get the message.”
Olson said his department will soon start publicizing the program, its benefits and how it can be used by county residents.
“We can actually use the system today if we need to,” Olson said. “Our final training and everything will probably be all completed before the end of this month.”
As many as 10-12 people will eventually be trained to be able to input messages through the IPAWS System.
In other action from Monday’s Board of Supervisors, a rezoning of Chapel Woods Subdivision on Holly Springs Road was referred back to the County Planning Commission for further study. A Stepp C4 Rezoning on the east side of state Highway 301 and south of I-269 was tabled until Aug. 19.
Another rezoning for the Barlow Heights Preliminary subdivision on Gitter Road south of Holly Springs was denied.
The ARC Northwest Mississippi, the DeSoto County Museum, Healing Hearts Advocacy Center and the DeSoto Arts Council appeared before the Board of Supervisors to request funding for the Fiscal 2020 budget. No decisions were made on their requests, but those requests will be part of the Board’s budget process, starting in August.
Household Hazardous Waste Day has been scheduled for Oct. 5 at the Landers Center in Southaven.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.