Funding debated as Garfield County, Pomeroy schools eye resource officer

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POMEROY — Although funding specifics still need to be worked out, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office hopes to put a full-time school resource officer in Pomeroy schools next year.

Garfield County commissioners and Sheriff Ben Keller will attend a Pomeroy School Board meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss funding the position and receive input from community members. The meeting will be in the cafeteria/auditorium at the Pomeroy Junior-Senior High School.

The sheriff’s office received a $125,000 federal grant last fall to fund three years of salary for an officer at the schools, with an expected local match of about $23,000 per year to cover benefits. The Sheriff’s Office would also be expected to keep the officer for a fourth year and pay the full cost of salary and benefits.

Keller said the position would improve school security, but stressed that there would be other benefits as well, including mentoring students and providing information about careers in law enforcement.

“You’ve got at-risk kids there that you’re going to have day-to-day contact with and hopefully get them going in the right direction,” he said.

The officer would be specially trained in domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse issues, and would help with other investigative work when school is not in session.

Pomeroy School District Superintendent Doug LaMunyan said the district would welcome having an officer, both to help with security and to mentor students.

“Lots of times kids perceive law enforcement as a negative role and this would provide some positive mentorship,” he said.

In an anonymous Jan. 24 letter sent to the Union-Bulletin, Garfield County Commissioners, the Sheriff’s Office and Pomeroy’s newspaper, the East Washingtonian, however, a “longtime Garfield County citizen” expressed concerns that a resource officer was not the best use of funding and said the probability of a serious emergency at the school was low.

“Having a police officer in our school district, especially at the expense of the community’s local funds ... is not right,” the letter said, adding that existing officers should be able to provide security and mentorship by visiting the school regularly.

Keller said his office is able to pay the match portion of the grant out of existing funds from grants and other sources, without costing county taxpayers any additional money. But county commissioners say they want the school to cover at least some of the match costs.

“If this is such a great program for the school, the school should be buying into it at some level,” said Commissioner Dean Burton.

LaMunyan said the district has no stance on the funding issue now because the effects on Garfield County taxpayers haven’t been fully explored. He’s hoping the meeting will clarify the community’s opinions on having an officer in the schools, as well as possible funding scenarios.

“If the community says this is an important item and we want the school to fund it, our school board members would be responsive,” he said.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.

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