Talladega Council approves resolution for School Safety Act
by Chris Norwood
TALLADEGA — The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a resolution supporting the School Safety Act.

The resolution would allow citizens of Talladega and Calhoun counties to vote on a 3.5 mil property tax increase which would update the communication infrastructure in the two counties and allow school systems within those counties to contract with local law enforcement to hire school resource officers.

In addition to paying for school resource officers, the bill would provide the county administration “nominal funding for public safety” and provide the “(Alabama Regional Communications System) Board with funding so that volunteer fire departments will be furnished free radios and user fees not to exceed $1 per month, reduce user fees for current users not to exceed $2 per month” and eliminate fees for county weather sirens altogether, according to a Power Point presentation by Police Chief Alan Watson.

Under the proposal, ARCS would “assume responsibility for maintenance on all weather sirens, (and) replacement radios and replacement weather sirens will be divided on a percentage basis with each entity. The percentage will be determined each fiscal year based on funding available. The goal is for ARCS to assume 100 percent of the cost.”

The schools portion of the tax revenue will be divided up based on 20 day enrollment. For the Talladega County system, that total for the current year is 7,570. Talladega City is 2,377 and Sylacauga City is 2,289.

The overall revenue would go to ARCS at 55 percent, the schools at 35 percent and to the county commission at 10 percent.

The boards of education and ARCS are both public agencies subject to annual audits, he added.

Under the Talladega County version of the bill, the school boards would be “limited to expend the funds by contracting with a law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction where each individual school is located. These funds may only be expended for salary, benefits, vehicles and equipment for an officer certified by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission employed full time by a law enforcement agency. The officer must be assigned as a school resource officer with duty hours equivalent to school hours and open school days. These funds may not be expended for security at athletic events or other events not during school hours. These funds may not be used for training, meals, travel, etc.”

Overall, the Talladega school systems would get $1,136,000 for school resource officers, the ARCS board would get $3,970,000 and the Talladega County Commission would get $325,000.

For the cost of approximately two soft drinks per month for most homeowner, Watson said voters could “help protect our children in schools with certified police officers, provide communications to our volunteer firefighters and other first responders (and) provide additional monies for other critical public safety needs.”

The bill would also provide improved communications between first responders and the Public Works Department, where there was issues coordinating storm damage cleanup recently.

In addition to recent horrific events involving violence in schools and on a school bus, Watson said the bill addresses another long term problem as well. For years, the federal government provided state-of-the-art communications equipment to agencies near the chemical stockpile in Anniston. Now, however, that funding is gone and the equipment is becoming obsolete. This bill would address that problem as well.

In response to a question from Council President Donnie Miller, Watson said that the state is slowly implementing a statewide program, but the advanced communications systems envisioned in this legislation are currently in place only in Madison and Mobile Counties, and on a much smaller scale in Etowah County. Approval of the systems in Talladega and Calhoun counties would also advance the statewide program.

The individual school systems in Talladega County would also have the option of using 10 percent of their appropriation to cover other security improvements, such as push-button alert systems and electronic locks.

The council vote to support the resolution was unanimous, with Councilman Horace Patterson asking Watson to watch closely and make sure that no last minute changes were made by the legislature prior to approval.

Also Monday, the council:

• Approved a rezoning request on Mount Olive Circle.

• Advised Michael’s Menswear owner Michael Gee to discuss amending the sign ordinance with the Planning Commission. Miller said due to litigation, the council could not discuss the issue further.

• Reappointed Ed Hall to the board of Cheaha Mental Health.

• Awarded Police Officer David Sparks the Top Gun Employee of the Quarter. Sparks helped save the life of a man during a fire on Dumas Ave. Feb. 15.

• Tabled discussion of a men’s recovery ministry on East Street pending a public hearing May 6.

• Placed a demolition lien on 108 Jackson Street.

•Approved a $38,000 contract with Tag Grinding Services to remove two structures at the corner of Court and Coosa Streets.

• Approved a policy for city employee Internet and computer use.

• Approved a $130,000 contract with Neel-Schafer Engineering for bridge design for West Street and Coosa Street.

• Voted to surplus two light bars from the police department and donated them to the rescue squad.

• Voted to surplus five backhoes from the public works and water departments and approved the purchase of five more from Warrior Tractor for $389,880.

• Voted to surplus a wrecked dumptruck from the water department and replaced the chasis for $69,070 and the heavy-duty dump body for $11,490.

• Heard Councilman Jarvis Elston say that the annual Easter Egg hunt at Edythe Sims Park had been a success once again.

• Heard Miller announce several up coming events, including April in Talladega, Dega Days and a Cheaha Trail Ride Saturday.

Contact Chris Norwood at cnorwood@dailyhome.com

© 2013