Saturday, April 20, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Graham city council debates how to spend almost $5M in federal money


Graham’s city council spent two hours in a special meeting Monday afternoon, reviewing some of the ways the city might allocate its $4.98 million in federal funds received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), as well as how or whether the city should pitch in funds for two additional school resource officers for Graham’s two elementary schools.

Last month, the county commissioners and school board agreed to increase the level of funding for SROs, but did not provide sufficient money to cover all of their expenses, council members were told by Sgt. Ben Edwards and police chief Kristi Cole.

Graham police chief Kristi Cole and sgt. Ben Edwards laid out the department’s needs to the city council during a special meeting Monday afternoon, hoping to secure some additional funding – for school resource officers, additional equipment, and/or new patrol cars.

The county commissioners voted last month to provide funding for an additional 14 SROs, at an estimated cost of approximately $70,000 per officer, for the Alamance-Burlington school system.

As part of their vote to adopt a county budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year that started July 1, the county commissioners agreed to use approximately $5.2 million to fully fund the ABSS budget request – of which more than $1.9 million would go toward hiring new SROs, commissioner Bill Lashley confirmed for The Alamance News at the time.

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“We thought the municipalities could donate cars,” Lasley explained in late June, adding that the county is hoping to hear back from Burlington mayor Jim Butler about whether that city would be willing to contribute a portion of the city’s anticipated $10.1 million surplus toward funding SROs at the schools within Burlington’s jurisdiction.

Graham city council members this week said the funding for SROs within Graham’s jurisdiction is insufficient.

Edwards outlined that the city would still be short at least $60,000 per officer because of the need for uniform, radio, computer, and even more if a new car were to be purchased for each of the two elementary school officers.

Instead, city councilmen seemed to prefer that one of the department’s “surplus” cars be used inasmuch as there would be no high-speed pursuits or other issues that would necessitate a newer, or more efficient vehicle.

After more than an hour of discussion, however, it remained unclear how much was being asked for the supplemental funding for the two SROs and how much was being asked as additional funding request for six new patrol officers, to be funded by a special grant that the city obtained for the current year’s budget.

Edwards appeared to say that the grant did not cover vehicles for the new officers, and that each new vehicle would cost about $68,000.

Mayor Jennifer Talley explained that she thought that city manager Megan Garner had said there would be sufficient funds without any additional requests to the city council, but Garner disavowed that interpretation.

Talley also questioned whether there was really a fundamental need for the additional resource officers. “I don’t like knee-jerk reactions,” she said, suggesting that the additional officers were part of a national over-reaction to the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

“I don’t know that this is the right solution,” she said.

She also noted that the layout of some schools, including Graham High School, does not lend itself to be able to seal it off from a potential intruder.

“I don’t want to give the public a false sense of protection,” she said.

She also said that school officials need to pay attention to safety recommendations made by the police and other law enforcement officials.

“We need our reports to be given priority. We need door locks to be fixed,” she added. “Security assessments are important.”

Council member Bonnie Whitaker, however, spoke up to say she did not consider it “a knee-jerk reaction” to put officers in elementary schools. While it might not solve future problems, it might help, she said.

Council member Bonnie Whitaker

Council members looked over a list of other funding requests from various departments, before deciding to put off any final decision.

They recessed their meeting after two hours, deciding to resume on Friday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. – when all other suggested times caused conflicts among council members taking vacation or otherwise being unavailable.

Among other issues on the list of city departments:

* the new fire truck whose price tag of $1.8 million shocked council members earlier this month;

* wi-fi for downtown;

* outside seating area at Sesquicentennial Park near the Historic Court House;

* boat ramps and dock improvements at Graham-Mebane Lake;

* new water meter readers;

* additional infrastructure (including a water line replacement) near the city’s wastewater treatment plant; discussion focused on whether a portion of a $10 million allocation from the state budget could be diverted to the line into the treatment plant, rather than toward the $74 million price tag for the expansions and renovations that are required.

Some items – such as $5 million worth of multi-purpose fields at Graham Regional Park – were ruled out by city manager Garner prior to the discussion because of the large price tag that would consume all or more than the federal money available.

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