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City debates school resource officers; property tax cuts

The Columbia City Council meeting was held on Tuesday instead of Monday due to the Labor Day holiday this month. The meeting became somewhat contentious during a discussion of the contracts for school resource officers (SRO) for the Adair County Schools.

A question was raised by council member Craig Dean concerning the number of officers the city is obligated to supply to the school system. “I think that we discussed last year that we were only going to cover that third officer through the end of last school year, and we would bring that up again, so I would like to look at that and see what our responsibilities are.”

Council member Mark Harris stated, “We kind of committed to four at one time, so we’ve just got three and we were getting by cheaper on three than we were with one at one time. So I would say let’s look at the contracts and we can discuss that when we have all those contracts in front of us.”

Dean replied, “I didn’t think the city ever committed to four. I know we said that we wanted to see four out there.”

Harris said, “We kind of pledged that, I don’t think we ever voted on it. I’d say get [Superintendent Pamela] Stephens at the meeting and the contracts and get all the players involved and go from there.”

Police Chief Jason Cross said, “The city recommended one [officer] in each school and the new House bill that was written for school safety says that is the goal by 2021. You are talking the safety of the kids for $20,000 an officer.”

Council member Sharon Payne asked how this is all going to work with the contracts given the current situation with kids not in school.

City Attorney Derrick Helm said the contracts he drafted says the officers must be in person at the schools for the city to be obligated to pay the contract.

Cross responded that the campus is open, teachers and administrators are there and some kids are at school for certain programs. He said officers have also been checking on kids that have not been heard from all summer since school was released last year.

Dean asked, “But is that something that we need in every school? I mean, do we need an officer in every school with no kids out there? It seems it would be more efficient to put them on campus at Lindsey where there are actual people.”

Council member June Parson said that even though they might agree with the concept of an officer in every school, it does not necessarily mean the city is obligated to pay for every officer. She said if the county is paying for one, the city for two, then maybe the school system will pay for the fourth.

“Here’s my thing,” said Chief Cross, “you can’t put a price on a kid’s life.”

“Well that’s true,” said Dean, “but you can also use some common sense. Do we need that many people out there? If there are a thousand kids on campus or fifty kids on campus, there’s a huge difference in the protection you need.”

“Well, I won’t get into common sense on certain things we do and we don’t do,” said Cross. “Right now, we are doing what every other community does around us and none of them that I know of are having any issues. We can get into a [contest] with the school if we want to, but is it good for our kids and good for our community? No, it is not. But we just have to do the right thing. We are going to have three officers out there for the price of one. They are going to be all three retired. Do we want to do this every month, or do we want to do the right thing for the kids and move on?”

Mayor Pamela Hoots said that further discussion on the SRO contracts will be held at a special called meeting later this month.

The property tax rate for the coming year received a first reading at the meeting on Tuesday. According to Mayor Pamela Hoots, the rate is .04 percent less than last year’s tax rate. The new rate would be set at 22.1 cents on each $100 worth of property. This will be the fourth consecutive year the rate has been lowered.

Council member June Parson said, “I know when we looked at implementing the occupational tax, that part of the condition at that time was that the property taxes would be lowered, and they have been the last three years. When I look at the adjoining [communities], Campbellsville is at 18.5, Glasgow is at 17.3, Greensburg 22.7, Jamestown is 18, Lebanon is 20.4, Russell Springs is 16.6, Scottsville is 23.8. So even at the rate we are going, we are about the second highest in the region. I was wondering if we could take it down just a little more.”

Dean stated, “We are lower than the compensating rate, but the thing that is concerning me is the uncertainty of the other funds coming in this year. I wouldn’t mind looking at setting a goal for next year to maybe get down to 22 or even dip into the 21s. If we could come up with a plan to try to hit that goal, not a commitment but a plan. If we can, we can. But if we are in a bad situation we don’t.”

The tax rate ordinance will have its second reading at a special called meeting this morning (Thursday) at 9 a.m. for final approval. The ordinance must receive final approval before tax bills can be sent out this month. The scheduled date for tax bills to go out is September 15.

Mike Glasgow, Fire Chief for the Columbia Fire Department, was on hand to discuss a surplus of fire trucks at the station. He stated that with the purchase of a new truck this spring in addition to the truck purchased last year, the fire department needs to sell two of its trucks.

The department still has the vintage 1945 truck, which is currently in storage at the old Southern States building. Glasgow said he had hoped it could have been included in the planned museum on the Hurt-Foust property the city purchased to create a park. If the city decides to build a museum there on the site of the recently burned house, he would like to see the truck included in the museum plans. Glasgow said he would continue to store the truck at no charge. Mayor Hoots said she concurred with Glasgow’s idea.

That leaves two other trucks for the department to sell. One is a 1967 pumper that cost $19,000 new when purchased. The truck is stored off-site as well. The other is a 1986 truck that cost $140,000 when purchased. Glasgow said both trucks are in good shape still, though the ’67 truck needs a new radiator hose to be ready to sell.

“In the next sixty to ninety days, we would like to get them cleaned up and take pictures to advertise them. There are 825 fire departments in the state of Kentucky and you never know if some little department out there may want to buy one,” said Glasgow. “So, I just need permission to advertise for bids.”

The council voted to give permission to advertise for bids.

In other city council business –

A zoning change received a first reading for two properties on Greensburg Street. The properties are located at 1001 and 1003 Greensburg Street. The properties in question are currently R-2 Low Moderate Density Residential and are seeking a change to C-2 Highway Oriented Commercial. The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended both properties be changed. The city council will have a second reading for the final vote.

The council also heard a first reading of an ordinance to amend the Columbia zoning regulations. The ordinance refers to the addition of the Pinewood Shopping Center that was previously annexed into the city limits of Columbia. This ordinance will place them into the zoning area for the city. A second reading will be required before a vote.

The council voted to approve the recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Commission to rezone property located at 426 Tutt Street from C-3 Neighborhood Commercial to R-2 Low Moderate Density Residential. This zoning change will require two readings before the final vote is taken.

The council voted to approve blacktopping for Loy Street, Montgomery Street, Curry Street, Appleby Drive, Gaskin Avenue, Water Works Street, Paull Street, and repairs on Willis and Walker Streets.

The council approved the appointment of Jeff Hadley to the Nuisance Board and reappoint Pam Hancock to the Tourism Board.

Dean said he had been asked by a few people if the position of Chaplain for the Columbia Police Department was a paid position. Chief Cross said it was a volunteer only position. Dean said he was not sure because he didn’t remember there being a chaplain before, but Harris stated that there has always been a Chaplin position at the department, though it had been vacant until recently officially filled by Godfrey Jackson.

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