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Brooke commissioners seek resolution to PRO funding issue

MEETING — Members of the Brooke County Commission met Tuesday and discussed a number of issues including the funding for the county’s school resource officers. -- Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — A resolution of a conflict over funding for the county’s school resource officers and the report of the county’s first COVID-19 related fatality were among matters discussed by the Brooke County Commission Tuesday.

The commissioners said they will seek a meeting with local school officials in an effort to resolve the funding issue.

“We’ve got to open up a line of communication with them and get this resolved,” said Commission President Tim Ennis, who noted the new school year is set to begin Sept. 8.

He and county Commissioner A.J. Thomas said they support the presence of resource officers in local schools but were approached a few years ago by school officials who wished to include funding for officers in each school using funds from the school district’s five-year levy.

Since then five sheriff’s deputies and one Wellsburg police officer have been assigned to the county’s six schools.

Of the five deputies, one was serving as a resource officer at the time of the agreement while the four others were hired and trained specifically for that purpose, Thomas said when asked for clarification.

“Those jobs wouldn’t have been created if the board hadn’t agreed to fully fund them,” he said.

The commissioners said with that in mind, they haven’t budgeted for any of the officers.

On Tuesday, Sheriff Larry Palmer said, “We don’t have money in the budget for four additional officers.”

The county’s chief tax officer, Palmer noted the school district draws about $17 million in tax revenue while the county receives about $7.1 million.

Thomas said he wanted to make clear the commission hasn’t accused the school board of not paying for the officers this year.

But he and Ennis said they are concerned about a proposal by school officials to pro-rate the officers based on time spent by them in the schools.

The proposal comes at a time when Brooke County pupils are expected to report to school just two days a week, to prevent spread of COVID-19, while doing virtual learning on the other three days.

School officials also are contending with a $3.2 million per year shortfall in the five-year levy, attributed to former staff, that has forced them to cut more than 40 staff members and suspend $2.6 million in stipends promised to staff.

The school resource officer program was established through state grants that allowed law enforcement agencies to train officers for schools while assigning them other duties in the summer.

Palmer noted there were not officers in every school prior to the levy.

A former resource officer of many years, he said he’s approached state legislators about providing funding for resource officers.

In other business, April Eltringham, community wellness coordinator for the Brooke County Health Department, reported that a 93-year-old Brooke County woman has died after testing positive for the virus, making her the county’s first fatality related to the virus since the pandemic began.

Eltringham said there are 21 active cases, including one who has been hospitalized.

During the last five days the health department has reported 14 new cases, including men and women in their 20s, a woman in her 40s, two women in their 50s, men and women in their 60s, a man in his 70s and a man in his 80s.

Local health officials continue to encourage everyone to take measures to prevent spread of the virus, including frequent handwashing, social distancing and wearing a mask to prevent the wearer from expelling tiny droplets containing the virus from their mouths to others.

Public health officials have reported most at risk of suffering severely from the disease are those who are 65 or older and those with chronic health conditions, such as kidney, heart and sickle cell disease; Type 2 diabetes and compromised immune systems.

Symptoms of the coronavirus can include a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, with the latter three common among younger patients, as well as chest or abdominal pain from coughing or vomiting.

Those experiencing such symptoms are encouraged to contact their healthcare provide in advance to steps can be taken to prevent them from exposing others before being seen.

Testing also has revealed people who are asymptomatic.

Eltringham said 535 people were tested for the virus at a free clinic held Friday and Saturday outside Brooke Middle School.

She said the Brooke County Health Department was aided by the Hancock County Health Department, Brooke County Sheriff’s Department and Emergency Management Agency and National Guard.

Commission President Tim Ennis said he was “thoroughly impressed” by how smoothly it was run.

Also on Tuesday, commissioners said they were saddened to learn of the death of Charmaine Galiano, noting her dedicated service as a clerk at the county courthouse for nearly 40 years.

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