District dips into funds to keep resource officer

January 25, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Rural storefronts remain open, but deputies assigned elsewhere

Issaquah School District leaders dipped into a budget reserve to keep the resource officer at Liberty High School, after cuts to the King County Sheriff’s Office eliminated the program.

King County Council members eliminated the resource officers assigned to Liberty and other schools in unincorporated areas in order to patch a $60 million budget hole late last year. The district kicked in $40,000 from a budget reserve in order to keep Deputy Dave Montalvo at the school through the end of the school year.

The austere county budget for 2011 also called for the police storefront in a rural area near Issaquah to close, but the facility remains open.

The county operates a storefront in the Four Creeks Unincorporated Area. The area encompasses 14,000 residents in Maple Hills, May Valley, Mirrormont and other communities between Issaquah and Renton.

The county continues to offer other services at storefronts in the county, but the sheriff’s office no longer assigns deputies to the facilities. Sgt. John Urquhart, sheriff’s office spokesman, said some deputies continue to use storefronts for computer access and restrooms.

The county could reduce additional services at storefronts. The budget funds the community service representatives responsible for manning the facilities through February.

Issaquah and other school districts agreed to keep resource officers through the end of the school year. The sheriff’s office reassigned eight other resource officers to patrol.

Urquhart said many resource officers, like the popular Montalvo, had become a prized part of the school community.

“That’s why these schools were so upset, and why some of them were able to keep their SROs,” Urquhart said. “They got the rug pulled out from under them by the County Council right in the middle of a school year.”

Issaquah district spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said district officials plan to re-examine the resource officer position after the legislative session concludes.

“At this point, it’s up to the school district,” Urquhart said. “If they want them, they’re going to have to pay for them virtually 100 percent or if we can get federal grants specifically for that, then we’ll do that.”

The agency has used grants to fund school resource officers in the past.

The county budget eliminated 28 deputy positions from the sheriff’s office, reduced police service in rural areas, and curtailed investigations into burglaries and other property crimes. The budget eliminated about 300 staff positions.

The council approved the lean budget in November, after a monthslong debate about how to fund police and other criminal justice services. Officials asked residents to approve a sales tax hike in order to save off the cuts.

The electorate defeated Proposition 1 — a proposal to raise the sales tax rate to 2 cents per $10 purchase on the Nov. 2 ballot — by a double-digit margin. Officials hoped to use the $35 million generated through the hike to close the budget shortfall.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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