On Friday, July 12, a total of 1,366 ballots (as of press time) will be mailed out to registered voters in the City of Cut Bank. Voters are being asked to approve a special levy of approximately $65,000 for the next 10 years to help fund the Cut Bank Police Department’s School Resource Officer (SRO). Voters are also being asked whether or not the City should “grant an exclusive franchise for natural gas service” to Cut Bank Gas Co. Ballots must be returned by July 30.
The first ballot issue will have an impact on taxpayers’ tax bill. The second will not.
If approved, the SRO mill levy will result in an increase in city taxes of an estimated:
•$18.43 per year on a $50,000 home.
•$36.87 per year on a $100,000 home.
•$73.73 per year on a $200,000 home.
According to Cut Bank Schools Superintendent of Schools Wade Johnson, the board of trustees of School District No. 15 is committed to helping fund the position up to $35,000 per year for the next decade.
Samantha Burke, who will be a senior at Cut Bank High School this fall, serves as the student body representative on the local school board. According to Burke, “Having the SRO makes school feel like a safer environment. I feel more safe with one if there is an outside force causing trouble or an inside force doing the same thing,” said Burke.
“The SRO makes sure you know he is present. He sits with us at lunch, comes into our classrooms and asks students how they’re doing. He also goes to our sporting events. Officer DeRoche makes sure he builds a relationship with the student body so we do feel safe in his presence,” added Burke.
With the school district’s $35,000 commitment, Police Chief Mike Schultz said the City needs an additional $65,000 to ensure the SRO position is fully-funded. Schultz stressed, “It is important to note that any money collected by the SRO Mill Levy can only be used for SRO-related expenses.”
The costs associated with the SRO position are wages and benefits of $73,035 for the 2019-20 school year, with the remainder going to fund the purchase of uniforms, needed equipment and other expenses related to performing the job.
Schultz estimated the wages and benefits for the job will increase according based on the cost of living factor, which hovers around two percent annually. The levy, however, will remain at the same level, approximately $65,000, for the entire 10-year period.
“The average of the estimated salary for the SRO over the next 10 years is $79,971.90. When we are asking for $80,000, on average for salary, for the next 10 years, it is based on this number,” explained Schultz. “The structure of the mill levy does not call for an increase as our costs go up. Revenue collected, and not used, will be re-appropriated each year to cover any additional costs due to cost of living increases.”
“Cut Bank Public Schools have been very fortunate to work with two School Resource Officers for the past several years,” said Johnson, “The SRO has been a critical component of our school system.”
Johnson praised the efforts of SRO Officer Austin DeRoche, pointing out Officer DeRoche has been very involved in developing positive relationships with students, deterring improper behavior, and assisting with legal matters when needed. We are seeing an accelerated need for student assistance throughout our district, and Officer DeRoche is the perfect fit for this position.”
Val and Doug Vermulm have a daughter who will be a junior in high school and a son who will be a freshman at CBHS this fall. “Not only do my kids feel much safer with a School Resource Officer, but they enjoy the other educational benefits that come along with the SRO like self defense instruction and the DUI goggles,” said Val. “The Cut Bank Police Department has also done a great job with the officers they have put in that position–Jim Everett, who was the first SRO and Austin DeRoche, who took over last year. Both of them were much more than SROs to the students and the kids know the SRO is there for them and relates well to the students on their level,” she added.
Cut Bank Middle School teacher Jessica Henigman echoes the need for an SRO in the local schools. “The SRO position needs to be kept in place. Having a school resource officer in the building is not only great for our students, it benefits the staff as well. As teachers, our focus is learning in the best environment possible and having an SRO present in our schools allows for that,” said Henigman.
“Our SRO handles what we as teachers are not qualified for or not knowledgeable enough to handle. He handles those matters as quickly and as discreetly as possible, getting our students back to learning as soon as possible,” she added.
Henigman pointed out, “Unfortunately, our world is changing and with the presence of substance abuse, home violence, neglect, and homelessness, our SRO is another way to help build up our youth that could one day be our neighbors and colleagues in our very own community here in Cut Bank.”
Third grade teacher Kelsey Brown also believes the SRO position is “vital to our school system. The SRO is able to respond to any situation immediately since he is already on campus. He is also able to diffuse situations and assist teachers or administration and take over problems that arise,” said Brown.
She continued, “The SRO plays an important role in our school. Unfortunately, some students haven’t had many positive experiences with officers, and having the SRO allows for that. The SRO is another positive role model in our school system. He has taught our younger students about stranger danger, remaining drug free, making good choices, talking about their goals and dreams, and much more,” concluded Brown.
With the ballots being mailed out this week, Johnson asks voters to become informed on the issue and to “please consider the safety of our students when voting on the SRO mill levy election.”
The last franchise ordinance with Cut Bank Gas Co. was approved by the City Council in September 1970. According to City Attorney Robert Smith, the ordinance expired in 2010.
The provisions of the ordinance sets out the terms under which the local utility shall construct and operate its distribution lines within the city limits and its responsibilities in repairing and restoring streets, alleys, etc.
The City receives no franchise fee from Cut Bank Gas Co. and does not anticipate receiving any fees if the ballot issue passes.