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School resource officers to stay

(ran PW and PS edition)

Gulf Middle School and Schwettman Education Center will get to keep the school resource officers they've known for the past seven years, and the New Port Richey Police Department will get to replace two patrol officers who recently resigned.

"It's prudent upon us to find the $55,000 (in the budget) to retain (the SROs)," said New Port Richey Mayor Wendy Brenner.

Though the City Council won't start hammering out the budget until Aug. 14, Brenner asked for an emergency motion to discuss a proposal to take the SROs out of the school at a meeting Tuesday night.

The school year begins Aug. 13 and Brenner said she wanted to give the staff the chance to draw up a contract with the School Board before then. It costs the city about $55,000 each year to retain the two SROs. The School Board grants the city $46,300, and the city pays the balance of the cost to employ the SROs.

Council members decided in a 3-2 vote Tuesday night to retain the SROs and replace the two patrol officers by directing staff to contract with the board for the SROs for the next school year.

"We have a big database of information (on students) we've retained by having the SROs in there," Brenner said. "I hate to forego this for $55,000."

Last year, council members directed the city staff to reduce the number of city employees through attrition. Two city patrol officers resigned during the recent fiscal year. Police Chief Aage Madsen said he needed more officers on patrol and suggested reassigning the SROs to the patrol to replace those who left. Now Madsen will get to hire two new patrol officers, and the two SROs will remain where they are.

The School Board was prepared to talk to the Sheriff's Office about putting their deputies in the two schools had the city decided to take their officers out. The Sheriff's Office has an SRO in Gulf High School in New Port Richey and in 21 other schools in unincorporated Pasco County. School district officials were happy to hear about the City Council's decision.

"Safe schools are our utmost priority, and the decision (to keep the SROs in the schools) demonstrates that it's theirs, also," said Bob Dorn, administrative assistant for secondary, adult and alternative education for the Pasco County School District. "I'm very glad to hear that they'll continue this service to the community and the school."

In other City Council business Tuesday night: The 719 New Port Richey residents who will be affected by a $1.4-million street improvement project will get final costs for their individual assessments in a council meeting scheduled for Aug. 7. Council members have agreed to pay for 38 percent of the project cost and the sidewalks, and to take the speed-calming devices, trees and crosswalks out of the improvement plans for the Tanglewood Terrace subdivisions.

Also, negotiations to sell the former Shuffleboard and Tourist Club to chiropractor Dr. Laura Kinkead will continue, though Kinkead has asked for minor alterations in the design of the building from her preliminary draft. Kinkead has agreed to buy the city-owned property at 6145 Grand Blvd. for $193,000.

She stressed to council members Tuesday that she wanted to continue to work with the city to create an exterior in line with other downtown redevelopment. Kinkead had asked the council for leeway in the contract language so that she could change the design of the roof. Council members voted unanimously to have Kinkead's attorney work with the city attorney on the contract.

_ Jennifer Goldblatt covers business in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229.

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