County ups security measures, Bowlus support

Financial decisions took center stage for Allen County commissioners Tuesday morning.

First, they spent $154,000 to place security cameras — 28 total — in and near the courthouse, including nearly $18,000 to erect security cameras at Humboldt Elementary School. Next, they agreed to fund operations at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center with a levy of 1 mill annually. For the 2018-2019 Bowlus budget that will amount to $141,000.

Kay Lewis, superintendent of USD 258 (Humboldt) schools told commissioners the elementary installation completed a photographic circle of security, with adequate camera coverage already in place at the middle and high schools.

She also briefed them on plans to enhance student protection through storm shelters and that a grant had provided the district with mental health services of a therapist and case worker.

Mental health concerns often are mentioned in events that have ravaged schools in mass shootings. That’s not to say that 50 to 70 students who take advantage of mental health services in Humboldt even remotely show any of those tendencies, Lewis indicated, but having the opportunity for students to share worries and apprehensions is important and beneficial.

Consideration of steps to make the courthouse and schools throughout Allen County safer quickly evolved into a lengthy discussion.

An alert system, triggered by computer or cell phone, was proposed at a cost of $7,620, and was put on hold to give commissioners and department heads more time to delve into its implications.

That was just the starting point.

“We’re on notice,” Chairman Tom Williams said. “We need to get something done” to better ensure the safety of those who work at the courthouse.

Discussion included such things as having only one entrance open to the public and protected by a metal detector; erecting transparent barricades in offices as was done with essentially impenetrable glass in the county attorney’s office; having armed guards patrolling hallways.

“We can’t cure evil,” Williams interjected, but recognized the need to protect employees. Several admitted to having fears of being confronted by people who might have less than honorable intentions.

“We need an immediate fix,” said Commissioner Jerry Daniels, to the point of placing armed deputies in hallways so they could immediately respond to a disruption.

Sheriff Bryan Murphy also offered a proposal through his office to give all schools in the county real-time protection.

Murphy said having armed resource officers fully trained and equipped in all schools — five in Iola, two in Humboldt, and one each in Moran and the technology center near LaHarpe — would cost $832,500 in the first year. In the second year and beyond start-up costs would be about $500,000 for salaries and benefits.

Commissioners didn’t immediately embrace Murphy’s suggestion, but didn’t dismiss it.

Murphy was to have met with school officials from the three Allen County districts Tuesday afternoon to discuss the proposal and look at other ways to ensure student safety. Commissioners asked him to relay their decision to help USD 258 with the camera installation, and determine whether others had similar requests.

THE DECISION to help fund the Bowlus operations budget came after several proponents remarked about the importance of the cultural arts center to all of Allen County. On Monday night, USD 257 board of education members earmarked an annual contribution of 1 mill for the Bowlus tax levy, a level of support that Iola has made available for several years.

Susan Raines, who soon will retire this summer as executive director, said having support locked into the county’s and other budgets is crucial to budget planning for the Bowlus center.

For several years the county contributed $32,000 a year and for the past three, including this year, it has given $100,000 to support the Bowlus.

A levy of 1 mill will translate to $141,000 in 2019, and combined with Iola and USD 257 will provide nearly $171,000.

Reconstruction of support was prompted when the school district began pulling back its annual support four years ago when state aid to the district waned, in large measure because of income tax cuts that promised economic development that never materialized.

County commissioners have more latitude to be a helpmate, for the Bowlus and in economic development, from its assessed valuation that has ballooned from En-bridge’s construction of a 36-inch pipeline through the county and a massive pumping station south of Humboldt. Enbridge’s assessed valuation of $35 million, about a third of what the county had previously, alone will generate better than $2 million in tax revenue this year.

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