Brandywine school resource officer given stamp of approval

ST. JOSEPH – The Brandywine school district’s plans to add a school resource officer got the stamp of approval Thursday from the Berrien County Board of Commissioners.

County commissioners approved a resolution authorizing the county to sign an agreement with Brandywine schools. The county board chairman and the county clerk will sign the agreement following action by the Brandywine Board of Education to approve the contract.

The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department will provide a deputy to serve as the school resource officer for the district. The new school resource officer position is expected to cost $135,000 including benefits, with the district picking up the majority of the costs.

Thursday’s county board meeting was hosted once again at the Administration Center in St. Joseph and available via livestreaming on the county’s YouTube channel. Commissioners hosted their first and only night meeting of the year last week in Harbert where they heard presentations and comments about a proposed linear park along Red Arrow Highway.

Thursday, commissioners discussed other matters related to the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department including accepting a secondary road patrol grant and looking at future department vehicle needs. In addition, commissioners addressed other topics such as rural broadband and a new county facilities master plan.

Commissioners also approved by unanimous consent an added resolution relative to the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution gives the county board’s support of the Berrien County Health Department in their pandemic mitigation efforts. COVID-19 cases and positive tests have increased in recent weeks throughout the county.

The resolution noted that it is the county’s mission to promote “public safety, health, well-being and prosperity in order to improve the quality of life for present and future generations.” It added that the health department has worked “to prevent disease, protect health and promote an optimal quality of life for all residents.”

The resolution concluded by noting that the health department has urged all county residents 12 and up to be vaccinated, stay home when sick and follow good hand hygiene and overall sanitation measures such as wearing masks when appropriate.

The resolution did not mention mask or other mandates which have become an issue of contention for numerous residents, especially with local schools getting ready to open next week. It did say that the county board supports the health department and health officials “in their continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As for the sheriff’s department, commissioners approved a secondary patrol grant from the state to pay for one deputy and equipment for a total of $109,373. That amount includes $99,600 from the state and a local match of $9,773.

Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit said that a number of vehicles have been ordered for 2022 from a Grand Rapids car dealer. They include four Chevy Tahoes for $208,000, two detective bureau vehicles for $52,000, one Chevy Suburban transport vehicle for $58,000 and one prison transport vehicle for $40,000.

Commissioners reported that prices are running what they were this year and the money will not be transferred to the dealer until the vehicles are received.

“This is about putting us in the queue,” Commissioner Teri Freehling said. “We’re just receiving now what we ordered last year.”

Freehling also reported on broadband and facility master plan efforts. She said five bids were received for the facility master plan update, ranging from $70,000 to $395,000. She said the bids will be reviewed by the county administration before coming back to the finance committee with a recommendation.

She and County Administrator Brian Dissette said the facility master plan is expected to help the county board with strategic planning. It is expected to help guide the county in how to spend the $30 million it will be getting in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“The intent here is to put together one road map across all departments and facilities,” Dissette said. “We now have a decentralized capital plan. This will put together what it will cost to fix everything and give you a prioritized list to help guide our spending decisions. … You will have a very clear understanding of what it would cost to get your house in order.”

Freehling also reported on rural broadband and said the legislation is currently pending in Lansing to allow municipalities to expand the use of special assessment districts so that those districts could be established to fund rural broadband infrastructure projects.

Dissette said that this legislation to fix the special assessment rules is something that needs to be done.

“We have a once in a generation chance to get this (rural broadband) fixed and the tool to get it fixed isn’t there right now,” he said.

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