COCHISE COUNTY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Cochise County Board of Supervisors has approved a $700,000 grant to allow the Sheriff's Office to continue its border security operations.
The federally funded Stone Garden grant pays for the overtime and mileage of officers who assist the U.S. Border Patrol in the detection and arrest of people who smuggle humans and drugs across the Mexican border.
At a Special Meeting on April 3, the Board heard the grant provides a number of benefits to the region, including economic development, public safety, and tax revenue to the County.
Of the $700,000 awarded, a total of $375,500 is paid to deputies in overtime, which results in around $240,000 being spent at local businesses and services, explained Lieutenant Ken Foster, who gave an overview of the grant and its impacts.
The remainder of the funds are used for mileage and employer related expenses, such as retirement costs, FICA, and workman's comp.
The annual grant allows the Sheriff's Office to place more deputies in high traffic areas, as well as remote sites where they could not normally go due to staffing levels, added Foster.
"It also allows CCSO to schedule up to 10 additional deputies a day countywide to augment normal patrol shifts in providing services to the citizens of Cochise County," he said.
A concern of the Board in previous years has been the impact of the overtime on the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) – when longer serving deputies earn more money the County pays more in retirement contributions.
However, the Board was told the majority of deputies currently working Stone Garden do not fall under this category, with most having less than 10 years of service.
"Any grant we receive, it's got to fit our mission, and it's got be efficient," said Sheriff Mark Dannels.
Chairman Ann English added, "I think the picture has certainly changed. I think our concerns were rightly placed, but you have been able to work with us and make some significant changes."
Thanks to programs such as Stone Garden, and cooperation with the Border Patrol, the Sheriff's Office also noted that Cochise County is an ideal place to attract new residents and businesses, because it's a safe place to live.
"What we've seen from last year's statistics is that when it comes to bodies coming across the border, we have low numbers," said Chief Deputy Thad Smith. "It's starting to creep up this year, but we are trying to keep that level of activity suppressed, which is why Stone Garden is so critical. Cochise County is the safest place to live in the state of Arizona."
Supervisor Pat Call added, "I will support this, no question. I'm really happy to see the work that's been done with PSPRS, and I also like that you brought up economic development."
The Board, with all three members present, voted unanimously to accept the grant.