- Associated Press - Saturday, March 14, 2020

BISBEE, Ariz. (AP) - Officials in Cochise County along the Mexico border like that a federally funded program pays for overtime to put sheriff’s deputies on the road for extra patrols but some have misgivings because local taxpayers will face higher retirement costs as a result.

Some members of the county Board of Supervisors voiced concern Tuesday about continued participation in Operation Stonegarden due to the longterm fiscal impact for the county, the Herald-Review reported.

Calculations factoring in a deputy’s higher pay in the final years of work means higher lifetime retirement benefits.

Despite the concerns, the board ended up voting unanimously to approve a $650,000 federal grant for the county’s current costs under the program.

Sheriff’s Lt. Ken Foster said the program helps provide 24/7 coverage of the 6,200-square-mile (16,000-square-kilometer) county that’s larger than Connecticut and has 83 miles (134 kilometers) of the U.S.-Mexico border.



The program enables the Sheriff’s Office to schedule up to 10 additional deputies daily to augment normal patrol shifts. The agency has 88 deputies available for patrol shifts, a number which hasn’t increased in years, according to Sheriff Mark Dannels.

Supervisor Ann English said the county’s retirement burden was “frightening” and that some deputies working Stonegarden patrols may be working too much to the detriment of safety and the county’s fiscal future.

“I know everyone wants to retire with as much money as they can, but we have to think about the county taxpayers, too,” English said.

Supervisor Tom Border said he supported the program but shared English’s “concerns about how it hits us down the road. Maybe we need to look at the overtime schedule and see where we can cut it down.”

Foster objected when English suggested only allowing deputies with 10 years or fewer on the force to work on Stonegarden assignments to help stem rising costs of retirement payouts.

“I can’t punish a deputy who’s been with the county for years and not let him work,” Foster said. “”That’s how they will take it.”

Supervisor Tom Border said he supported the program but shared English’s “concerns about how it hits us down the road. Maybe we need to look at the overtime schedule and see where we can cut it down.”

Dannels balked at excluding some deputies from overtime.

“We didn’t create the problem …,” he said.

English voted “with reluctance” for the program continuation , saying she knew it’d hurt the county in the future. “I will always question this.”

Supervisors in neighboring Pima County last month voted 3-2 to reject $1.8 million of continued Operation Stonegarden funding because federal officials prohibited the county and Tucson from using some of the money to assist with costs associated with a shelter for asylum seekers.

Pima County officials previously voiced concern about retirement costs associated with Operation Stonegarden.

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