BISBEE — For the past several years, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office has received funding through an intergovernmental agreement with the Arizona Department of Public Safety that helps cover the salaries of three deputies for the Southeast Arizona Border Region Enforcement Unit.

In the county Board of Supervisors meeting Nov. 17, Lt. Deputy Curtis Wilkins explained the funding from the DPS Border Strike Force Bureau covers 75 percent, estimated at $230,252, of the full-time salaries and employee related expenses of a sergeant and two deputies assigned to the SABRE unit. The remaining 25 percent match, estimated at $76,752, is made through vacancy savings.

As long as the state legislature continues to provide funding, DPS will fund the unit over the next five years, the length of the agreement, added Sheriff Mark Dannels.

Supervisors Tom Borer, Ann English and Peggy Judd approved the agreement.

The supervisors also unanimously approved his request to approve Operation Stonegarden contracts with the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, funds in the amount of $2,064 to purchase air cards for the license plate reader trailers purchased through this grant/program, effective Oct. 20 through Aug. 31, 2021; and reallocating funds in the amount of $27,895 for overtime and mileage, effective Oct. through July 31, 2021.

On a third Sheriff’s Office matter, the transfer of funds within the office led to a discussion on the county policy enacted in 2019 in which holiday pay was boosted to double time and comp time had to be bought out annually. Prior to that, SO staff did not receive any holiday pay and comp time was allowed to be carried forward into the next year.

Dannels explained to the H/R in an email, “The mandate added double time for any employee working the 10 holidays and an annual zero-balance buy-out for all comp time. But, no funding was added to address these policies. My office is the only department that works 24-7 and holidays. In a single day, I have 44 employees who work a 24-hour period. In brief, my business office calculated these two policies would create a deficient of over $500,000 annually. My deputies and detention officer had not received any additional compensation for working holidays.”

Being an “unfunded mandate,” meaning no additional General Fund money was to be used to cover these costs, Dannels and the finance staff had to find a way to meet this expense.

During 2020-21 budget talks, he asked for this additional cost to be covered through General Fund monies, but was told no. He agreed to use to the 507 fund, from reimbursable costs from the state to run SABRE, to cover the cost as his vacancy savings declined.

Former County Administrator Ed Gilligan and Budget Manager Daniel Duchon agreed the SO could use the money built up in the 507 Fund, as did the supervisors, said Dannels. This fund built up as SO vacancies remained unfilled. It has about $800,000 in it.

Tuesday Dannels asked the supervisors for approval to transfer $543,000 from the 507 fund to payroll.

English said the board was “not aware” of the money and asked why the extra funds had not been provided to the county to go in the General Fund.

Borer and Judd said they were aware of the situation and had no problems with the transfer.

Borer also said he had talked with Gilligan and told him the situation of the unfunded mandate “needed to be fixed.”

When the vote of approval was taken, it was 2-1, with English being the no vote.

Dannels told the H/R, “I take my role of sheriff very seriously to include being a good steward of my budget, but when a decision like the unfunded mandate is made that places a $500,000 deficiency onto my budget, I’ll do my part to have the proper adjustments made to correct this deficiency. I’ve frozen two sergeant positions, one commander position and delayed other non-essential hirings, preparing just in case the supervisors did approve the adjustment.”