New Border Patrol surveillance tower to be installed on city property and other items at this week’s Presidio City Council meeting

photo courtesy of Anduril / The tower’s radar and camera system has a multi-mile radius.

PRESIDIO –– At Monday’s meeting, the city council agreed to let Border Patrol set up a surveillance tower on city property and then passed a motion to send out requests for quotes to auditing firms to conduct its 2019 and 2020 audits. At the end of the meeting, the council discussed whether to alter a city ordinance that regulates transmigrante traffic.

Autonomous surveillance tower on city property

The city council first approved a motion to allow Border Patrol to set up an autonomous surveillance tower on city property out by the wastewater treatment plant. As The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported, the agency has recently been deploying a new line of sentry towers all throughout the Big Bend Sector. According to Anduril, the tech company that developed them, these AI-integrated towers – using radar systems in conjunction with high-powered cameras – are able to analyze exactly what is moving inside their multi-mile surveillance radius. The benefit, according to the agency, is that there’s no need to hire extra personnel to monitor the towers’ camera feeds, as they are fully autonomous.

The Border Patrol agent in charge of the Presidio Station, Silverio Escontrias, came in front of the council to get permission to install this new tower. “Our strategy is to keep everything that’s coming into the city, out of the city,” he said, referring to the undocumented immigrants coming across the border. “Why? To keep our local citizens and the community safe.”

While privacy concerns weren’t touched on at length at the meeting, Escontrias said that the towers can be programmed to exclude, or block out, certain geographic regions of the city.

Escontrias said the agency already has three towers placed in the area. “We are actually going to have a total of ten cameras eventually. We are trying to cover all the way from Ruidosa just close to Redford. This is the only tower that I believe is on city property,” he said.

Interim City Administrator Brad Newton liked the suggestion, saying that the city currently doesn’t have any cameras monitoring the water plant and this new tower will fill that need. “Whenever we set up the wastewater treatment plant, it had a component in there that everything had to be American made. Well guess what wasn’t made in America? Surveillance cameras,” Newton said. “Well this product is assembled in the United States.”

“If you guys decide to change your mind at a later date, all you gotta do is give us a two-month heads up,” Escontrias said. The motion passed unanimously.

City of Presidio audits

Mayor John Ferguson then announced that the city is about ready to find an auditor for its 2019 fiscal audit. In order for this upcoming audit to run in a smoother manner than those in years past, the city staff have been working to straighten out finances. The council now needed to authorize the city to send out requests for quotes, or RFQs, to audit firms.

As The Presidio International previously reported, the city’s longtime auditor, Doak Painter, pulled out of the 2019 audit after he learned that the city was not managing its water and sewer funds properly. “I expressed my concerns that this was a major red flag and as the auditor I could tell there was a lack of oversight and no one was taking their fiduciary duty to the tax payers of the City seriously,” the auditor wrote in an email to the heads of city administration.

EMS Director Malynda Richardson, who has been aiding city staff in preparation for the audit, said, “So far the firms that we’ve spoken with, they’re booked through September. So it’s going to be a while before we can get an auditor in here, boots on the ground, doing the field work anyway. The longer we wait to get those out, and get somebody with a signed engagement letter, the worse off we are.” Richardson suggested that the city send out RFQs for the 2020 audit as well.

In order to prepare for the audit, the city has made sure that the city properly filed its employment tax forms to the IRS for the 2019 fiscal year. “There is no question that those 941s have been filed,” Richardson said. In previous audits, the city was docked for not filing these forms or paying the attendant taxes, as The Presidio International previously reported.

Ferguson said, “In the sake of transparency, we’ve struggled and we’re not sugar coating this, saying ‘[The audit’s] going to be perfectly good this time.’ We are just doing our level best to try to be ready, and it’s not easy.”

“The city is eligible for so many grants, but we need the audits done,” said City Attorney Rod Ponton. The council unanimously agreed to allow the city to send out requests for quotes to potential auditors for both the 2019 and 2020 audits.

Transmigrante traffic

The last major topic of discussion at the meeting was whether to modify the current ordinance, passed in November 2019, that regulates transmigrante traffic throughout the city.

“We didn’t know what we were going to get with the transmigrantes. I think there was a little bit of paranoia,” Newton said. “They have been very good corporate citizens so far.”  Newton also noted the economic benefits the city is seeing from transmigrantes.

City Attorney Rod Ponton suggested that the city excise section five of the ordinance that limits where the transmigrantes are allowed to park. He said, “We didn’t want to have all the people parking all over the city, so we said you had to park at the city lot.” However, the city never went forward with building a public parking lot for transmigrante traffic.

After a little back and forth, it was decided that Newton and Ponton would rework the ordinance and bring it back to the city council for discussion at a later date.