Brewster County applies for $412,000 in border security grants

ALPINE — At Tuesday’s regular Brewster County Commissioners Court meeting, county officials approved applications from the sheriff’s office for state and federal border security grants, which would help subsidize the department’s equipment and staffing.

Brewster County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Ryan Skelton appeared before the court seeking approval for applications requesting $392,000 via the federally-funded Operation Stonegarden program and $20,000 via the state’s Local Border Security Program. Both applications received unanimous approval.

Operation Stonegarden is a Department of Homeland Security program started in 2006 with the stated mission of enhancing cooperation between Border Patrol and local agencies. Its fiscal year 2022 budget of $90 million was awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to State Administrative Agencies (SAAs) in border states, which are then tasked with allocating the funds to local law enforcement agencies.

These funds exist, essentially, to aid Border Patrol, said Skelton. Grant money awarded to the sheriff’s department has to be used for purposes that fall within initiative guidelines.

“The good thing about Brewster County being on the border is, just about everything we do is within the initiative guidelines,” said Skelton.

The funds are used primarily to replace outdated equipment and to fund overtime, Skelton told The Big Bend Sentinel. In recent years, the grant has been used for the hiring of two full-time deputies. But those deputies, if their salaries are coming from the grants, must be assigned to matters specifically related to border security, he said.

“We can’t take that funding and go put that deputy in Marathon to do general law enforcement,” he said.

Counterintuitively, the department is applying for funding for fiscal year 2022 — essentially, reimbursement of funds already spent. The program has operated that way — a year or two behind — since Brewster County began participating in 2011, said Skelton. 

The Local Border Security Program is a state-funded program that, per the governor’s website, “supports intelligence sharing and enhanced law enforcement presence in communities across the Texas/Mexico border region.” Skelton said those funds are used to buy fuel and to cover other maintenance issues for the department’s vehicles.

In its most recent round of funding, the sheriff’s department benefited from just under $1 million via the state’s Operation Lone Star program. The department will be eligible to apply for additional funds in August of this year, so will likely begin preparing an application soon, said Skelton.

The department had requested an additional $5.9 million through the program in order to double the capacity of the county jail, but was unsuccessful in securing those funds.