September 27, 2023 822 PM
PRESIDIO — At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Mayor John Ferguson announced after a lengthy executive session that the city had lost some of its Operation Lone Star funding due to a failure to follow reporting requirements. That task had fallen to Presidio Police Chief Margarito Hernandez, who received an official reprimand from the city to be placed in his permanent file.
Operation Lone Star is a program started in 2021 by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to provide funding for law enforcement in border counties. The Presidio Police Department changed hands between José “Cabby” Cabezuela and Margarito Hernandez in 2021 — the department’s funding for that year got lost in the shuffle.
The department did apply for funding in the fall of 2022, but because Hernandez failed to file regular reports required by the grant, the city will miss out on around $212,000 in total funding this fiscal year. Within that total, $183,200 will be missing via Operation Lone Star and $15,000 via the governor’s Local Border Security Program. An additional $14,000 in Operation Lone Star funds for the municipal court were affected as well.
Operation Lone Star funds work retroactively: a county or city government must draft their budget with the funds that would be spent on projects detailed in their grant proposal, but have time after the fiscal year begins to tweak their applications for the year.
At the county level, this year’s big Lone Star boost went to salaries within the sheriff’s department — those raises were accounted for in the budget before funding was approved and disbursed.
The majority of the Presidio Police Department’s Operation Lone Star funding for the upcoming year would have gone to paying overtime for the tiny department, which assists in operations with Customs and Border Protection — which opened up its eligibility for the program.
Police Chief Margarito Hernandez said that he never received notification that his monthly reports were delinquent and that the way the reports were required to be filed was confusing. “I didn’t [submit reports] because I was negligent or I didn’t want to do it — it was ignorance,” he said.
Hernandez said that the required Operation Lone Star reports are essentially the same as his regular duties as chief. However, soon after he took on his position as chief, the state switched its reporting requirements from traditional paper reporting to a specialized online system. Hernandez had to approach the city council for funding for the program and then take time to be trained to use it.
He said that the hassle of purchasing and implementing the new system was a lot — especially in addition to his police work, where he often works overtime — and his police work took priority. “It is part of my job to work with the grants,” he admitted. “But I do my job because I love helping people.”
Federal funding for the department through Operation Stone Garden will not be affected — the department just received new vehicles and equipment through the program, and those will still be paid for through the grant.
The city is working to complete the missing reports for Operation Lone Star and will not be allowed to apply for funding again until 2024.
Mayor John Ferguson said that — despite the official reprimand — he was pleased with the work that Hernandez was doing for the city. “The city council and the city administrator are very grateful to the city police chief for his law enforcement work — we feel that it’s just outstanding,” he said. “In this case, we felt like this is the appropriate way to move forward.”