TUCSON, Ariz. - Should Pima County Deputies be involved in a Federal Program for border security?
That's the issue that will be back in front of the Pima County Board of Supervisors at this week’s Tuesday meeting
The board has considered several times -- whether to let the Sheriff stay in the program -- called Operation Stonegarden.
For Sheriff Mark Napier and the Pima County Supervisors, Operation Stonegarden is the hot button issue than never seems to cool down. Debate over the program has been a regular part of supervisors agendas for about two years.
Critics say it makes deputies too involved in immigration enforcement. Now, the County Administrator says the program is busting the county's budget for pensions.
Opponents see accepting the law enforcement grants as helping Border Patrol enforce immigration policies they don't agree with.
The program called Operation Stonegarden helps pay for overtime and equipment when agencies like the Pima Sheriff's department, do work related to border security.
Annual grants for overtime and equipment have ranged as high as one-point-four million dollars.
Because of criticism, Supervisors have allowed the Sheriff to accept grants, but with conditions -- in May, conditions included using some of the money as humanitarian aid for asylum seekers.
But Federal authorities turned that down. That re-opens whether the county will let the Sheriff stay in Stonegarden.
Sheriff Napier says the grant money improves safety in general because it helps cover equipment costs and pays for deploying deputies in remote areas.
In a recent memo he says, "This funding allows us to deploy additional resources in rural areas to address transnational crime threats coming up from the border. These threats are real, undeniable and must be addressed."
But County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says even if Federal money pays Stonegarden overtime for Deputies, the overtime balloons what Pima County pays in law enforcement pensions once those deputies retire.
Huckelberry recommends that Supervisors accept up to a half million dollars in Stonegarden grant money but with strict monitoring of overtime. He also says Pima County should limit the amount of Stonegarden money it accepts in future grants.
The Sheriff is also suggesting adding deputies to create a rural district near Three Points.
He says they could enhance security in remote areas but be less involved with Federal law enforcement.