If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
Facility still modernizing, expanding services
A million-dollar grant to Frio County may help Sheriff Mike Morse continue making good on a campaign pledge to reopen the county jail as a fulltime detention facility.
Operation Lone Star is a competitive award funded through the Texas governor’s office, intended to reduce crime and advance public safety. The application process required sheriff’s department staff to compose a lengthy narrative with extensive data collection.
The department was awarded the $1.1 million grant on December 20.
During a presentation to commissioners on Monday, January 9, Morse said the grant has stipulations on expenditures and disbursement.
“Before I let Peter [Salinas, chief deputy] get up here and tell you about the grant, I will say this, money is needed,” Morse said.
According to the sheriff, there are currently eight inmates, four jailers and two dispatchers affected by the coronavirus.
“We cannot close shop and say the jail is not open,” the sheriff said. “We need to do whatever it takes. Now about the grant. Administratively he [Salinas] is better than anyone in South Texas is. You have to be innovative to remain relevant.”
Salinas said the grant application was made in order to secure more funds for facility renovation.
According to Salinas, the purpose of the program is to enhance interagency border security operations, supporting OLS including the facilitation of directed actions to deter and interdict criminal activity and detain non–citizen inmates.
Conditions of funding include the county commissioners’ renewal of a local disaster declaration relating to border security for the entirety of the project period. The dissolution of a local disaster declaration may result in the early termination of the grant agreement. The county must also make jail space available for individuals arrested for an offense listed in Section 7772.0071 (1), Government Code, or Section 30.05 of the Penal Code.
“They are referring to the spike in smuggling,” the chief deputy said.
The county judge is responsible for issuing an emergency declaration. Commissioners vote within seven days to terminate or extend the declaration.
“We did not set that condition of funding; it came straight from the governor,” Salinas said. “I think for the goals we have and the things we can do with this funding, it is likely well worth it. We would make every attempt to adjust even if we have to do it [issue new emergency declarations] ninety days at a time. But I will say, we have not seen any slowdown.
“When I submitted the grant, we were in one [emergency declaration],” he said. “I say we go incrementally with what you guys choose.”
Different sections of the grant program include law enforcement, jail operations, construction and all operations personnel. A potential use of the grant is for costs associated with constructing, renovating or repairing a permanent or temporary jail facility in order to increase bed capacity.
Salinas noted that the grant must be used to supplement existing funds and not supplement funds that have been budgeted for the same purpose; it can bring part-time jailers to a temporary full-time status.
“This will not replace our budget but hopefully support our budget,” the chief deputy said.
The million-dollar grant requires no match from the county and be expended by August 31, 2023.
Salinas’ grant proposal budget included $600,000 for additional staff, $500,000 for jail renovation and $58,695 for law enforcement equipment.
The goal is to create nine more jail staff positions equating to $581,556, with the remaining $18,000 set aside for possible overtime.
“With covid and everything going on it has been a strain on our staff,” Salinas said during the Monday meeting. “We do have enough staff to run forty-eight beds but my goal is to have ninety-six beds by the end of the year. It is grant funding and we would really like to expend all the funds.”
Contingent on approval of the grant, Salinas said the department plans to have those positions filled by March 1.
Commissioners quizzed Salinas on future funding of the jailer positions once grant monies were no longer available.
According to the chief deputy, the grant monies would fund salaries halfway through the next fiscal year.
“We would then ask to continue to fund those positions and ask for roughly fifty percent of the funding from the county,” Salinas said. “Then after that, it would be up to commissioners to keep those additional positions.”
Salinas says $500,000 of the funding would be used for projects that include plumbing, HVAC, an indoor recreation yard, a padded safety cell, emergency duress system, camera systems, and safety equipment.
“This will mean jobs for construction and infrastructure contractors as we continue to rehab the facility,” the chief deputy said.
Morse says his office is constantly receiving calls for inmate bed space, therefore the push to renovate the jail is a priority.
According to Salinas, the county is already starting to see a savings for taxpayers as Frio County inmates are being transferred back and housed at the local facility.
“We saw a $25,000 reduction this past month,” Salinas said. “I hope that will continue to the point where we will not need to house anyone outside the county.”
Commissioners will revisit the approval of the grant after receiving the staffing analysis from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
“We are grateful for the opportunity the governor’s office has awarded us and are blessed to have received this assistance during these trying times,” Salinas said. “We hope all of Frio County’s citizens as well as our neighboring border counties in need will be better served because of this.”