Still no cost estimate, but city council approves Stonegarden agreement

The Nogales City Council last week approved an $865,997 grant that pays local police for overtime shifts related to border enforcement.

The program, known as Operation Stonegarden, has drawn scrutiny from elected officials because it adds to the city’s pension liabilities. But it’s popular among police officers who can use the shifts to increase their paycheck, as well as pension payouts after retirement.

The council could have approved the grant at a meeting on March 3, but Councilman Marcelino Varona, Jr. asked to table any action on the grant pending a study into how much the program costs the city. Varona added that he’d already requested a study session on the cost of Stonegarden multiple times.

At a meeting last November, Parrales, the finance director, presented documents to the council showing that the Stonegarden program could increase the city’s pension liability by hundreds of thousands of dollars in coming years.

At the same November 2019 meeting, Nogales Police Lt. Robert Thompson said that NPD would be “in jeopardy” and “not be able to actually support police functions” if the Stonegarden program were cancelled.

Thompson said that the department would have to return equipment that had been purchased with Stonegarden funds if it cancelled the program. An equipment list provided to the NI by NPD Chief Roy Bermudez showed that the department has bought radios, cameras vehicle computers, five Ford Expeditions and a Kawasaki vehicle with Sonegarden funds since 2008.

During the council’s meeting on May 6, Varona reiterated his concerns, noting that the City of Tucson and Pima County had both withdrawn from the program, but the agreement passed a vote without any opposition.

County adjusts salary plan according to minimum wage

Some, but not all, county government employees will see their salary increase during the upcoming fiscal year after administrators adjusted the county salary plan last week.

The County Board of Supervisors voted at its May 5 meeting to approve the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 Salary Plan, which delivers slight pay increases to a little less than 100 county positions.

“The adjusted salary plan was mainly adjusted for the minimum wage, as those increases made some of our lower ranges obsolete,” County Manager Jennifer St. John told the NI.

The salary increases included positions within the animal control office, landfill, court system and environmental health services.

“We did a few minor adjustments to other ranges to merge some positions, eliminate positions, etc.,” St. John said. “But the majority of this approval was a result of the recent minimum wage increase.”

The minimum wage in Arizona rose from $11 to $12 per hour, effective Jan. 1

SCC residents step up Census responses

Santa Cruz County led the state in 2020 Census self-response rates over the weekend, according to Mary Dahl, the county’s special projects coordinator.

Dahl said the county was the top gainer among Arizona’s 15 counties in terms of response results from Saturday (based on responses on Friday) and Sunday (based on responses from Saturday), gaining a half percentage point. 

“No other county came close” on Saturday, Dahl wrote in an email, adding that Cochise County gained 0.3 percent on Sunday, “but all others were at 0.2 percent or less.”

She was particularly pleased about “great overnight gains, especially in some of the Nogales Census tracts.” 

Since May 1, Dahl said, Santa Cruz County has posted a 3.3-percent gain in response rates, well ahead of its nearest challengers, Yavapai at 2.6 percent and Cochise at 2.5 percent. The statewide increase during that timeframe was 2.1 percent.

According to online Census 2020 data, Santa Cruz County ranked eighth in the state overall as of Monday morning with a 44.1 percent response rate.

That was up from 34.3 percent on April 14 and 22.4 percent on March 31.

The national self-response rate was 58.5 percent on Monday, and Arizona’s rate was 55.1 percent.

To respond to the Census online, see https://2020census.gov.

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