This article has been updated.
With no discussion, Bexar County commissioners on Thursday accepted the donation of a 2005 Sea Fox boat, worth about $20,000, to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol and Rescue Unit from Javier Gomez, a county resident, who used the boat recreationally.
The agenda noted an additional $9,335 cash donation to pay for boat equipment and maintenance from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation, but that cash is still pending review, according to a statement the San Antonio Area Foundation sent to the San Antonio Report.
The Area Foundation, which owns and manages the Sheriff’s Foundation fund, received a formal request for the money, and after reviewing the request, approved a disbursement for the boat, equipment and maintenance.
In April last year, Salazar requested $20,000 from the Sheriff’s Foundation to purchase a rescue boat, but then-Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3) took issue with spending money on what she called a “shiny new toy” instead of directing that funding toward more pressing issues. DeBerry also wanted more details on how the boat’s ongoing maintenance would be paid for.
Salazar said at the time the department needed the boat to avoid having to borrow one from other agencies when deputies need to perform rescue or search operations.
“It’s not a shiny new toy. It’s something that we’ve seen a need for,” he said at the time.
Ultimately, commissioners agreed to delay the issue until the sheriff could provide more details about how the boat would be maintained.
But in June, Utah-based Black Rifle Coffee Company, which has a San Antonio location, presented the sheriff with a $32,000 donation to buy the boat.
The donation became controversial after an Instagram post from one of the company’s co-founders inspired internet trolls to hit DeBerry’s social media accounts with expletive-filled comments and messages. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff pledged he would vote against accepting any funds from Black Rifle Coffee Company.
Wolff also said he would only support the use of county funds for the boat if Salazar provided details regarding the operation, liability, storage, maintenance and staffing costs associated with it.
On Tuesday, the boat donation was left on the consent agenda and unanimously approved during the commissioners court meeting.
The coffee company’s donation was deposited into the Sheriff’s Foundation, but it’s unclear if it will directly fund the boat equipment or how much money is in the fund. The Area Foundation does not disclose specific fund information, a spokesman said.
Wolff still has lingering questions about how the boat will be used and how much money it will cost to staff and maintain it, but he said he was done debating the boat, he told the San Antonio Report on Friday.
“Trish is gone [from the court] now and we’re trying to settle things down with the sheriff,” Wolff said. “Marialyn had no objection, so we decided we’re not fighting anymore.”
DeBerry stepped down from the Precinct 3 seat to run for county judge. Marialyn Barnard, a former 4th Court of Appeals justice, was appointed to serve out the remainder of Deberry’s term.
“I’m pro-law enforcement, period,” Barnard said Tuesday. “The boat was purchased … [by] private citizens. [They] can do whatever they want to do. And I’m all for our private citizens supporting our law enforcement.”
Deputy Johnny Garcia, a spokesman for the sheriff, said Gomez is simply “a concerned citizen who … literally took it upon himself to give us a free boat.”
DeBerry told the San Antonio Report this week that she wanted Salazar to get the sheriff’s office “in order first” and the jail situation under control before taking on a piece of equipment that other agencies already have.
Emergency services districts typically provide local emergency services, including emergency medical services, rescue and fire protection services.
Comments from the coffee company’s co-founder implied that DeBerry was anti-law enforcement, she said, but “nothing could be further from the truth. … I want to prioritize the rank and file.”
She said her concerns related to the boat were about transparency and fiscal responsibility; Salazar wasn’t fully prepared to answer questions last April about the long-term costs of the boat.
“There’s a lot of ongoing maintenance associated with boats, it’s just the nature of the equipment,” she said.
Commissioners court should still monitor the sheriff’s budget related to the boat, Wolff said.
The funding request from the sheriff’s fund includes enough money for the first year of boat maintenance, Deputy Garcia said. After that, it will be included in the sheriff’s office’s annual budget.
It’s not uncommon for deputies to respond to high-water rescues during flooding and on Calaveras and Braunig lakes, Garcia said.
“An increase of boaters and activity occurs at those two lakes during the summertime and during some of the spring holidays,” he said. “We’ll be out there … to patrol and keep those lakes safe.”
The same day in April DeBerry rebuked the boat expense, the county received a 911 call about a sinking boat — with a father and children on board — in Calaveras Lake, Garcia noted. It took about 50 minutes to find the boat used to rescue the family, he said.
“We could have gotten to them much faster,” Garcia said. “A rescue boat will enable us to serve the citizens of Bexar County, whether it’s for rescue missions, enforcement, or investigations when called upon.”