Court approves Gonzales County joining SCATTF as participating member


Gonzales County commissioners gave Sheriff Keith Schmidt the green light to join the Sheriff’s Combined Auto Theft Task Force (SCATTF) as a full participating agency during their regular meeting Monday, May 13.

Commissioners unanimously approved an interlocal assistance agreement with Travis County, which is the lead agency behind SCATTF, which serves a geographical area of 11,465 square miles and includes Bell, Blanco, Caldwell, Colorado, Comal, Fayette, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hays, Jackson, Lee, Milam, Travis and Wilson counties. The agreement will be retroactive to Sept. 1, 2023 and end Aug. 30, 2024.

Commissioners previously heard a presentation from SCATTF commander Sgt. Andy Viruette in March and discussed the benefits and costs of joining the task force as a full participating member, which would require the county to hire a deputy specifically to work auto theft cases, though the majority of that cost would be reimbursed through grant funds. The county would also have to provide a vehicle (and fuel) for that deputy to use.

At that time, court members had voiced a desire to hold off on joining the task force until they couuld look at available resources through the next budget cycle. However, Schmidt said Monday he received a call on May 2 that “if we're interested in continuing to be possibly included in this program, that we get permission from you guys now, so that it can come up on one of their next meetings that they've got.”

“If the court approves us, basically, that doesn't automatically put us on there; we still have to go before them to be selected,” Schmidt said. “They're saying that they need to have an answer right away, so I'm back before the court, asking for you to allow me to apply for this grant.

“Basically, my commitment to the court is that we'll do this, and if it doesn't bring value to Gonzales County, we won't continue it. And I'll look at it really hard to make sure that it brings value to Gonzales County.”

Grants from the task force would pay 80 percent of the employee’s salary and benefits for a deputy that is committed to working auto theft cases for SCATTF, while the county would have to pay 20 percent of the cost. In this case, the grant would pay Gonzales County $65,423 for salary and benefits for an auto theft investigator, while the county would have to come up with $16,356 for a total expense of $81,779.

Subject to continued funding by the task force as the grantor, the agreement would automatically renew for another year from Sept. 1, 2024 through Aug. 30, 2025, according to the text of the agreement.

Schmidt said he still has remaining money the county received from the state under Senate Bill 22 which can offset the cost of a deputy through the end of the current fiscal year.

County Auditor Becky Weston concurred, stating that when it is time to reapply for the next fiscal year’s grant money from SCATTF, “we’ll have gone through the budget and you’ll be able to figure out what a whole year will cost and to properly budget for it.”

“This first round, it's only for a couple of months,” Weston said. “He does have the funds in his budget. It's up to you to be able to let him use the vehicle and gas and so forth and dedicate a person to this.”

Schmidt said he would try to see if one of his existing deputies would want to move over to the task force.

“Our thoughts are we really want that intel,” Schmidt said. “We wand to be able to figure out how to stop some of the stuff that's going on with auto theft, but they can also help with trailer theft and equipment theft and we’re going to focus in on all of those parts of it.”

Currently, Travis County Sheriff’s Office provides six employees for the task force (a sergeant, three investigators, and two administrative/support positions). Fellow participating agencies Guadalupe County SO and Hays County SO each provide two investigators, while Bell County SO, Comal County SO and Jackson County SO each provide one.

The sheriff’s offices for Blanco, Caldwell, Colorado, Fayette, Gonzales, Lee, Milam and Wilson counties are coverage agencies which work with the task force through jurisdictional agreements, but do not directly share in grant funding with the agency.