Pembroke Pines debates canceling service contract for proposed Southwest Ranches detention center
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Via Miami Herald
Running out of options for derailing a planned federal immigration detention center in Southwest Ranches, city officials in neighboring Pembroke Pines considered canceling fire and emergency medical services to the facility during a workshop meeting that ran late into the night Wednesday.
Pembroke Pines City Manager Charlie Dodge warned commissioners that canceling the five-year contract would cost the city almost $2 million a year in revenues and an additional $3 million in water and sewer connection fees.
Dodge said the city would have to increase property taxes, cut services or find another revenue source to make up that money, which city officials are relying on to balance the budget.
That was enough to dissuade Mayor Frank Ortis from supporting any measure to cancel the contract.
“The only one that loses if we go ahead and take that cancellation clause in the contract is us,” he said.
But Dodge’s argument failed to persuade Vice Mayor Iris Siple, who has led the call to cancel the contract.
“I still object,” Siple said. “I still think that this is a very bad financial decision for the city.”
Calling Dodge’s warnings of tax increases or service cuts “scare language,” Siple challenged the city manager’s revenue projections.
But her biggest objection was that the proposed federal detention center would destroy the quality of life for Pembroke Pines residents — and that no amount of revenue would make up for that loss.
In the end, Commissioner Angelo Castillo called for the city’s auditor to spend as much as $25,000 to hire an independent attorney to review the Southwest Ranches deal, as well as earlier legal opinions from City Attorney Sam Goren, and provide the commission with an opinion on its legal rights regarding the detention center.
Castillo also put forth a motion to cancel the agreement with Southwest Ranches, pursuant to a resolution from the town’s officials requesting an end to the deal, which was approved in June.
Commissioners discussed the issue Wednesday night, but will not take a binding vote on Castillo’s motions until their next regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 21.
Canceling the contract with Southwest Ranches, however, is not likely to stop one of the nation’s largest immigrant-detention centers from being built on a 24-acre tract bordering Pembroke Pines just east of U.S. 27.
Though federal officials have not officially announced that they have selected that site for the facility, Southwest Ranches Mayor Jeff Nelson told Pembroke Pines commissioners he was confident the detention center was coming.
“I’m 99 percent certain that facility will be constructed on that property,” Nelson said, adding that the property’s owner has applied for permits to begin clearing the land, fill it, and cut a road onto the property
Wednesday’s workshop meeting was the second in two weeks at which Pines officials addressed the federal detention center, an issue that has engendered months of vocal opposition from residents of both communities. Last week, Pines commissioners voted 4-1, with Siple dissenting, that Pembroke Pines has the capacity o provide water and sewer services to the detention center for up to 1,500 inmates and more than 700 employees.
Faced with the growing certainty that a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center will open in their backyards, some residents of Pembroke Pines — who will bear the overwhelming brunt of the facility’s impact, including noise and traffic — agreed to participate in a citizens’ advisory committee that will meet with representatives of Corrections Corporation of America, a private corrections management company that in 1998 bought the land to build the center in Southwest Ranches.
The citizens’ group met with CCA representatives for about three hours Tuesday night, during which company representatives showed renderings of the proposed facility, and discussed noise-mitigation efforts, such as landscaping and construction of a berm.
Goren has counseled commissioners against cancelling the contract because of potential liabilities for breach of contract and violation of equal protection clauses in the U.S. and Florida constitutions. Pines officials also had agreed in earlier contracts not to interfere with efforts to build the detention center in Southwest Ranches.
Miami Herald writer Gideon Grudo contributed to this report.