Pines to consider cutting water, sewer to proposed ICE facility
Pembroke Pines commissioners consider their legal options for stopping a planned federal detention center in neighboring Southwest Ranches. Under consideration: cancelling a contract to provide fire, emergency medical, water and sewer services to the facility.
Having exhausted most options for opposing a proposed federal detention center in neighboring Southwest Ranches, Pembroke Pines commissioners will meet Wednesday to consider cancelling a contract to provide fire rescue, emergency medical, water and sewer services to the facility — a move that is likely to end with both municipalities meeting in court.
At least that’s the expectation of Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,’’ he said, “we will get sued one way or the other.’’
At issue is a contract between the cities, approved unanimously by the Pembroke Pines commission in June 2011, to provide fire, emergency medical, water and sewer service to portions of Southwest Ranches, including the proposed detention center, which has become a hot button issue in Southwest Broward since last summer.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering building one of the nation’s biggest detention centers, with an estimated 1,500 beds, in a pocket of Southwest Ranches that is surrounded by Pembroke Pines.
ICE has yet to announce the selection of Southwest Ranches as the site of the new facility, but agency officials have indicated in meetings with residents and correspondence with local leaders that they are looking closely at the Broward municipality as their preferred option.
Disagreement over the location has led to numerous tit-for-tat exchanges between Pembroke Pines, whose commissioners oppose the facility, and Southwest Ranches, whose Town Council is counting on the center to generate tax revenues.
At least one Pines commissioner is prepared to immediately cancel the contract, which is estimated to bring in $2 million a year in revenues
“This is a bad business decision for my city and for my residents,’’ Vice Mayor Iris Siple said of the contract. She argued the detention center would hurt property values, and the resulting drop in tax revenues would far outweigh the annual revenues from the contract.
But Ortis, the mayor, is reluctant to lose the potential revenue.
“We’re going into a budget year, and people say money shouldn’t be a factor. Well, I think money is a factor,’’ said Ortis, who has previously publicly stated his opposition to the nearby detention facility and vowed to residents he would do everything to fight it.
Ortis also was less than certain that cancelling the contract will achieve the desired end.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop the detention center,’’ he said. “People think it puts a crimp in the armor, and it may. That’s what we’ll find out Wednesday.’’
Although Sam Goren, the Pembroke Pines City Attorney, has issued an opinion that the city would face potential legal liabilities if commissioners were to cancel water and sewer service to the facility, commissioners hired an outside attorney for a second opinion.
The independent attorney contradicted Goren’s opinion, and suggested the city could cancel the services without suffering legal consequences. In addition, he suggested Pembroke Pines file a lawsuit against Southwest Ranches and/or the company bidding to bring the detention center, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which would require a judge to rule once and for all on whether the city is legally required to provide water and sewer service to the facility.
CCA wants to resolve the water and sewer service question soon because the company anticipates having an agreement with ICE within the next 30 to 45 days, said Sam Poole, an attorney representing CCA.
“When that happens,’’ Poole said, “we’re going to need to get started, and having this uncertainty about water and sewer supply in the air is something that could endanger the ability to actually comply with ICE’s requirements.’’
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