Tiffany Burrow

Tiffany Burrow, a member of the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition board of directors, checks a manifest listing a group of asylum-seeking migrants who arrived Friday at the coalition’s transition facility inside the Chihuahua Neighborhood Facility, 1401 Las Vacas St.

City council members want to know the cost of utilities for a facility where a humanitarian coalition is helping asylum-seeking migrants transition out of Del Rio before extending the coalition’s lease of the facility for another year.

The Del Rio City Council during a special meeting Tuesday considered a resolution authorizing City Manager Matt Wojnowski to extend a rental agreement between the city and the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition for one year, from Aug. 1 until July 31, 2020.

Coalition members approached the city in April, asking to lease a city facility that could be used as a transition center for asylum-seeking migrants being released in Del Rio by the U.S. Border Patrol.

The city leased the coalition a portion of the Chihuahua Neighborhood Facility, 1401 Las Vacas St., for three months beginning April 29.

When Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano called for discussion of the resolution during Tuesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Diana Bejarano Salgado asked about migrants staying overnight at the facility. Salgado pointed out the lease prohibited the premises being leased to the coalition from being used for overnight stays.

“Mainly my concern is, because it is being used (for) overnight stays, should that (clause) still be in there?” Salgado asked.

“The area in this lease, no one is staying overnight there,” Wojnowski replied.

She also asked about the coalition’s insurance, which is stipulated in the lease agreement, and asked the city manager if a copy of that insurance had been provided to the city.

When both Wojnowski and the City Attorney Suzanne West said they had not received copies of the insurance, coalition members seated in the audience said they did have the insurance and would provide copies to city staff on Wednesday.

Councilman Jim DeReus asked the city manager if he could tell the council the actual costs of running the facility.

“What is it actually costing us? And is that money being reimbursed?” De Reus asked.

Wojnowski replied the building’s utilities are not set up to be divided between the coalition and the Chihuahua Center’s other tenant.

“That’s a direct cost that we can file for reimbursement on, so I want to know how much that is,” De Reus added.

City Emergency Management Coordinator John Sheedy told the council city staff has been tracking the city’s expenses in dealing with the migrants with an eye on submitting those expenses to the federal government for reimbursement.

Sheedy said he would find out the answer to De Reus’ question about the utilities.

“But is it fair to say the large chunk of dollars the city will be seeking for reimbursement have nothing to do with the transition center. It’s with the city running an overnight facility,” Councilman Rowland Garza asked.

“Right, absolutely,” Sheedy replied.

Garza pointed out the initial agreement with the humanitarian coalition was that the city’s expenses in operating the facility would be “rolled into” the amount of the rent.

“Can we get an itemized account of what the building’s electric use has been?” Garza asked.

After further discussion, it was the consensus of the council to continue operations under the contract’s holdover provision and take up discussion of the 12-month contract in a month, when the specifics on the utility costs were known.

Coalition secretary Marti Faulkner also gave the council an update on the coalition’s work, noting coalition volunteers have transitioned a total of 7,000 migrants through the Chihuahua Center in the past four months.

“Approximately 50 percent of them are children, and (DRPD) Chief Fred Knoll can verify that in the city of Del Rio, our crime rate has gone up 0 percent in reference to the influx of refugees, so that was significant. That was one of the things we set out to do,” Faulkner told the council.

She also told the council Del Rio’s homeless population has not increased in the past four months.

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