City council members have extended a lease for a humanitarian coalition working to transition asylum-seeking immigrants out of Del Rio.
The Del Rio City Council discussed and approved the city’s lease agreement with the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition at its Sept. 10 regular meeting.
The council on April 29 agreed to lease a portion of the Chihuahua Neighborhood Facility to the humanitarian coalition for a term of three months at a rate of $250 per month.
“Not knowing the impact on utilities prior to the initial agreement the previous rate was $250 per month. After three full months of history, the coalition is averaging about $300 in electricity per the summer months and about another $250 for gas, water, wastewater and refuse services. The recommended new rate is $450 per month,” Assistant City Manager Manuel Chavez wrote in a memo about the extension to the council.
The new rental agreement is for a year, from Aug. 6 through Aug. 5, 2020.
Councilman Raul C. Ojeda made a motion to approve the resolution. Councilwoman Liz Elizalde de Calderon gave the second.
Councilman Rowland Garza questioned how city staff arrived at the new rental rate.
“Is there a breakdown?” Garza asked.
“There’s not a breakdown in this packet, but we can get one for you,” City Manager Matt Wojnowski replied.
Garza said he would abstain from the vote “simply because I’m part of the board, and I’ve been involved in negotiations both ways.”
Councilwoman Diana Bejarano Salgado said she did not think the $450 rate was unreasonable.
“No one’s saying that it is. I was just curious ... my question was how was it arrived at?” Garza said.
“I’d have to ask (Assistant City Manager) Manuel Chavez how he came about that number,” Wojnowski replied.
Salgado asked Wojnowski if he was aware of what the monthly utility bills for the building have been.
“Manuel said after three full months of history, the coalition is averaging about $300 in electricity,” the city manager replied.
Marti Faulkner, a coalition member present at the meeting, asked if the $300 was for the entire Chihuahua Facility or for the rooms being used by the coalition, pointing out the coalition shares the building with Quad Counties, and the two groups share a meter.
“I don’t know; what was asked was to figure out your portion, not the entire building,” Wojnowski said.
Faulkner also asked the council if she could present a brief community impact report on the work the coalition has done.
Faulkner said as of Aug. 31, the coalition has received a total of $738,948 in leveraged funds, which she described as “the value of resources and financial commitments that are funding the refugee project that we’re doing from sources other than the coalition, as well as any funding or assistance we get from outside sources.”
“That’s right at a quarter of a million dollars that our city and county officials and governments have not had to procure or fork out,” she said.
She also told the council during August, the coalition recorded a total of 5,000 volunteer hours at the transition facility.
“We have managed to create a safe space for transition, meaning a safe place for our community and a safe place for the folks that are coming through. We do receive the release of family units in Del Rio. We have improved the transportation infrastructure to accommodate 125 to 150 refugees per day, when originally, we were looking at a fraction of that.
“We have initiated and secured some pretty significant grants to provide services to refugees. We have a pending grant for a couple of vans, 14-passenger vans, as well as the Samaritan’s Purse grant that we received. They are currently providing a lot of the resources to the coalition as well as the community of Del Rio. We’ve combined forces with multiple (non-governmental organizations) as well as the city and the county to be able to unite our community to deal with what could have been a crisis and has not been because we have been able to minimize the effects of the refugee influx on the community of Del Rio,” Faulkner said.
After Faulkner finished, Elizalde de Calderon said, “I don’t know what we would have done without this border coalition. I commend you for your efforts; I don’t know how you all do it, and I thank you for everything you all have done.”
She then proposed her council colleagues reconsider the proposed rent increase for the coalition.
Councilman Alfredo “Fred” Carranza Jr., too, said he believed the city would have spent “thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars” without the coalition’s help, adding he supported maintaining the group’s rent at $250 a month.
Ojeda said he agreed with Elizalde de Calderon’s sentiments, and withdrew his earlier motion.
Elizalde de Calderon then made a motion the council approve the resolution and change the monthly rental fee to $250. Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano gave the second.
Salgado said while she appreciated the work the coalition has done, she also had to think of the costs the city has.
“Even though it doesn’t seem like a lot, I will have to vote no on it because I don’t think the $450 was that huge an amount, and we have so many needs and we’re trying to figure out where we’re going to stretch our dollars to cover everything. It’s not due to lack of appreciation,” she said.
The council voted 5-1-1 in favor of Elizalde de Calderon’s motion, with Salgado voting against the measure and Garza abstaining.