RAYMONDVILLE — Willacy County’s biggest deal in years may be unfolding.
After weeks of negotiations, it appears Willacy County has reached an agreement with a national prison operator to reopen a detention center here.
On Tuesday, commissioners are expected to approve the “execution of operations and management agreement for the Willacy County detention facility.”
County commissioners have not disclosed the name of the company that plans to reopen the site of the former Willacy County Correctional Center.
The agreement would come two years after an inmate uprising led to the prison’s closure, plunging this farming area into financial crisis.
Commissioners have been in negotiations with Management and Training Corp., the prison’s longtime operator, and the GEO Group, Commissioners Henry De La Paz and Oscar DeLuna said yesterday.
Meanwhile, MTC is “awaiting a decision by the county,” company spokesman Issa Arnita said in a statement Thursday.
MTC spokeswoman Celeste McDonald has said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is interested in the facility.
But the GEO Group “is not currently in negotiations,” spokesman Pablo Paez only said in a statement yesterday.
President Trump’s push to deport undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes has apparently driven interest in the facility.
De La Paz said the detention center is expected to create 300 to 400 jobs.
“We are definitely working extremely hard on getting the best deal for the county,” De La Paz said. “We want to get this done and get people working again. We look forward to putting our Willacy County residents to work.”
DeLuna said the county plans to sell the facility to retire its debt.
“If someone’s interested in buying it, I don’t see anything wrong with it — pass it on to someone else,” DeLuna said. “We’re trying to get out of it ourselves. We’re trying not to have any debt — sell off the bonds.”
According to a county debt service schedule, the facility’s debt would climb to $144.4 million by the time the bonds reach maturity in 2029.
In case of default, the county’s bond holders, who assume any risk, would have the right to take possession of the 53-acre property, County Judge Aurelio Guerra said.
Sheriff Larry Spence, a former board member of the county agency overseeing the facility, said the proposed agreement comes after two years of hard economic times.
“We’re desperate for jobs,” Spence said. “I’m glad we’re moving forward with a decision. I hope it’s a well-thought out one. Did they cut the best deal?”
The closure of the prison, which paid the county for every inmate it housed, plunged the area into financial crisis, leading to 400 employee layoffs while slashing a third of the county’s $8.1 million general fund budget.
Under MTC, the prison was one of the county’s largest employers, paying higher salaries than most jobs in this farming area now struggling with a jobless rate hovering near 13 percent.
In Raymondville, the city lost about $600,000 in annual water sales when the 3,000-bed prison closed in February 2015 following the riot.
“We certainly need a shot in the arm like that,” Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said of the proposed agreement. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone. We certainly need the jobs. It’ll help our community with water (sales) and property taxes.”