John H. Ruiz said he is proud of the state-of-the-art, jumbo-sized video screen with a computerized scoreboard that he installed at Homestead’s city-owned baseball stadium, but now he has no power to run it.
The city of Homestead turned off the electricity and water service to the stadium on Wednesday, saying Ruiz’s La Ley Sports has not paid a utility bill since Sept. 7. The city says the company owes $143,000 in utility payments, including electricity, water and trash.
It’s the latest development in a yearlong dispute between City Hall and La Ley Sports. The company leased the long-vacant stadium from the city in 2011, taking the property rent-fee for the first two years but agreeing to pay insurance for the site. The city says the company failed to pay not only its utilities but also the insurance, leaving taxpayers with the $10,000-per-month bill.
La Ley disputes the accuracy of the utility bills, and says the city is overcharging him for insurance. At one point, the city admitted to a $22,000 utility overcharge, and gave the company a credit.
Last May, La Ley filed two lawsuits against the city, one of which alleges that the city overbilled its customers more than $100 million in the last five years.
A city spokeswoman said last week that turning off the power is standard procedure when a customer fails to pay its electric bill.
“Notice was given to La Ley, as it would be to any utility customer who is past due on their bills, that their utilities are going to be disconnected,” city spokeswoman Begoñe Cazalis said. If “La Ley chooses to pay its utility bills the power will be restored.”
Ruiz said he also had an issue with the accuracy of his water bill.
“They never measured our water meters,” Ruiz said. “They were ‘guesstimating’ what we were using.”
The city built the stadium in 1991 in hopes of attracting the Cleveland Indians spring training camp. That never happened, and the property proved costly to maintain.
For years, the city couldn’t sell the costly asset or lease it, and imploding it was too expensive.
In 2011, Mayor Steve Bateman and Ruiz had hoped that their relationship would make the stadium flourish.
“Instead what we found out is that the city had totally abandoned a city property,” Ruiz said Wednesday. “And ultimately they did everything within their power to destroy what we had built.”