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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Commissioners set schedule to pass new budget, tax rate

Staff Writer

Reeves County Commissioners approved the 2005 certified appraisal tax rolls, exemptions and had a public hearing to discuss tax rate other than the effective tax rate during their regular meeting held Monday morning.

The total for Reeves County was set at $540 million, which was an increase of $34 million from last year, according to Reeves County Tax Assessor/Collector Elfida Zuniga.

The exemptions approved included the over 65 exemption in the amount of $15,000. “This amount is taken off the value of the property,” said Zuniga.

The 2006 Medical Tax Exemption in the amount of $10,000 was approved by the group and the 2006 Disabled Veteran Tax Exemption in the amount ranging from $5,000 to $12,000. “It goes up to $12,000 for the disabled and over 65,” said Zuniga.

A two-payment plan option will be offered to taxpayers. Taxes can be paid in two separate payments with no penalty, if payments are made on Nov. 30, 2005 and June 30, 2006.

“This applies only to the county,” said Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo.

Zuniga said the current collection rate is 96 percent and does include penalty and interest. “We’re going with 94 percent collection rate this year,” she said. “Our collection has been really good.”

A public hearing was held during the regular meeting to discuss a rate other than effective tax rate.

“The calculated rate when I came up with the effective tax rate will raise the same amount as last year,” said Zuniga. “If we stayed with last year’s we just increase the revenue.”

Based on the county’s current tax rate, the additional $34 million in valuations would bring Reeves County about an additional $136,000 in revenue, if the 2005 tax rate is maintained for next year.

Commissioners also approved a planning calendar, which included a meeting to adopt the budget and tax rate.

In other action, commissioners approved the adoption of the National Incident Management System, the NIMS, which was approved earlier this month by the Pecos City Council.

“It was developed by Department of Homeland Security in 2003 and what this system does is standardize the way incidents are handled,” said Reeves County Emergency Coordinator Ricky Herrera.

He said that this was at the federal, state and national level. “This is for us to receive funding,” said Herrera, adding that the contract needed to be adopted by Oct. 1. Herrera said that this was a program put together by Homeland Security Department and would have to be adopted at every level.

“This would enable us to better communicate in a more efficient way,” said Herrera. “There were some miscommunication and delays in responding,” he said.

Herrera said that this was still a new system and that training would be held to educate everyone on it.

“We’ve been lacking the training,” said Herrera. “Every jurisdiction will have to adopt this.”

Herrera said that they had had some training at the civic center and fire department.

“This NIMS will be more effective and involve more at the federal and state level,” said Herrera.

County’s job numbers decline despite start of harvest season

Staff Writer

July is cantaloupe harvest season in Reeves County, and normally the month of the greatest employment in the area. But according to the Texas Workforce Commission, there were fewer people employed in Reeves County during July than any other month so far in 2005.

The TWC released its July jobless figures for counties and larger cities across Texas last week, and it showed Reeves County’s jobless rate held at 8.6 percent for the second month in a row. But according to the TWC, there were only 4216 people in the county’s labor force last month, down from 4,308 in June and also well below the year’s previous low point, of 4,279 workers, set in February.

The TWC began using a new formulation earlier this year for calculating their jobless rates in Texas, based on the 2000 census figures. The change cut the number of workers and the total number of jobs in Reeves County by over 25 percent from the previous figures, which were based on the 1990 Census figures. The numbers are also down by about a third from average monthly figures reported by the TWC five years ago, when Reeves County’s workforce was reported to be about 6,500 people.

That number traditionally grew during the summer months due to the cantaloupe and onion harvests in the county, with the local labor force in some years exceeding 8,000 employees. According to the TWC, the highest number of workers and jobs in the county in 2005 occurred in April, when there were 4,372 people in the workforce and 3,999 with jobs.

The latest numbers show 3,854 people employed and 362 with jobs. That’s a drop of 84 jobs from June, while the number of people on unemployment in the county was down by eight from a month ago.

The traditional boost in July agricultural employment was seen in neighboring Pecos County, which added 150 workers and over 170 jobs last month. The county had 7,541 people in its labor force and 7,184 employed, for a 4.7 percent unemployment rate, which was down from 5.1 percent in June. The number of workers in the county is up by 600 from its low in February.

Other area counties reported stable to lower jobless rates in July, compared with June’s figures. Andrews’ rate dropped from 4.8 to 4.4 percent, as the number of jobs held stable while the workforce declined slightly. Crane County saw a loss of jobs and workers, but the change dropped its jobless rate from 6.0 to 5.4 percent. Brewster County saw its rate fall from 3.5 to 3.3 percent, as it added about 50 jobs to offset a jump in its workforce, while Culberson County also added about 50 jobs and saw its rate fall from 4.9 to 4.5 percent. Ward County lost over 50 jobs but also saw 70 fewer people in its labor force, which dropped unemployment from 6.5 to 6.1 percent, and Winkler County joined Reeves County in reporting an unchanged jobless rate fort July, at 5.3 percent, as it saw a job loss offset by a decline in the county’s workforce.

Presidio County continued to have the area’s highest jobless rate, but the TWC reported it’s closer to single digits than any time in many years. The local labor force dropped in July while the number of jobs was unchanged from June, giving it a 10.2 percent jobless rate.

The area’s two largest counties also reported lower unemployment rates. Ector County added over 400 jobs and 200 workers, and saw its rate fall from 5.1 to 4.8 percent, while Midland County Lost 80 workers but gained 38 jobs, which dropped its rate from 4.1 to 3.8 percent. And at the other end, the nation’s least-populated county, Loving County, had a 15 percent increase in its labor force last month, according to the TWC. It went from 40 to 46 workers, while the number of unemployed remained a three for the seventh month in a row, lowering Loving County’s jobless rate from 7.0 to 6.1 percent.

City stuck in middle of agencies’ pay rate fight

Staff Writer

Back pay given to Pecos Criminal Justice Center employees by the Town of Pecos City Council under pressure from one federal agency may not be compensated by another federal agency, council members were told during a special meeting on Thursday at City Hall.

The council agreed earlier this year to give employees at the CJC back pay for a two-year period, based on pay rates determined by the U.S. Department of Labor for guards and jailers at facilities housing federal inmates. The CJC was built to house both local prisoners and prisoners of the U.S. Marshal’s Service, awaiting hearings or trial in U.S. District Court in Pecos.

However, while the council was told by advisors, when the issue first came up, that it was likely that the Marshal’s Service would compensate the city for the back pay owed, the agency has balked at the additional expense, which city finance director Sam Contreras said came to just over $222,000.

Thursday’s meeting was held because Friday, Aug. 19, was the end of the 90-day deadline set by the DOL for the back pay to be given out. However, Contreras said the federal agency has given the city the option of a 30-day extension while officials there and with the U.S. Marshal’s Service try to resolve the problem, including the question of whether the back pay compensation order was correct to begin with.

“All they’re asking us is for an extension until the Marshals have a chance to review the situation,” Contreras said, and council members agreed to go with the 30-day delay, while funding one-quarter of the $222,000 in back pay owed under the original DOL ruling.

“When the city approved the payments we were expecting to be recompensated by the Marshals Service,” said city attorney Scott Johnson. “We don’t want the taxpayers to foot the bill.”

“We do have money in reserve to pay it, but I like the numbers to be precise, so we don’t get stuck in the middle,” said Contreras, who told the council cutbacks in the Marshal’s Service budget have led to its reluctance to reimburse Pecos for the back pay funds. Councilman Frank Sanchez noted that when the city agreed to the higher pay rates for CJC workers, along with the back pay requirements, it was done under pressure by DOL officials, which included threats of withholding funds or terminating the Marshal’s Service contract with the city. “Did we not base our ruling on those assumptions?” he asked.

Contreras said part of the problem is due to new officials working with both the DOL and the Marshal’s Service. “There are different players, and some have to disseminate the information,” he said, adding that the final ruling for Pecos will affect contracts the Marshal’s Service has with local agencies across the country. “This could end up costing the Marshals millions of dollars.”

He suggested the council could talk to the assistant regional supervisor for the Marshal’s Service in Albuquerque, N.M. about their current position. However, they were unable to get in contact with anyone at the Albuquerque office, and counciwoman Angelica Valenzuela said based on past statements, she didn’t think any promises made today could be guaranteed.

“This is another he said, she said thing that put us in this situation,” said Valenzuela. “At this point I don’t trust anybody at the Department of Labor or the Department of Justice,” which is the parent agency for the Marshals’ Service.

City accountant Mark Rushing noted that a Marshal’s Service audit of the city’s records never noted the back pay exception. “Not only is it not on us, but they may come back and tag us with a penalty when no one knows if we were supposed to be in compliance or not,”

He said Carla Flanagan, who is handling negotiations for the Marshal’s Service, may be trying to lay the problem at the feet of the city, which could then lead Pecos to facing a fine of up to $10 per person per day for non-compliance. The fine could then be used by the federal agency to pay the back pay reimbursement costs.

“She’s trying to gig us,” Rushing said.

Johnson said that since the city in the end may or may not have to give workers the back pay, that a partial payment at this time would be the best way to go.

“Pay 25 percent of the number we voted on, but at the time when we get the final number in, that’s when you make your adjustment. That covers both bases,” he said. “It’s under 30-day review. If it comes after 30 days, you can pay it.”

“This is back pay. It wasn’t something they were expecting,” Johnson said. “When they signed on for ‘X’ salary, they were paid that salary.”

Contreras said he and Police Chief Clay McKinney talked to CJC workers last week about the situation, and council members said if the DOL reverses its ruling on the back pay, the $55,500 of the money owed that is part of the 25 percent payment would be considered as a bonus payment to the workers.

“The employees need to know we won’t ask for that number back,” Rushing said.

“I want to take care of our people. We’ve got to take care of our people,” said councilman Michael Benavides, while mayor Dot Stafford added, “I think we need to do something to show our gratitude.”

Deputies still seek motive for Barstow shooting

Staff Writer

The condition of a Barstow man shot last Wednesday evening has been upgraded slightly at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa, while Ward County Sheriff’s Department officials are still trying to determine a motive for the shooting, that landed another man in Ward County Jail.

Roque Ramirez’s condition has been upgraded from critical to guarded, but he remains in the ICU unit at Medical Center Hospital. Ramirez, 37, was shot one time in the chest about 8:30 p.m. on Thursday following an argument at a trailer home located at 301 Barstow Ave. in Barstow.

Gary Wayne Skelton of Barstow was taken into custody the following morning, after he turned himself in to Loving County Constable Vance Jones the following morning in Mentone. Loving County Sheriff Billy Hopper later turned Skelton over to Ward County Sheriff’s deputy Ben Deishler, who transported him to Monahans, where he was charged with aggravated assault.

Skelton reportedly left the scene of the shooting headed north out of Barstow, before eventually ending up in Mentone, according to Ward County Sheriff Mike Strickland. He said Skelton told deputies he had thrown away the .22 caliber rifle allegedly used in the shooting while driving to Loving County.

“We’re still looking for the gun. He thought he threw it out of the pickup, be he doesn’t know where between Barstow and Mentone,” Strickland said. “That’s a big area, and we don’t know if he’s telling the truth.”

Strickland also said the exact cause of the shooting remains uncertain. One report indicated there might have been an argument between the two over their dogs that triggered the shooting, but the sheriff said, “We are not getting a straight story on that, and he’s got a lawyer, so we don’t know if we’re going to get one.”

After being brought to Monahans, Skelton had a preliminary hearing on the aggravated assault charge before Ward County Judge Sam Massey who set bond at $500,000. However, Strickland said a bond reduction hearing is expected to be held later this week.

LAP ends sign-up period on Sept. 9

Carol Salinas, County Executive Director for the Reeves/Loving County Farm Service Agency (FSA), announced earlier this month at September 9, 2005 will be final date to sign-up for 2005 Livestock Assistance Program (LAP) benefits. LAP provides relief to livestock producers who suffered grazing losses in 2003 or 2004 due to drought, severe weather and related causes. Producers of dairy and beef cattle; bison and beefalo; goats; swine; sheep; and certain equine, elk and reindeer are now eligible to participate in LAP. To qualify for LAP, grazing land must be located in a county designated as a primary disaster county under a presidential or secretarial disaster declaration. The declaration must have been approved on or after Jan. 1, 2003, for a disaster occurring through Dec. 31, 2004. LAP benefits are not available for contiguous counties.

Eligible applicants must have control of adequate grazing land to support the eligible livestock and possess beneficial interest in eligible livestock that have been owned or leased for at least three months. During 2003 or 2004, livestock producers must have suffered a 40 percent or greater loss of grazing production for three or more consecutive months due to natural disasters. Reeves and Loving Counties have been determined eligible for 2003 only.

“When applying for LAP benefits, producers should be prepared to provide detailed information about livestock numbers, weight range, share and forage type as well as an estimated percent of loss,” saidMrs. Salinas.

LAP payments will be based on the lesser of the livestock feed allowance or the pasture value. For livestock that were sold in the course of routine business, eligible applicants will receive benefits for those animals only - up to the date of sale. A payment limitation of $40,000 per person applies, and individuals whose gross revenue exceeds $2.5 million are ineligible for program benefits.

For more information on LAP including eligibility criteria and application process, please contact the Reeves County FSA at (432) 445-3196, ext. 2 or visit the national FSA web site at .

Deadline nearing to apply for crop disaster assistance

Producers who suffered crop loss from damaging weather in 2003, 2004 and certain 2005 crop losses are eligible for assistance. The Farm Service Agency announced that eligible producers may sign-up for the Crop Disaster Program (CDP) until close of business on Sept. 9 for the 2003 and 2004 crop years. Signup for the 2005 year is close of business December 16, 2005.

"We are pleased to be able to provide these benefits to producers as quickly as possible," said Carol Salinas, County Executive Director for Reeves County FSA. "Drought, floods and hurricanes are unpredictable weather events that put farmers and ranchers at risk in producing a dependable and affordable national food supply. Signup for this program opened on March 14 of this year."

Producers suffering a greater than 35-percent production loss and/or more than a 20-percent quality loss are eligible. The payment rate for CDP has been increased to 65 percent of the established commodity price for insured crops and noninsured crops, and 60 percent of the price for uninsured commodities. Previous disaster assistance provided payments of 50 percent of the established commodity price for insured and non-insurable crops and 45 percent for uninsured crops.

Producers may apply for CDP for any crops that are eligible for coverage under the Federal Crop Insurance or the Noninsured Assistance Program.

For more information on these issues, visit USDA's website at

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Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321

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