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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, October 4, 2004

Major hikes approved in city water, sewer rates

Staff Writer

Town of Pecos City residents will be seeing major increases in their water and sewer bills beginning next month, after council members voted 3-2 on Friday to raise rates to pay for state-mandated water and sewer projects.

The council voted to increase the base water rate for residential customers by $3.41, from $5.89 for 2,000 gallons of water monthly to $9.30. That represents an increase of 58 percent. The base sewer line rate will climb from $7/01 to $11.08, an increase of 55 1/2 percent.

However, most residents will be seeing much larger increases in their bills, based on average monthly water usage. City Manager Joseph Torres said the average residential customer in Pecos uses about 11,000 gallons of water monthly, and they will see an increase in their monthly bills of $13.08 a month in water fees and $11 a month in sewer rates.

“We have three options. We can adopt these rates and hopefully get compliance. We can cut them (the increase) in half or do nothing,” Torres told the council, while adding that the latter two options would result in layoffs of city personnel.

The final numbers, which were about $2 below the rates the council was given during a special meeting on Thursday. They then asked Torres and City Finance Director Sam Contreras and City Utilities Director Edgardo Madrid to make additional cuts before meeting with the council again on Friday.

“I thought we’d have better rates than this. This isn’t much different,” said councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela .

“The past five years, we’ve really done nothing. We’ve got to get moving,” Torres said. Valenzuela, along with Frank Sanchez were the two members to vote against the water rate increase. Council members Gerald Tellez, Danny Rodriguez and Michael Benavides voted in favor of the new rate schedule.

“I don’t like it at all. You mentioned last night you might cut it $8,” Rodriguez told city officials. But he added, “Everybody else has gone up in taxes, and we hadn’t gone up at all … we have to do what we have to do, and I hope the public understands it.”

“There are so many other loose ends we haven’t taken into consideration,” Valenzuela said. “Even if they do come into effect, we’re still hitting he public with high rates we should have started increasing five years ago. Now we’re overdoing it to compensate.” The city had gone nine years without a property tax increase until last year, when a shortage of funds and a warning from state officials about transferring water department funds into the general fund resulted in an 11-cent increase in local property taxes.

This year, with a $1.1 million loss in valuations, the city voted to increase the tax rate by one-cent, to .81100 cents per $100 in valuations, to bring in the same amount of tax revenue as a year ago. But that still left the city short of funds for the mandated water and sewer projects.

The rate sheet given to the council during Friday’s meeting showed customers using 6,000 gallons of water monthly would see their bills increase from $25.34 to $42.42 a month, not including the $15 monthly fee for trash disposal. Residents using 9,000 gallons monthly would see their rates rise from $34.57 to $55.82, those using the11,000 gallon average would see an increase from $40.89 to $64.97, those using 13,000 gallons would see an increase from $47.11 to $74.93, those using 15,000 gallons would see a rate hike from $55.33 to $86.70, those using 17,000 gallons would see their rate go from $58.55 to $96.10, and those using 19,000 gallons each month face an increase from $65.77 a month to $105.50 in their water and sewer bills.

Torres said the new rates are on a sliding scale, with large water users seeing higher percentage increases. Commercial users will see their rates above the first 2,000 gallons rise from $1.32 to $2.09 for each additional 1,000 gallons, while residential users with three lines will have their rates rise from $9.01 to $14.24 and those with four or more lines will have their rates go up from $11.01 to $17.40.

Similar rate increases will also go into effect for customers outside the city limits, and for the city of Barstow, which buys its water from Pecos.

The council was told that by failing to increase water rates over the past five years, the city had set itself up for a sudden huge increase due to the cost of both the water projects, which are mandated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the $400,000 annual payment Pecos will have to begin paying in five years for the South Worsham Water Field to the Texas Water Development Board.

The $8 million project to bring the city’s new water field on-line was completed last year, but Reeves County is paying the cost for the first half of project, under an agreement that provides city water and sewer services to the Reeves County Detention Center. The city will take over payments in 2009, and council members were told without a rate increase, there would be no money to repay the loan taken out with the TWDB.

The rates presented to the council on Friday were about 60 percent below the initial rate increases put forward following discussions with consultants on all the projects facing the city.

The original plans would have increased average monthly water bills for residential users by $60 a month. But a number of projects were deferred, and Friday’s proposal included additional cuts to work on the wastewater treatment plant, following a Thursday evening meeting at City Hall.

“This is the latest one, with the additional cuts we made” said Contreras. Madrid said the additional cuts made on Friday removed an additional $112,000 from the proposed 2006 fiscal year budget.

The cuts included $10,000 for building and maintenance repairs, $50,000 for work on the wastewater treatment plant, $60,000 on sidewalks and cubs and reducing the city’s seal coating budget for next year from $60,000 to $50,000.

Torres said on Thursday the city already had cut department budgets between 10 and 15 percent, frozen salaries and decided not to hire new workers when any current city employees retire.

“The rest we don’t have any room to cut and continue these projects,” Madrid said. “With the smaller (city) departments, we’re not asking them to make any more cuts, because they can’t handle any more.”

“The good side is on the sewer department we’re pretty much set on grants we’re getting that will help us out this year and part of next year,” Madrid said. “We’re going to have some funds to do work on water lines, and we’re going to have some funds to do work on the streets. The only problem is we’re going to have to postpone work on the wastewater treatment plant.

“We’ll wait and see if the TECQ will sign off and give us a little more time,” Madrid added.

Valenzuela said she would like to have an exact figure on how much money the new water fees would bring in before voting on the measure, but Contreras said the higher rates will likely reduce water consumption in the city. “Any projection would not be accurate. People make adjustments,” he said.

“I just can’t go with these rates,” said Sanchez. “(Half) is the most I can consider. Our people can’t take it.”

Valenzuela said the city should try and get more money out of it water agreements with Reeves County to offset the rate increases. “I agree, but I don’t think that it will be enough,” said Mayor Dot Stafford.

“Let’s say we negotiate with the county to resolve this problem within one month. The (rate hike income) would be more than what we would get from the county in one month,” Madrid said.

“I feel like we’ve lost five years and we’re fixing to lose another month. We can’t get it back, and the costs only go up,” said Rodriguez.

“Most of these projects have been deferred for a number of years. We cannot let it be deferred any longer,” added Benavides. “I slept on it, and to me, there’s no other alternative.”

“There are plenty of other alternatives,” said Valenzuela.

“Once we go after the loose ends, we can always amend the rates,” said Benavides, about the possibility of lowering rates if additional money is found.

“You know that’s not going to happen,” said Sanchez. “I commend the (city) administration for their work, but I’m going to have to go against this.”

Along with the 3-2 vote on the water rate increase, the council split along the same lines on the 2006 budget ordinance. Council members did unanimously approve the standard exemptions for property owners of $15,000 for persons 65 and older, $10,000 for medical disability and between $5,000 and $12,000 for veterans’ disability, depending on the level of the disability.

Council adjusts year-end totals for ‘05 budget

Budget amendments to the final 2005 Town of Pecos City budget were approved by council members, as part of their special meeting on Friday.

The final budget for the 2005 fiscal year, which ended on Friday, included adjustments to various departments, along with adjustments to the estimates on property tax collections and other revenues.

While several income sources, including the city’s hotel-motel tax and gas franchise tax, came in above projections, council member Angelica Valenzuela asked city finance director Sam Contreras about a drop in the electric franchise revenues, from $265,000 to $218.000.

“I don’t know why there was a big difference in this one,” said Contreras, who told the council he would check back and see what the explanation was for the decline.

Another discussion centered on estimates on the city’s income from the health sanitation department, through trash and landfill fees. The city had received $940,000 in 2005, and estimated $850,000 for this past year, but received only $677,000.

Contreras noted the $940,000 was well above previous years and was projecting $720,000 in the upcoming budget.

“Except for one years we’ve been in the 600,000s,’ said Valenzuela. “Why are we going up on this? We might go back to $670 something, if that’s what we’ve been getting.”

“We found some charges that had inconsistencies and we’ve adjusted for that,” Contreras said. “I think we’ll hit the target.”

Contreras said the city had not been charging the proper fees for commercial customers and apartments.

The city street budget came in about $30,000 above projects due to the hiring of workers to continue the new alley clean-up program. The work was begun using Reeves County Detention Center III inmates, but the city was forced to hire its own workers when the State of Arizona removed its low-risk prisoners from RCDC III and replaced them with higher-risk inmates.

City Utilities director Edgardo Madrid also said a couple of workers were hired for his department above the base rate because of their skill level.

“If you’re planning for the future you need to bring in some people who can help you out,” he said. “At that point, instead of paying an $8 salaries employee you can pay him more according to his abilities.”

Water receive projections also were below the estimates, by $253,535. Torres said a wet year resulted in less watering of lawns, and cut the revenues from an estimated. $1.7 million to about $1.45 million. Sewer revenues also were about $86,000 below estimates, since the two rates are linked, Contreras said.

Also coming in above projections was the city’s health insurance costs. Contreras said the total the city estimated last September was $110,000 below what the actual total was, when the insurance contract bids were received in December of 2004.

Commissioners shift task force, approve budget

Reeves County Commissioners approved the new county budget for 2006 on Friday, during a special meeting at the Reeves County Courthouse.

Commissioners also agreed today to shift staff from the Trans-Pecos Drug Task Force onto the staff of the Reeves County Sheriff’s Department, after the state declined to provide funding for the task force for the new fiscal year.

The commissioners agreed to consolidate all the maintenance positions under the Road and Bridge department, including all the golf course positions as part of the new budget. The also appropriated funds for the construction of the Balmorhea Community Center. The group had discussed funding the center and looking at ways to build it, at a lower cost.

“We’ll hire a temporary crew and when we need specialties like electrical wiring, we’ll bid it out,” said Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo.

Commissioners had approved a professional services contract with LMD Architects for redesign of the Balmorhea Community Center Project and construction administration during their Sept. 12 meeting.

During that meeting, Galindo said, “We left off with this project about 2 1/2 years ago.” “At that time, we were working with the construction of RCDC III and the Balmorhea gym and couldn’t handle this project,” he said.

Galindo said that the lowest bid that they had received at that time for the construction of the community center was $500,000.

“We want to take a look at that project again and see if we can do it at a lower amount,” he said.

He said alternatives include using a pre-fabricated building and sheet metal on the exterior.

“We would like to bring it within budget, so that it can get done,” said Galindo. “Essentially, we would build it ourselves and hire crews,” he said.

Galindo said that agreement with Dailey would be for $14,000.

The group also approved moving the personnel from the Trans Pecos Drug Task Force to the Reeves County Sheriff’s Department. The task force closed down on Friday when it did not receive additional state funding for the 2006 fiscal year.

However, Galindo said, “They have enough funding for a year,” by using $400,000 in funds that have been seized.

“It will have to be locally funded through those monies that they have seized,” he said. Galindo said that $320,000 would go towards the salaries of the seven personnel. “That will add five deputies and two administrative positions at the sheriff’s office,” he said.

“During the budget hearings we also added a few positions that will be supervised by the Road and Bridge Department,” said Galindo.

PEDC makes offer for PHA’s I-20 property

The Pecos Housing Authority received an offer to purchase land along Interstate 20 to be used for future economic growth, during their September meeting on Thursday. Mike Burkholder, president of the Pecos Economic Development Corporation, was on hand for the regular monthly PHA board meeting to talk to board members about the property at the former Airbase apartments site.

“We’re funded by the city with a quarter cent sales tax, so we have a limited budget,” said Burkholder who told the board that the group was limited to what they could do. “We were fortunate to find someone to lease the tire track,” said Burkholder.

PEDC signed a lease agreement in August with the Texas Transportation Institute and Applied Research Associates to reopen the facility east of Pecos. “Slowly, but surely they are creating jobs,” he said.

Burkholder told the group that he often receive e-mails and inquiries about property in Pecos.

“I get a lot of inquiries from people that want to put a business in other towns and are looking for a site and only give me a couple of days to respond,” said Burkholder. “Then they want to know if there is electricity or water available.”

Burkholder said that the PEDC’s budget wasn’t as much as what the Fort Stockton economic group has. “We don’t have very much to work with,” he said. “They’re budget is three times what ours is.”

Burkholder said that they had looked at 49 acres that are currently owned by the Pecos Housing Authority and wanted to offer to buy it.

“We’d like to have it available if someone calls and wants to bring a business to town,” said Burkholder.

“We’d like for you to consider that and allow us to purchase it from you,” he said. “We spend a lot of money on keeping the lots clean,” said housing authority director Nellie Gomez.

“I had the same problem at the track, but we would take over doing that (cleaning) if we bought it,” said Burkholder.

Burkholder’s offer was for $5,000 for 51 acres of land.

Board member Frank Perea said that they would need to get the land surveyed before they could make any decision.

“The first step really, is to see if that really is our land and then we need to get it surveyed and appraised,” said Perea.

“I think the county has a plan for that part of the land,” said Gomez. “They were going to build a little park,” she said.

Burkholder said that a park located next door would only enhance the area.

Perea said that they couldn’t take any action at that meeting, but would put it on the agenda for the next meeting.

“We also need to find out exactly how many acres it is, because I’m not sure,” he said. “I agree that it would be beneficial to the community, if we sold the land and someone put a business there,” said board member Jim Workman.

“Anything off the Interstate would do good,” said board member Olga Lopez.

“The first thing also, is we need to talk to HUD,” said Perea.

Gomez said she would contact one of the lawyers and then do a title search. “Yes, we need to find out if we really own it,” said Perea.

Burkholder said after the PEDC acquired the closed test track, they had the opportunity to go out and find someone to lease it to.

“It’s a 50-year lease, but the first two years are free,” said Burkholder.

Burkholder said that the test track had been vacant for five years. “I had to go out there and clean it up, get the electricity going and everything,” he said.

Burkholder said that the group spent about $30,000 just to get those few things done. “And I didn’t do all that was needed,” he said.

Burkholder said that after the two free years, they would be receiving $40,000, if they could make it work.

Burkholder said along with the track, there was someone here in Pecos that wanted to develop a motel on U.S. 285 and Interstate 20. “I’ve explained to him that that property belongs to the county,” said Burkholder. “He wants the city and county to help him with it.”

Burkholder said that the Pecos Economic Development Corporation had been in existence since November 1998.

“We had to borrow $65,000 just to get started and we’ve managed to wind up with $50,000,” he said.

Burkholder said that they have also been trying to acquire the old Showtime video store located on Eddy Street.

“I don’t have a prospect right now, but would like to purchase the land just in case someone comes along,” he said.

RCH board OKs budget, tax rate hike

Reeves County Hospital District board members approved the district’s new budget and tax rates for the upcoming fiscal year on Thursday, which include a three-cent increase in the district’s property tax rate, as part of their regular monthly meeting.

Board members voted to raise the tax rate to .38602 cents per $100 in valuations, after lowering the rate last year by just under three cents, following an increase in the district’s property tax valuations. The increase came after the hospital reported a deficit of almost $1 million for the 2004 fiscal year, according to the audit given to the district in May. Along with the tax rate, board members also approved homestead exemptions for local residents. Exemptions of $16,000 were approved for senior citizens, $12,000 for veterans and $10,000 for persons with medical disabilities.

The board’s approval of the 2006 operating and capital budget is based on revenue estimates of just over $17.2 million. District financial officer Frank Seals said the amount does not include tax revenues to be collected by the districts.

In other action, the board renewed the current contract with the Town of Pecos City for ambulance services. The city and hospital district worked out an agreement earlier this year on a contract that ended a two-year dispute. The contract increased the district’s base payment over a three-year period from $60,000 to $70,000, but would raise the cap proposed from $5,000 to $15,000, if the ambulance service ends up running in deficit. City officials talked about coming back at the end of that agreement and making some alterations, but Reeves County Hospital CEO Bill Conder said, “I talked to Joe (Torres, city manager) and he said too many things had come up right now. Just leave it as it is and look at it again next year.”

Board members also approved a new contract with Debbie Thomas to handle the district’s elections, at a cost of $9,000 per year. The contract is a $1,000 increase over the previous rate, and the cost is shared by the Town of Pecos City and the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, which already had approved the new contract.

A camera and control unit for a new scope for surgery was approved at a cost of $17,836. Hospital chief-of-staff Dr. W.J. Bang said the current scope was over 10 years old and was bought when the hospital began its laparoscopic surgery program.

“It’s a color camera, but suddenly it changes to black and white,” he said. “It’s not reparable anymore.”

Several doctors were also added to the hospital’s consulting staff, at the recommendation of the RCH medical staff. Approved were Dr. Prameela Yogananden as an emergency room doctor, and pathologists Dr. Craig Litz, Dr. Joe Hall, Dr. Gene Ewing and Dr. Deborah Hilton.

The board tabled action until next month on new patient representative satisfaction survey. Conder said the survey was an updated one as required by Medicare, though the current survey is optional and not mandatory.

“Eventually they will use the surveys and Medicare will pay based on how satisfied your are,” Conder said. “This is just a sample of what’s going to happen in the future.”

He said the survey has to be sent to a patient after they leave the hospital, and that the hospital has to make at least five attempts to get the survey filed out and returned under the new rules.

“It’s a pretty long survey. That usually turns people off,” said board member Brenda McKinney.

Also tabled at Conder’s request was action on a ventilator for respiration therapy. He said the current ventilator was getting too old to repair.

Family members join to open new agency

A Pecos woman and her niece have become the newest insurance agency owners locally, after opening their new downtown business this summer.

“Our mission is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams by linking them with companies that can best serve their insurance needs,” said co-owner Sue Ybarra, who along with her niece, Kathy Lozoya have opened the Sav-On Insurance Agency, located at 417 S. Oak St.

“We opened our doors on Aug. 1, but started working on the building and everything else in the middle of March,” said Lozoya. “We did a lot of research and marketing before that,” said Ybarra. The company is staffed by two highly educated professionals, licensed by the State of Texas in the field of insurance and devoted to fulfilling their customers’ insurance needs.

At Sav-On Insurance Agency, Ybarra is a provider of auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance, commercial coverage and surety bonds, through quality companies the customers can trust.

Lozoya, the other licensed agent, offers her experience and expertise in life insurance, long term care insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, annuities and voluntary employee health benefits, through diverse and quality insurance companies. “The voluntary employee health benefits has to be a group, such as the city or county, because the payment comes out of their checks,” she said.

Lozoya is married to Esteban and the couple have one daughter, Esmeralda, 7-years-old.

“I’m active in all the sports and things my daughter participates in, as well as in my husbands activities,” said Lozoya.

She is a volunteer fireman’s wife and enjoys helping out with their activities as well as with the Old Timer’s baseball team and other sports.

Ybarra was a former Pecos resident who recently moved back to town.

“I’ve always been in business and instead of just sitting around, I decided I wanted to do something,” said Ybarra, who is widowed. “I thought it would be hard to study and get my license, but it wasn’t,” she said.

She and her family moved to El Paso in 1987, and then lived in Austin for 7 years, where she worked for Seton Health Care as an executive administrative assistant for five years before retiring. In her spare time she enjoys flower arranging and sewing.

“I totally support the Main Street Program, I truly believe that is something we need,” said Ybarra. “I plan to become active in the community and help where I can.”

Ybarra said that the two women together had outlined an agreement and designed their mission.

“Our mission is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams by linking them with companies that can best serve their insurance needs,” said Ybarra. “Our agency’s plan of success is built on a foundation of shared values - quality service and good, friendly relationships, mutual trust, integrity and financial strength.

“Our vision for the future is to be the customer’s first and best choice of insurance products and services we provide by offering our customers a choice in diverse companies that they can better choose and that can offer and provide the quality coverage they are looking for,” said Lozoya. “We still strive to become the leader in the insurance industry in our area by first providing our customers with the knowledge that their property and loved ones are fully protected,” she said.

The office is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

They are already members of the Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce and plan to be active in the community.

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