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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, July 22, 2005

City valuations fall; others soar in 2005 figures

Increases in oil and gas valuations, along with a rise in rural real-estate, provided a major boost in valuations for Reeves County, the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD and the Reeves County Hospital District, according to figures released on Thursday by Reeves County Tax Appraiser Carol King Markham.

But declines in the valuation of utility properties and equipment related back to the 2002 closing of Anchor Foods led to drops in valuation for the Town of Pecos City, along with the cities of Balmorhea and Toyah in the 2005 certified appraisal totals.

The 2005 totals, which are used by local taxing entities to set their 2006 budgets and tax rates, was approved during a meeting of the Reeves County Tax Appraisal Review Board, held at the district’s office on Cypress Street Thursday morning. The board approved the 2004 final supplemental totals, which showed declines from the original certified totals, and then accepted the 2005 certified figures, which showed increases for all eight of the county’s tax entities in real estate, but declines in mineral valuations for four of the eight groups.

“The big winner was the school, and we’re so glad, because the school needs the money,” said Markham.

P-B-T ISD’s valuations rose by almost $53 million since last year, to $563,465,650. Of that increase, $46.6 million was in minerals and was linked to the rise in oil and gas prices, but another $6.2 million was due to increases in real estate values. Markham linked that to increases due to the rise in land sales, especially lands being sold over the Internet to buyers outside the Trans-Pecos area.

“The Internet land I reappraised as ‘rural vacant’ instead of ‘grassland’ because it’s been selling for so much,” Markham said.

A decade of drought in the area has left rural land prices among the lowest in the nation. Sections of land in Reeves and other nearby counties have been bought up and divided into smaller parcels for sales over the Internet. Those sales cause the land to be reappraised at higher values.

P-B-T ISD includes north and central Reeves County, along with western Ward County. Mineral valuations in those areas totaled $445.3 million, while real estate was just over $118 million.

Going by the district’s current $1.50 per $100 in valuations tax rate, the schools would stand to gain an extra $793,000 in tax revenues due to the higher valuations. However, with the Texas Legislature current in negotiations over a new school-funding plan, property valuations could be lowered before the 2005-06 school budget and tax rates are set.

P-B-T Superintendent Ray Matthews is out of town until next week along with business manager Cookie Canon, but Matthew’s secretary Tracey Shaw said Canon didn’t think the increase would result in a mandatory tax rollback election. Voters rejected rollbacks after major valuation increases last year and in 2001.

Reeves County and the Reeves County Hospital District saw their valuations rise by just under $35 million, to $537,835,400. Of that total, $390.7 million was in mineral valuations, which were up by $29.7 million, while real estate came to $147.1 million, an increase of $5.3 million from last year.

Based on the hospital district’s current tax rate of .35 1/2 cents per $100 valuation, the hospital would receive an extra $124,000 in taxes next year, while the county’s current tax rate of 40 1/2 cents would bring in an additional $141,750 in tax revenues if the rate remains the same for the 2006 budget year.

Town of Pecos City did see a rise in its real estate values, by just under $225,000, but mineral valuations dropped by almost $1.2 million, leaving the city with a loss of $996,300 in its valuations.

The city has little oil or gas mineral rights, and Markham said the decline was due to lower valuations in Industrial Machinery and Equipment, which was related to lease equipment for the Anchor Foods plant. Anchor was shut down in 2002 by new owner McCain Foods, but Markham said the leased equipment was not taken off the books until the past year.

Anchor was re-opened in late 2002 as Trans-Pecos Foods, and Markham said the change in valuations does not involve the new company.

Utilities accounted for the rest of the city’s drop in valuations. Gary Young of Pritchard and Abbott said part of the decline overall was due to lower valuations on a fiber optics line owned by McCloud USA. “It goes through the city, but it’s not even hooked up,” he said during a conference call with the board.

Young explained that utilities valuations are based on companies’ overall valuations. Those gains or losses are then divided up by state, and then divided by local jurisdictions to get the overall valuations.

Balmorhea and Toyah also saw their real estate valuations rise, Balmorhea’s by $35,140 and Toyah’s by $13,700. But mineral valuations there lost $50,380, leaving it with a net loss of $36,680, while Balmorhea’s mineral valuations fell $248,250, leaving it with a loss of $213,110. Toyah’s total valuation is $1.75 million, while Balmorhea’s valuations were put at $3.46 million

Balmorhea ISD saw its mineral values fall by $822,120, but a $1.14 million boost in real estate left overall valuations up $319,000. Total valuation there came to $25.3 million Markham said the losses in mineral valuations in southern Reeves County were due to valuations on electric meters being rendered twice by mistake in the Balmorhea area last year.

The other taxing entity in the county, Reeves County Water Improvement District No. 2, saw its valuations rise by $146,610, to $3.4 million. Of that, $94,470 was due to increases in mineral valuations.

Mineral valuations in the final 2004 totals for the school district and the county and hospital district were the only ones to show increases, though only P-B-T ISD showed a net gain from the original 2004 numbers, of $9,260. Town of Pecos City again suffered the most, losing $318,000 over the original 2004 estimates released last summer. However, Markham said those types of declines weren’t unusual.

“We came out better than we did a long time,” Markham said of the revised 2004 figures, despite the decreases. She said the drops in real estate there could be due in part to the increased number of over 65 homestead exemptions.

“We’re getting a lot of people signed up as homesteaders,” Markham said, while others may have turned 65 and qualified for the exemption after last year’s assessments were made.

N.M. man’s school plan blocks Toyah home work

Residents of Toyah are not very happy with a New Mexico man who they say has thwarted their efforts to restore their homes following a flood that hit the small community in April of last year.

“It’s because of him that our project of building new homes for the residences has been put on hold,” said City of Toyah Mayor Sandra Terry.

Terry said that Lane DeWitt, a Santa Fe, N.M. resident who purchased the old Toyah school and gym eight years ago, had made some false accusations against one of the residences of Toyah.

DeWitt said in a phone call and e-mail earlier this month that he was attempting to get the nearly 100-year-old building included on the National Register of Historic Places, and that decision could be made by the Texas Historical Commission in October.

“I have been working with Toyah Mayor Sandy Terry, Reeves County Preservation Officer Jimmy Galindo and the Texas Historical Commission to this a reality,” DeWitt wrote in his July 5 e-mail. “There is a meeting in Austin in October to finalize this process to a successful conclusion.”

However, Terry said DeWitt’s talks with federal officials ended up hurting one local resident whose property adjoined DeWitt’s land at the old school site.

“He made accusations against one of our residents to HUD in Washington, D.C., that caused her to be audited,” said Terry, referring to Toyah resident Elpidia Valdez. “She was cleared of all those accusations, but because of this, they are auditing all the residents.”

Terry said that a TDHCA audit will be conducted the last week of July and that the whole project had been put on hold.

“All the accusations were proven wrong and no, I’m not working with him,” said Terry. “I don’t even want to be associated with him.”

“I have not spoken to this man in several months and have no intention of doing so,” she added.

Galindo, who is also the Reeves County Judge, also said he had not been in contact with DeWitt and did not know anything about the National Register of Historical Places designation effort.

Toyah homes were damaged, some severely, when a 61-year-old levee on the northwest side of the city broke in the early morning hours of April 4, 2004, causing water to flood the small community. A number of homes were condemned and torn down due to the flood damage, and the flood waters were later cited as a contributing cause of the June 2004 collapse of the old Toyah State Bank building, which was built about the same time as the Toyah school building owned by DeWitt.

Terry said that she and all the residents of Toyah were upset because the entire home rebuilding project has been put on hold and they don’t know until when.

Terry said that DeWitt had been a guest on radio station KIUN’s Pecos Talking and had stated that he wanted to restore the old gym.

“At first he had told me he and his partner were going to make it into a bed and breakfast and then he said he was going to restore it and make it into an art studio,” said Terry. Terry said that the problems began when DeWitt found out that Valdez would be getting a new home after hers had been destroyed in the flood.

“He made all those accusations and the whole project has been put on hold because of him,” said Terry.

Valdez voiced her complaint about DeWitt on KWES-TV in a June 30 broadcast (a transcript is available on the Internet at DeWitt contacted the Enterprise the following week to talk about his plans to get the historic designation for the school, which has been unused for over 30 years.

“With a National Register listing, federal and state money will be made available to restore the school to original condition, which will bring in people to Toyah and help the local economy and restore a sense of history to Toyah,” DeWitt wrote in his e-mail. Terry said that DeWitt just wants to own the entire block.

“Her house sits next to his building and he says he can get more funding if he owns the whole block,” said Terry. “At first he wanted her house because he said that it was a historic teacher’s home, but that proved to be false also.”

“He just wants to own the whole block,” she added.

Terry said that he had bought three houses on that block and stated that he was going to restore them. “But he promptly moved them out, he just wanted the lot,” she said. Terry said that he was just trying to bombard this part of the country.

“This man purchased that old gym eight years ago, and the only thing he has done to it, was when he was forced to clean it up by the City of Toyah,” said Terry.

Terry said that has been in contact with Congressman Henry Bonilla and State Sen. Frank Madla to help them with the dilemma.

“I talked to the Department of Housing and they said it would take 30-90 days before anyone will get a home, because of this one individual,” said Terry. “They couldn’t clear one person.”

Terry said that right now they know of one person for sure that will not be getting a new home, because they are over-income. “And this was one of the worst hit houses in this town,” she said.

Reeves County Commissioners last week voted to seek colonias designation for Toyah. The low-income designation for the city would allow it to qualify for water and sewer funding aid.

DeWitt’s appearance on KIUN was this past Monday and resulted in Valdez writing a letter to both the radio station and the Enterprise in which she responds to DeWitt’s comments.

“Mr. DeWitt purchased the old gym back in 1999 with intentions of remodeling it and turning it into an art studio,” she wrote. “So far he has done absolutely nothing to the building, which is in ruins and ready to collapse, especially since the flood of April 4, that destroyed several of the homes in Toyah. It is nothing more than a home to the many bats, pigeons, and owls that live in Toyah and the building should be condemned by the Fire Marshal, as it is an attraction to many of the teenagers from the surrounding areas. I personally witnessed this and alerted the local law enforcement, who escorted several teenagers out of the dangerous building.

Her letter goes on to detail the problems she says have been caused by DeWitt, echoing those claims made by Terry.

“Mr. DeWitt’s personal vendetta against me has caused unnecessary hardship to everyone anxiously awaiting the construction of their new home,” Valdez wrote. “Two of these families have been living out of their home since April of 2004. Another family who has a mentally challenged person living with them is facing unnecessary financial hardship. The rest of the homeowners have gutted out their homes and are living with family and friends.

“I only hope that Mr. DeWitt realizes the scope of the damage his actions have caused the good citizens of Toyah,” said Valdez.

Board adds science teacher, expands truant officer role

A new science teacher will be added to the staff at Pecos High School, and the part-time truancy officers position will go to fulltime, members of the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD school board decided last week.

The group approved both items during their regular meeting held Thursday, July 14, in the Technology Center.

“I found out we can get his funded with Title money,” said PBT-ISD Superintendent Ray Matthews, while telling board members the district officials felt an additional science teacher was needed at Pecos High School.

“We’ve already posted it, but if the board doesn’t approve it we can take if out,” said Matthews. “I think we need that position.”

“We did dissolve another position at another campus, so we have those funds,” said finance director Cookie Canon.

The group approved making the part-time truancy officer into a full-time position. “We checked on this and can it funded out of Title I funds,” said Matthews. “We can really use him full-time.”

Board members also approved Longhorn Safety Compliance Services, Inc. to handle the district’s drug testing.

The board has previously approved a drug testing policy and the second reading on the policy was held during last week’s regular board meeting.

During the second reading of the policy, board member Amy Miller stated that she felt the “three strikes” rule; beginning with those in junior high was kind of harsh. “They may make a mistake in junior high and then in high school learn from it and still have those strikes against them,” said Miller.

The policy reads that the students will be given only three chances and if they violate the policy three times they won’t be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

“This seems a little harsh to me, because what if someone really reforms,” said Miller. “Maybe they should apply for junior high only and then start over in high school,” said Miller.

“I’m not for giving them another three chances in high school,” said board member Bubba Williams.

Matthews said that to him if they get caught three times, they’re out.

Board members opted to leave the policy as it was read the first time.

The policy states that all offenses are cumulative for the student’s enrollment in grades 7-12 in the district.

First offense: The parent-guardian shall be contacted after the first offense. The student shall be suspended from participation in all extracurricular activities, including practice, and/or being allowed to drive a vehicle on campus for 30 school days and shall complete a district-approved drug/alcohol counseling service at parent-student expense.

Suspensions shall extend to the following semester and/or school year if not completed prior to the end of a semester. Between semesters and/or school years, only school holidays or summer vacation days on which an extracurricular activity, including practice, is scheduled shall be included in and count towards the suspension days. Following the suspension, the student shall participate in the subsequent three random test periods.

Second offense: The parent-guardian contacted shall be contacted after the second offense. The student shall be suspended from participation in all extracurricular activities, including practice, and/or being allowed to drive a vehicle on campus for 90 school days and shall complete a district-approved drug-alcohol counseling service at parent/student expense. Suspensions shall extend to the following semester and/or school year if not completed prior to the end of a semester. Between semesters and school years, only school holidays or summer vacation days on which an extracurricular activity, including practice, is scheduled shall be included in and count towards the suspension days.

Following the suspension, the student shall participate in the subsequent three random test periods.

Third Offense: The parent/guardian shall be contacted after the third offense. The student shall be suspended from all extracurricular activities, including practice, and/or being allowed to drive a vehicle on campus for the remainder of the student’s school career. Reinstatement: Before a student is readmitted to participate in extracurricular activities and/or allowed to drive a vehicle on campus after the first or second offense, the student must complete a counseling service deemed appropriate by the district, and undergo a follow-up drug/alcohol test. A nurse will administer the drug/alcohol test and if results are negative, the student will be reinstated. If test results are positive, the consequences for the appropriate offense shall apply and the student shall not be reinstated until a subsequent test result is negative.

Man faces hearing following 2,200 pound pot bust

A Pecos man was facing a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Durwood Edwards in Alpine on Thursday, after being arrested by Border Patrol agents last Friday as he allegedly tried to smuggle over a ton of marijuana into the United States.

Juan Carlos Madrigal, 28, was arraigned in Alpine last Friday, after being arrested on a ranch between Marfa and Candelaria in Presidio County. According to a press release from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, the incident began when agents were alerted by a rancher to a vehicle on his property south of Marfa. Agents had already been looking for traffic on FM 2810, which runs from the Candelaria area of southwestern Presidio County to Marfa.

Agents found a 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche stopped on the ranch with a flat tire, and with 2,200 pounds of marijuana inside the vehicle. The marijuana had an estimated street value of $1.7 million.

Agents then began a search of the area and found Madrigal hiding about 400 yards away. Madrigal, a U.S. Citizen originally from California, had the keys to the vehicle in his pocket, according to the Border Patrol agents.

The driver, the vehicle and the marijuana were turned over to agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and a detention hearing for Madrigal was scheduled for July 21 in Alpine.

Since January 1, 2005, Agents of the Marfa Sector have seized over $42 million in drugs including over 46,000 pounds of marijuana. The Sector has also apprehended 6,480 illegal aliens during the same period.

Pecos jury’s $7.5m judgment against restaurant is appealed

Lawyers for the parent company of On the Border restaurants have filed an appeal of a Pecos jury’s verdict in May awarding $7.5 million to the families of two men from Pecos and Monahans who were killed in a January 2004 accident in Midland.

Brinker International, operator of On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina in Midland, filed their notice of appeal on Monday with the 143rd District Clerk’s office in Pecos. The company is appealing the amount of damages awarded to the families of Ruben Pando Jr. or Monahans and Felipe Ornelas Jr. of Pecos, who were killed when the car they were riding in was struck by another vehicle whose driver had been drinking at the restaurant’s bar just prior to the accident.

Alejandro Ruben Pando Jr., the 20-month-old son of Ruben Pando Jr., was awarded $5 million in damages on Tuesday, while Marlene Muniz and Isaac Ornelas, the widow and son of Ornelas, were awarded $2.5 million by the 143rd District Court jury in Pecos. The damages were awarded after Brinker admitted culpability in serving.

Diane Zamora too much alcohol while she was at the Midland On the Border restaurant. Zamora’s Mitsubishi Montero SUV ran a red light while westbound near downtown Midland on the night of January 9, 2004, and hit a southbound Ford Thunderbird broadside at Front Street and Lamesa Road on the southeast side of Midland, killing the 20-year-old Ornelas, the driver of the Thunderbird, and Pando, 28.

The appeal, filed by Midland attorney Rick D. Davis Jr. and attorneys Donald M. Hunt and Lawrence M. Doss of Lubbock, challenges the amount of money awarded by jurors to the two families. During closing arguments in the trial, Davis asked jurors to award Marlene Muniz a combined $300,000 and $560,000 to Alejandro Pando.

In contrast, attorneys Joe Luis Garriga of Odessa and Pecos attorney Bill Weinacht asked jurors to award the families a combined $32 million in damages, with $14.6 million going to the family or Ornelas and $17.4 million to the Pandos.

Garriga and Weinacht were two of the four lawyers representing the families. Notices of the intent to appeal were sent out by Brinker’s lawyers to both men, and to attorneys Amos Barton of Kerrville and Jon J. Bailey of San Angelo.

Davis based his argument for the lower judgments on family problems both Ornelas and Pando were having at the time of their deaths. Jurors did agree with Davis’ argument that Alejandro Ruben Pando Jr. should be awarded no money for past mental anguish, since he was born only six weeks before his father was killed.

While the jury verdict was returned on May 24 in Pecos, 143rd District Court Judge Bob Parks did not sign the final judgment order until June 17. Brinker then had 31 days to file an appeal in the case and did so on July 18, the final day prior to the deadline.

The suit was separate from the criminal case against Zamora, who was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 27 months in state prison following trial in 385th District Court in Midland in June of 2004.

Reynolds surprised with 80th birthday party

Norma Gene Reynolds was surprised by a large crowd of friends and family as they secretly gathered at the Fellowship Hall of the 4th and Bois D’Arc Church of Christ on Saturday, May 28, to honor her on her 80th birthday.

Reynolds was on her way to the church to have a new directory photograph taken, not knowing that the group was going to surprise her.

The celebration was “plotted and planned” by Norma Gene’s granddaughters, Kelvia Reynolds Smith and Gabriella Reynolds Brown, both of Odessa. They were assisted by their mother, Danny Marlene Wall, and their sister, Dana M. Wall, also both of Odessa. The Red Hat Society Theme used and carried out on the serving table and one each table used for the guest’s seating. Norma Gene became really suspicious after she realized that some of those people wouldn’t be here for photographs for the new pictorial church directory. Then everyone began singing Happy Birthday to her.

An array of refreshments were served including fresh fruit, cookies, bars, tiered birthday cake, punch and coffee but the extra-special treat, especially for Norma Gene, was a chocolate fountain with plenty of fresh strawberries. This was in celebration of the honoree’s love for chocolate and strawberries.

Many special guests from her church family, bridge club, and senior citizens group attended.

Special stories of Norma Gene were related by numerous persons in attendance as well as several sent by letter. Those included one from granddaughter, Kirsten Thomas of Red Wood City, Calif., aunt Ruby Lee Wheeler of Sarepta, LA., and her sister-in-law, Dale Mayer of Morrilton, AR. Other correspondence came from numerous people who did not know of the surprise party.

The family members who were able to attend were son and wife, Danny and Gwenda Reynolds of Brownfield, son and family, Randy and Lisa Reynolds, Amie and Alyson of Pecos, granddaughters, Kelvia Smith, Gabriella Brown and Danna M. Wall, their mother, Danny Marlene Wall, all of Odessa, and great grandsons, Cody, Brock, Bryce and Avery, all of Odessa.

Norma Gene’s special birthday present from family and friends will be a trip to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry in September. She will be accompanied by Kelvia, Gabriella, Danna and Danny Marlene.

Dr. Elvia Reynolds and the former Norma Gene Whitehead of Lewsville, AR were married on Aug. 4, 1942 in Texarkana, AR and celebrated their 60th anniversary in 2002. The honoree has resided in Pecos for 51 years.

The hostesses expressed special appreciation to the 4th and Bois D’Arc Church of Christ for the use of the Fellowship Hall.

Sandoval, Lujan announce July wedding plans

George and Maria Villanueva and Santos and Emelia Sandoval announce the engagement and approaching marriage of their daughter, Maritza Sandoval to Rafael Lujan.

Lujan is the son of Romelia and Ricardo Lujan of Pecos. He is a 2002 graduate of Pecos High School and is currently employed as an electrician helper with Saulsburg Electric Co.

The bride to be is a 2004 graduate of Pecos High School, attended Angelo State University and is employed with the Reeves County Teachers Credit Union as a clerk. The couple plan to wed at 3 p.m., Saturday, July 23, at the First Baptist Church with Carlos Porras officiating.

Maid of Honor will be Myra Payen; flower girls will be Kary and Reanne, sister of the bride and niece of the groom.

Ricardo Lujan Jr., the groom’s brother, will serve as Best Man. Ring Bearer will be the groom’s cousin, Jesse Medina of San Antonio.

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York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321

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