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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, September 2, 2005

Water rates could jump by $10 or more a month

Staff Writer

Completing all the needed water and sewer projects for the Town of Pecos City outlined by a consultant would result in rate increases of over $60 a month on local residents, council members were told during a budget workshop last Saturday at City Hall.

On Wednesday, the council met again to discuss the situation, saying they would rather spread out the projects over a period of time and keep the increases as low as possible. But members also said cuts to other city departments and elimination of a proposed 3 percent pay increase for city employees would have to be considered if the increases are to be kept to a minimum.

The council last week was told implementing all the proposed projects would result in a $61 per month increase in water rates, which the members said was unworkable.

“People can’t even afford $10 a month,” said council member Frank Sanchez. The council was told each additional $10 in charges on the city’s water rates would bring in about $360,000 more per year.

City Utilities Director Edgardo Madrid said the work on the water and sewer projects can only be delayed for so long before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will come and mandate the repairs be made.

“The problem is on the sewer side, we’ve got TCEQ on health hazards,” Madrid said. “the good thing about the sewer line is we got a grant for this year, and in order to extend the scope of the project, we decided to do it in-house and use all the money on materials.” Councilman Frank Sanchez added that state officials have objected to the budget transfers. “We’ve been told by the state we can only transfer so much from the utility fund,” he said.

Madrid said by not hiring an outside contractor, he expects to extend work on the sewer repairs with the grant from 1 mile to 6.7 miles, including 140 manholes and 840 connections. However, he added that to do that, the city would have to hire five people to serve as a full-time construction crew.

“The lines are 50 years old,” said councilman Danny Rodriguez. “This is a priority. We need to put a hold on some of these other things, and we need to get the support of the people.”

Contreras also said aside from the water and sewer projects, the city was also facing sharp increases in fuel costs and utility rates due to the rise in oil and gas prices over the past several months.

“I talked with Tara Energy, and the price we negotiated last year has moved up significantly,” Contreras said. He put the increase in the 30 percent range, which led council members to call for a re-bid of the contract, when it comes up for renewal at the end of the year. But Contreras warned the council, “We’re probably not going to get a better rate than what we got.”

Aside from the rate increases, the council said cuts had to be made in the General Fund budget, which has been using money out of the utilities budget to balance its accounts. Last year, the city shifted $850,000 from utilities to the General Fund to balance that portion of the budget.

“I asked department heads to make cuts within their budgets,” Contreras said. “What I’d like to see is a list of priorities within the departments,” Councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela said. “I understand we’re talking about a tax increase and a water increase. But I can’t make a determination unless I know what projects we have in mind, and what we have in the future.

“I’d like to know from the departments what is a necessity. It would definitely help me decide whether we need to raise the water or tax rates,” she said.

“Right now we’re going to be $300,000 short because of projected revenue,” Madrid said. “If we really want to make this work we’re going to have to cut on the General Fund,” Madrid said, while Sanchez added “That doesn’t even count the contingency fund we need to set up for the water line replacement. A $10 increase won’t even make up the shortfall from last year.”

“We’ve already looked at 10 percent cuts across the board,” said Pecos City Manager Joseph Torres. “We know we need to work on roads, sewers, streets, and we can’t put it off without forcing some major environmental concerns.”

“If we continue to defer those and delay them, we’re going to face some major problems.”

Aside from the cuts within the departments, eliminating the proposed pay raises was also discussed.

“If we don’t give everyone a raise at 3 percent, we’ll reduce it by $160,000,” Contreras said.

“I think the people (city workers) would agree it’s better to make cuts than to lay off people,” Sanchez said.

“I think if you do it across the board it’s better for everybody. We can then come back next year when we’re in better shape,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Gerald Tellez. City officials said they would begin receiving about $300,000 in additional revenues in 2007, when they take over operation of the city’s landfill from Duncan Disposal.

Valenzuela asked if city workers from other departments could be shifted to the crews designated to handle the sewer construction work. However, Madrid said the sewer project would be a full time job for whoever is assigned to the work.

“If’ we’re going to borrow those personnel, it would be for two years,” Madrid said. Council members will go into more detail about the 2006 budget on Tuesday, during a special meeting of the council set for 5 p.m. at City Hall. The city must have its budget and tax rates approved by the end of the 2005 fiscal year on Sept. 30.

City’s ad valorem rate won’t rise by more than one cent

Lower-than-expected water usage revenues this year have left the Town of Pecos City with a $300,000 deficit in their budget, and facing additional costs for improvement of the city’s water and sewer systems in the near future with a tax base that declined by over $1 million from last year.

However, council members opted during a special meeting on Wednesday not to raise the city’s property tax rate above the effective tax rate level, and instead will rely on budget cuts, salary and hiring freezes and increases in the city’s utility rates to come up with a new budget for the 2006 fiscal year.

The council met Wednesday evening at City Hall facing a deadline of midnight on Thursday if they wanted to raise the current .80466 cent per $100 valuation rate above .811 cents, which is the rate calculated to bring in the same amount of ad valorem tax as a year ago, due to the $1.2 million decline in property taxes. The council had the option of raising rates to the rollback level of .86036 cents, but under state law that would have required the action be announced by September 1.

“If we look at no tax increase, we’re fine because we don’t have to publish any notice,” said councilman Frank Sanchez. “Whatever we propose tomorrow is what we’re going to have to adopt, or else we won’t be in compliance will all (state) regulations.”

He said under the state law, any increase above .811 set after Sept. 1 could be challenged in court and invalidated.

After nine years of no tax hikes, the council raised property tax rates to the rollback level last year, going from .69670 cents per $100 in valuations to .80466 cents. City finance director Sam Contreras said his department was looking at either an increase in the tax rate or an increase in user fees to close the budget gap, but said a user fee increase would be more inclusive.

“Not everybody owns property,” Contreras told the council. He explained that a one-cent increase in the property tax would only bring in an additional $14,000 a year.

“We’re trying not to do both, but that’s the council’s option,” Contreras said. However, the council questioned estimates about how much money increases in user fees would bring in.

“You’re speculating, and we can’t afford to speculate,” Sanchez said, pointing to the water revenues that were lower than projected this year. “Instead of $1.7 million on utilities, we got $1.3 million. That’s a $400,000 error. With an ad valorem tax we know how much will come in.”

City utilities director Edgardo Madrid said 115 million gallons less of water was used by city customers last year than the year before. Mayor Dot Stafford said the rainy weather last year, during which the city received more than double its annual projected rainfall total, led to less need for city water by homeowners.

“We need to go with the ad valorem and with the water fees, so we’ll know what we’re going to get,” said Sanchez. But after he left to teach a class at the Odessa College Training Center following a break in Wednesday’s meeting, council members opted not to seek any tax increase over the effective rate, after a further presentation by Contreras. “If you do it on the water rate, it only goes up one cent, and it captures a whole lot more people,” he said, citing the fact that the city still had to work out if 2006 fiscal year budget before officials will know how much money the city will need.

“If you set the tax rate it’s going to be so much more, but we don’t know what we’re going to cut it (the budget) down to,” he said.

Council members scheduled a meeting for 5 p.m. next Tuesday, Sept. 6, to further discuss the budget, and will meet at 7 a.m. the following day, Sept. 6, when the tax rate will officially be voted on as part of their regular meeting.

Katrina’s effects hit home for Toyah’s mayor, family

Staff Writers

Hurricane Katrina’s effects on the central Gulf Coast had special significance to Toyah Mayor Sandy Terry, who both has family in the affected area and had to deal with flooding in her city last year, when a levy broke in Toyah, flooding the north side of town.

Terry said she and her husband are from the Hattiesburg, Miss., area, and her daughter, Malia Triggs, still lives there. She said her daughter was able to contact her be cellphone to tell her about the damage caused by Katrina to the area.

“The storm lasted for six hours,” Terry said her daughter told her. It caused significant damage to the outside of her house, while destroying the nearby home of her father-in-law, Jack Trigg.

“It looked like bomb had hit the house,” Terry said. “That’s 80 miles from the coast, It’s just as bad inland.”

“It’s the worst thing she’s seen in her life,” she said. “She only has about eight trees left.” “My old home made it, thank goodness,” added Terry, who had had to deal with clean-up and rebuilding efforts in Toyah, since floodwaters on April 4, 2004 caused a levy along San Martine Draw to collapse, flooding the north side of the city and damaging or destroying two dozen homes.

Toyah’s levy break from the flood, which later collapsed the Interstate 20 bridge on Salt Draw, was similar to the one that affected the levy along the 17th Street canal in New Orleans, but on a far smaller scale and for a much shorter length of time.

“Water’s hit us, but then it was gone,” said Terry, who urged local residents who want to contribute to relief efforts to consider donations to the American Red Cross.

“If anybody wants to donate they should donate to Red Cross. They were wonderful to us in Toyah,” she said. “The Red Cross will get that to the people who need help.”

Locally, Catholic Daughters is also collecting relief funds for Kartina’s wind, rain and flood victims, while First Choice Power Co. is helping raise funds for the Red Cross’s hurricane relief fund.

First Choice’s parent, PNM Resources, announced its goal to raise $150,000 for American Red Cross disaster relief efforts. The company will match up to $75,000 in customer and employee contributions.

PNM and its Texas-New Mexico Power Company division also have crews traveling to the disaster area to restore electricity to an estimated 2.3 million customers. Crews from both divisions traveled to Florida last year, to aid in hurricane recovery efforts along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

“This is the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history and we feel an obligation as a company to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina every way we can,” said Jeff Sterba, PNM Resources chairman, president and CEO. “We’re asking our customers and employees to join us in helping so many who are in great need during this tragic time,” he said.

Customers wishing to donate can choose from the following options: Drop off a check made out to the American Red Cross at any First Choice walk-in customer service center.

Mail a check made out to the American Red Cross to: First Choice Power, Attn: Red Cross Relief, P.O. Box 2943, Fort Worth, Tx. 76113-2943.

In addition to supporting relief efforts through monetary contributions, First Choice employees also have converted several of its local payment centers into collection points for non-perishable food, diapers, toiletries, bottled water, phone and gas cards, and other supplies.

Office hours at the participation locations are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

State warns fuel sellers on post-storm gouging

From Staff and Wire Reports

Gasoline prices in Pecos and across Texas surged above the $3 level on Tuesday, as the result of the affect of Hurricane Katrina on oil production and refining along the Gulf Coast.

Prices rose 20 cents a gallon at most local service stations on Monday, and went up another 20 cents on Tuesday and Wednesday. The average price of regular unleaded gas in Pecos on Thursday was $2.95.9 cents a gallon, while the prices for mid-grade and premium gasoline surpassed the $3 mark.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office as received complaints about price gouging at the pumps from drivers. However, Abbott said while his office is looking for instances of consumers being overcharged at the pump, he said given the current conditions in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, the 40 cent a gallon prices increase over the past several days is not out of line.

“I understand Texas consumers are concerned about the rising cost of gasoline, however, with Hurricane Katrina, there has been a significant loss of production capacity in the Gulf of Mexico and refining capacity along the Gulf Coast. Prices will go up,” Abbott said a press release. “Rest assured, my office will diligently watch for the incidence of price-gouging at particular gas stations that seem out of step with generally prevailing market forces.”

The attorney general’s office said consumers may report what they believe to be gas price-gouging by calling their toll-free complaint line at (800) 252-8011, or by visiting the agency’s Web site at .

The storm has both shut down refineries along the Gulf Coast, as well as damaging offshore oil platforms and pipelines used to unload oil from tankers in the areas hardest hit by Katrina. On Wednesday, President Bush at the request of Citgo Petroleum ordered releases of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Southeast Texas to area refineries which are still operational, but which have been cut off from normal oil deliveries due to the hurricane’s damage.

"Although it is too early to know the total impact of Hurricane Katrina, it is clear that Gulf Coast refining and production will be affected. I would like to applaud President Bush for his leadership in releasing crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve," said Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones. "This action will bridge the gap in the coming weeks to help offset the current production that is temporarily offline."

About two dozen oil rigs in the Gulf were reported damaged or missing following the storm on Sunday and Monday, and oil companies today were still trying to account for workers not seen since this past weekend. But Jones said Katrina’s path stayed far enough east not to affect Texas offshore oil production.

"With the brunt of the storm hitting east of New Orleans, we have not seen any offshore rigs shut down in Texas waters," Com. Jones said. "Also, There are no known impacts to any of Texas' 25 refining facilities, which account for approximately 27% of total U.S capacity."

Texas Department of Transportation officials are looking at ways to offer aid to areas where roads were heavily damaged, and are warning drivers that major highways through the area will remain closed for a considerable length of time.

"At this point, we still have not been requested to send personnel and equipment," said Scott Alley, TxDOT's emergency management coordinator, "but we expect to be called once the search and rescue operations and other urgent matters have been handled."

TxDOT crews in the Beaumont District will be stopping any construction work on Interstate 10 to help traffic flow as buses begin moving evacuees from New Orleans to Houston, a process under way today.

Texas has agreed to take in an additional 25,000 Louisiana refugees from Hurricane Katrina and plans to house them in San Antonio, Gov. Rick Perry's office said Thursday. Louisiana requested that Texas provide shelter for the evacuees, and Perry has spoken with the mayor and county judge in San Antonio to begin making the plans, said Perry's spokesman, Robert Black.

"We don't know where, we don't know a timetable yet," Black said. More details were expected later Thursday.

The refugees are in addition to the approximately 25,000 that are being moved into the Astrodome in Houston, mostly from the Superdome in New Orleans.

The TxDOT travel information center on westbound I-10 will be open for the next 24 hours while shuttling evacuees are being moved to Houston. TxDOT employees will be helping to provide needed items such as bottled water.

I-10 remains closed east of Baton Rouge, La., but is open from the Texas state line to Baton Rouge. I-12 north of New Orleans also is closed.

TXDOT said the best eastbound routes from Texas are I-20 from Texas to Mississippi state line or U.S. 84 from Texas state line to Mississippi state line. U.S. 84 is closed in Mississippi from Collins to Waynesboro.

Police serve meth warrant, find new lab

A Pecos man charged with possession of methamphetamine in a January incident was arrested on a new drug charge Saturday night, as officers were trying to serve him with additional charges in connection with the January case.

James Wallace Fisher, 25, was one of two persons indicted by the 143rd District grand jury last week in connection with methamphetamine cases in Pecos earlier this year, Pecos Police investigator Kelly Davis said. Officers went to the room Fisher was staying in at the Pecos Inn on West Third Street at 11:49 p.m. on Saturday, to serve the warrant for sale the drug on Jan. 9 of this year.

Davis said when officers serving the warrant approached Fisher in the motel, he locked himself in his room and refused to come out. “A perimeter was established due to his previous connection to the meth lab and the last time he was arrested, he had a weapon,” Davis said.

Davis said SWAT team members were called out, and were assisted by Reeves County Sheriff’s Department and Department of Public Safety officers. Police then negotiated with Fisher for about three hours until he agreed to surrender to officers about 3:20 a.m. “The apartment was searched and additional meth lab equipment and a rifle was located,” Davis said. A DPS hazmat team was then contacted, and was at the motel room until about noon on Sunday removing the meth lab’s chemicals from inside.

“All hazmat chemicals were given to the hazmat recovery team,” Davis said. “Additional charges are pending on the new meth lab.”

Fisher was arrested in early January after a wide array of materials and chemicals used to make methamphetamine were found in a home at 1523 Johnson Street. Police investigator Paul Deishler said at the time it cost between $5,000 and $10,000 for the hazmat team out of El Paso to clean up the house following Fisher’s arrest.

A larger meth lab was located on the north side of Pecos in May, and one of the three persons arrested in that incident was also indicted by the 143rd District Court grand jury for sale of the drug.

Christopher Lee Cravey, 32, of 631 N. Cedar St., was arrested at 7:42 p.m. on Saturday in the 300 block of South Elm Street on the warrant, for an incident, which took place on May 13. Cravey, along with Barbara Cravey, 43, and Joe Arthur Salas, 27, were charged with possession of certain chemicals with intent to manufacture a controlled substance, a 3rd degree felony. Christopher Cravey was also charged at the time with possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine), a second-degree felony.

Police said the search of Cravey’s North Cedar Street home turned up methamphetamine oil worth about $60,000 inside the home along with chemicals used in the manufacturing of the drug.

RCH board supports 3-cent tax rate increase

Staff Writer

A year after lowing their tax rate by three cents, Reeves County Hospital District board members tentatively voted to raise the rate by three cents for the 2006 fiscal year, during a meeting on Tuesday at the hospital’s classroom.

Rising oil and gas valuations within the county lowered the effective tax rate last year, and resulted in the district lowering its tax rate from .38048 cents per $100 in valuations, to .35855 cents. That rate still brought in more money to the district than the previous rate did, due to the higher valuations, but even with valuations increasing for the district by another $34 million this year, all three board members in attendance Tuesday voted to raise the rate to .38602 cents per $100 in valuations.

“Frank (Seals) and I talked, and we recommend going to 38 cents,” said hospital administrator Bill Conder. Back in May, Seals, the hospital’s financial officer, briefed the board on the district’s 2004 audit, which showed a loss off $900,000 due to construction of the hospital’s new addition and the opening of the facility’s new kidney dialysis center. That was up from $100,000 in 2003, and the hospital’s cash-on-hand also dropped from $4 million to $1.1 million due to construction payments, though board members were told the cash-on-hand figure was still about double the amount of cash for other hospitals of the same size.

Lydia Prieto, who handles the district’s tax collections and tax rate calculations under a contract with the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, told the board they would have to hold two hearings in mid-September on the higher rate before it could be officially approved.

Prieto said due to the increase in valuations in the county, the effective tax rate for 2006 that would bring in the same amount of money as 2005 would be .33552 cents per $100 in valuations. She added that the first hearing on the higher tax rate would be on Thursday, Sept. 15 at the hospital, while the second would take place five days later, on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

The board’s newest member, Brenda McKinney, had to be sworn in to her new position as Precinct 1 representative before any action could be taken by the board on Tuesday, due to the lack of a quorum with board members Leo Hung and Terry Honacker absent from the meeting. McKinney was appointed last week to fill the unexpired term in Precinct 1 to replace Chel Flores, who died in July.

In other action on Tuesday, the board agreed on a new contract with the hospital’s radiologist, Dr. Alexander Kovac, following a 12-minute executive session. The board had been in negotiations with Kovac, who has handled radiology work at the hospital for many years, while weighing the option of going to a remote radiology set-up, where a technician in Pecos would transmit X-rays to a doctor in another location for diagnosis. The board also approved a new contract with Hunter Pharmacy to handle RCH pharmacy services. Conder said Hunter was the only company to bid on the contract, even though others had reported interest in handling the service.

Hunter has handled pharmacy services at RCH for the past four years, and Conder said the new bid came in at $4,250 a month. “That’s $350 a month less than last year,” he added.

“The have been very dependable and have done us a good job,” Conder said. “They also furnish the software, which costs between $12,000 and $20,000.”

Pecos, Balmorhea preparing for holiday weekend events

Staff Writer

Labor Day weekend events are scheduled for both Pecos and Balmorhea, with the 4th Annual Hawaiian Beach Party in Pecos on Friday and the 30th Annual Oasis of West Texas Labor Day Weekend Festival on Saturday in Balmorhea.

“Businesses are encouraged to participate and everyone is invited to dress Hawaiian this Friday for the annual Hawaiian day,” said Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce Director Linda Gholson.

She said that everyone is encouraged to visit the local businesses. “They have the opportunity to do whatever they want, decorate, serve refreshments or have specials throughout their place of business,” said Gholson.

Gholson said that she knew of one local facility that has already decorated and is ready for the big event.

“The Pecos Nursing Home is already decorated and is ready for Friday,” she said. “This is just a fun day and to give everyone the opportunity to visit the businesses and enjoy the last days of summer,” said Gholson.

A reception will be held that evening from 5-7 p.m., at the West of the Pecos Museum Courtyard and is sponsored by the West Texas National Bank.

“Everyone is welcome to attend the reception,” said Gholson, though she asked that those who attend the reception enter through the east or west gates of the courtyard and not to go through the front of the museum.

Awards will be handed out to the Most Creative and the Best Theme decorated business and an individual award to the “Great Kahuna.”

Gholson said that the schools have also been asked to participate and everyone is welcome to join in the fun.

“We’re looking forward to everyone participating and joining in the fun day activities,” she said.

In Balmorhea, the Oasis of West Texas Festival will mark its 30th anniversary on Saturday in Downtown Balmorhea and everyone is invited to attend the fun events. Booths will feature plenty of food, novelties and events will include a softball tournament, a bean cook-off, and adult balloon toss contest and music.

Music and entertainment will be provided by Roland Ybarra and Casas Entertainment. The event is directed by Keep Balmorhea Beautiful Committee and sponsors include: Hector Rodriguez at Carrasco’s Grocery; Valley Motel in Balmorhea; I-10 Travel Stop and Saddle; Crider Dairy, Inc.; Winkler County Credit Union; Rediger’s Pharmacy; Desert Distributors and Trans Pecos Banks - Pecos, Marathon, Alpine, Sierra Blanca and Iraan.

Board hires JH coach, retains $1.50 property tax rate

A new junior high coach was hired, the budget and tax rate adopted during a special meeting held by the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board.

Board members approved the budget and set the tax rate at $1.50. It’s the same rate the district has been at for the last eight years, and the maximum tax rate currently allowed by the state.

A public meeting was held to discuss the tax rate and the budget during the special meeting.

“The board approved the budget and $1.50 tax rate, so there will not be rollback election,” said PBT-ISD Superintendent Ray Matthews.

P-B-T ISD added almost $54 million in valuations this year, but the increase was not enough to trigger an automatic tax rollback vote at the current $1.50 rate.

The board discussed personnel, during the executive session held as part of the special meeting, and in open session announced their decision.

The board opted to hire Veronica Abila as a chemistry and physics teacher at Pecos High School and as a coach for the junior high.

Abila is certified in science, grades 8-12 and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree. She had previously been a teacher and coach in Kermit.

Board members also approved the hiring of Kelly Davis, a captain with the Pecos Police Department, part-time to teach a law enforcement class at the Pecos High School.

Two to participate in 16th of September Fiestas

Two young ladies will be participating in the 16th of September Fiestas in Pecos as this year’s queens.

The 16th of September Fiestas will be celebrated on Friday, Sept. 16 and Saturday, Sept. 17, in the parking lot in front of Santa Rosa Catholic Church.

This year’s queen participants include: Jessica Nunez. She is the 16-year-old daughter of Jeannette Matta and Jesse Nunez.

She has one sister, Veronica Orona; four brothers, Michael Orona, John Jess Nunez, Michael Angel and Joseph Daniel Nunez.

Miss Nunez is a member of Santa Rosa Catholic Church Parish and is a junior at Pecos High School.

She plays volleyball and enjoys listening to music and talking with friends. Her future goal is to graduate from college and become a massage therapist.

Sandra Orosco is the 15-year-old daughter of Maria and Jesus Orosco.

Miss Orosco has three brothers, Jesus, Alex and Julio Orosco.

She is a member of the Santa Rosa Catholic Church and is a sophomore at Pecos High School.

She is employed at Sonic Drive In and likes to participate in sports, talk on the phone, go out with friends and hang out with her mom and spend time with her boyfriend.

Her future plans are to go to college in Abilene and become a Border Patrol or a kindergarten teacher.

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