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Friday, December 9, 2005

Council approves increases to water sewer rates

Staff Writer

Town of Pecos City Council members approved without comment the final reading of the city’s water and sewer rate increase on Thursday, following a lengthy discussion on the rates for the ordinance’s first reading two days earlier.

The council voted 3-2 for the rate increase during Tuesday’s special meeting, with mayor pro-tem Gerald Tellez and councilmen Danny Rodriguez and Michael Benavides voting in favor, while councilman Frank Sanchez and councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela voting against. The vote for Thursday’s final reading was 3-1 in favor, with Valenzuela absent for the council’s regular meeting.

The 3-2 vote was the same split on the rate increase as in September, when the council tentatively voted for the sharp hikes in water and sewer rates to fund state-mandated projects to repair Pecos’ aging system. The final vote on the ordinance was delayed pending the city’s receiving a report analyzing the local water and sewer system, which arrived just after Thanksgiving.

The plan approved increases the base water rate for residential customers on a scale between 2006 and 2011, with a minimum rate that would also apply to the first 2,000 gallons of water used by persons 65 and older.

Average water rates, based on 7,500 gallons monthly usage for residential customers will rise from $15.74 to $27.35, while families using 10,000 gallons of water a month will see their rates jump from $20.21 to $33.80. Rates for commercial customers using that amount will go from $35.64 to $46.50, while the city’s single-largest user, the Reeves County Detention Center, will see its monthly bill increase from $19,565 to $23,072

. Sewer rates will have an $11 minimum monthly bill starting in 2006, which will rise to $13 in 2008 and $14 in 2010. Volumetric rates above the minimum will begin at $2.74 next year, rise 25 cents in 2007, then drop back down five cents in 2008 before rising to $3.93 cents for each additional 1,000 gallons of wastewater.

The combined average monthly residential bill will rise by about $28, according to Nalissa Fullerton with Water Resources Management, who presented the results of the company’s water rate study to the council last week.

Fullerton and city manager Joseph Torres said the sharp rate increases were the result of the city failing to do anything to increase rates over the past five years, with repairs looming to the city’s water and sewer lines, along with the replacement of the wastewater treatment plant within the next five years. At the same time, the city will also assume responsibility for a $422,000 annual loan repayment currently being handled by Reeves County that was used to develop Pecos’ new South Worsham water field.

“We cannot defer maintenance any longer. We cannot defer maintenance until 2010,” Torres told the council.

Fullerton said the existing rates would underfund the current system by $635,000 in 2006, and by $1.34 million by 2011, while wastewater rates would be underfunded by $943,000 next year and by $1.7 million in 2011 if the new rates were not adopted. She added that failure to carry out the water and sewer improvements would leave the city open to fines of up to $10,000 a day by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The plan was criticized on two sides before finally being approved by the 3-2 vote. Sanchez and Valenzuela questioned whether local residents could afford the sharp increase, and if the increases could be instituted at a lower level, while County Judge Jimmy Galindo said the council was illegally using water and sewer funds to pay for city expenses in the General Fund, in violation of the agreement with the county on the South Worsham project.

Councilman Danny Rodriguez said the new rates could be re-evaluated quarterly or semi-annually, but Sanchez doubted any rate reduction would occur.

“That’s just taking the carrot out in front of the horse. You know you’re not going to lower rates,” he said.

“We need to have water. We need to have infrastructure. The repairs are desperately needed to our infrastructure,” Torres said. “I know it’s a hard decision, but if we’re going to continue to build up Pecos we need to have the public understand this situation.”

Galindo said he had talked with the county’s water consultant Barry Sarma, who voiced his concerns that the water and sewer funds should be used mainly for those purposes and not to help balance the city’s General Fund deficit.

“You’re killing the golden goose here,” he said, noting the county would be hardest hit by the rate hike, due to the RCDC’s water bill. “Unfortunately, the golden goose is getting a lot of blood drained out.”

Galindo said the city was only allowed to transfer $500,000 from the water and sewer funds to the General Fund, but instead was moving $1.17 million from both funds combined in the 2006 budget.

“Before you go up on your rates as much as you’re considering here, this is an indirect tax of $670,000 that impacts senior citizens, impacts businesses and impacts families,” he said. “We’re impacting future developments in this community if the water rates are too high.”

City attorney Scott Johnson disagreed with Galindo’s numbers, saying the $500,000 transfer limit applied only to the water rate transfer, not to the combined water and sewer fund transfers into the General Fund. During the Nov. 30 meeting, Fullerton said transfer of water and sewer funds into the General Fund was allowable under state law, when the money was used to fund water and sewer department expenses that are operated under the General Fund.

“This is the first time you’re breaking this out,” Galindo said. “And it’s a deliberate vehicle to an indirect tax.”

City finance director Sam Contreras said the use of the money for the General Fund was chosen over an increase in the property tax because a one cent increase in that tax would gain the city only an addition $11,000 in revenues, and that the water and sewer rate increase was more equitable for the community by spreading the cost around.

Galindo said the city needs to consider either additional budget cuts or increases in property taxes to avoid the water and sewer fund transfers, while Contreras and Torres said they had made all cuts possible in the new budget without laying off city workers including those in the water and sewer projects.

“Edgardo (Madrid, city utilities director) has had his projects scaled down considerably,” Contreras said. “He said this is the minimum, we can’t go any farther.”

“I cannot make up that money. There would be 20 something employees I’d need to lay off to make up the $600,000,” Madrid said.

“The General Fund doesn’t have that much money in it. That’s why we made these transfers,” he said. “Next year (2007) when we take over operations of the landfill, that will generate $200,000 to $250,000 more, and then I hope we can reduce that transfer.” “I don’t have any specific answers, but just going back to 1980 when we had about 12,000 people in Pecos. We’ve lost about a third of that, and I don’t know if we have the same number of people on (city) staff,” Sanchez said. “I’m not saying lay off people, I’m saying to look at options. The public is coming to me at my home and at school and they say we’re too top-heavy.

Madrid said that while the city’s population has declined in the past 20 years, “We still have the same water wells, the same sewer line and the same wastewater treatment plant. They need maintenance.

“I think if there had been some repairs in the 1980s, some in the 90s and some around 2000 maybe we would not have needed all these repairs now,” said Mayor Dot Stafford. “Like Mr. Galindo said, we should have done it five years ago,” Rodriguez said. “I’m guilty of not doing it five years ago, but we can’t put it off any longer.”

“I don’t like to raise the rates, but we haven’t done anything for the last 10 years. If we don’t do something, bad things are going to happen,” he said. “On maintenance, like it or don’t like it, we have to continue it.”

“As soon as we raise the rates the public will demand we control our spending,” said Tellez just prior to the 3-2 vote. “They’ll demand we control spending, or they’ll find somebody else to represent them.”

Fund transfers could spark suit from county

Staff Writer

Reeves County will consider a legal challenge to the Town of Pecos City’s increase in water and sewer rates, based on the transfer of water and sewer funds to the city’s general fund above the amount allowed in a five-year-old agreement between the city and county.

“I don’t see any other choice,” said Reeves County Judge Jimmy Galindo on Thursday, following the council’s final approval of the measure. He said the increase, the fund transfers and their effect on the 2000 agreement would be discussed by county commissioners at their meeting on Monday morning at the Reeves County Courthouse.

Galindo argued during a meeting on the water rates on Nov. 30 and again on Tuesday that under the agreement between Reeves County and the Town of Pecos City signed five years ago, the county would make repayments on the first 10 years of a 20-year loan used to fund construction of the new South Worsham Water Field. The agreement was worked out in order to provide adequate water supplies to both city customers and to the Reeves County Detention Center, which accounts for17 percent of the city’s water use.

However, Galindo said the deal also limited transfer of water and sewer funds by the city to the general fund to only $500,000 per year. He said under the new water ordinance, $500,000 is being transferred to the general fund from the water rate fund, while another $670,000 is going to the general fund from the sewer rate revenues.

“This is a breach of our agreement, and it’s an indirect tax of 55 cents to the whole community,” Galindo said. “Not only does this represent a breach, but they’ve been breaching the agreement for the last three years.”

Galindo said the water and sewer rate funds should be kept to fund the cost of the state-mandated city infrastructure projects, and to build up a fund towards 2011, when Pecos will take over the annual $422,000 loan repayment for the South Worsham water field. “Under this plan, there’s nothing that moves the city closer to assuming that agreement,” he said on Thursday. “It leaves us to assume that when it comes time to take up the payment, they’re going to have to raise the rates again.”

“They’ve got $9 million in wastewater (infrastructure) work they know they need to do, and they’re siphoning off $670,000,” he said. “Without making further allocations for assuming the payments, and without making appropriate allocations for wastewater treatment, if this allocation is not made, five years from now the community will be facing rate shock.”

More hopefuls take steps towards entering primary

Staff Writer

Two more individuals have filed his treasurer’s designation to run for office during the March Democratic Party primary elections, while another candidate filed with the Democratic Party Chairman.

Town of Pecos City finance director Sam Contreras filed his treasurer’s designation with the Reeves County Clerk to run for the office of Reeves County Judge, naming himself as treasurer.

Also filing their treasurer’s designation was incumbent Heriberto “Eddie” Rodriguez, who filed for a new term as constable for Precinct 4.

Meanwhile Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 Jim Riley has filed with Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Dean to retain his seat. Riley was first elected to the position in 2002. He joins three other incumbents who have filed to run for new terms in the March Democratic Party primary election, while one candidate already has filed with Dean to see the position of Reeves County Judge.

The one-month filing period opened on Saturday and the first challenger to file with Dean was Al Gomez, who is seeking the position county judge currently held by Jimmy Galindo. Gomez filed his treasurer ‘s designation about two months ago and filed on Monday with Dean to seek a four-year term in office.

The other incumbents who have filed include Linda Clark, who is seeking re-election to her current position that of Reeves County Treasurer; Walter Holcombe, who is running for a new term as Reeves County Court-at -Law judge; and Norman Hill, who is seeking re-election for Reeves County Commissioner Precinct 2.

Individuals who would like to file for a position can contact Dean at 940-4944. He will also set up a temporary office at the old Greyhound bus station at Third and Cypress streets, and will have the appropriate paperwork to fill out on hand.

The other positions up for re-election include Reeves County Clerk, District Clerk, Reeves County Precinct 4 Commissioner and the unexpired term of the Reeves County Attorney. Voters will also elect candidates for the county’s four Justice of the Peace positions, and will have primary elections in several regional races, along with the governor’s race, the race for U.S. Senate, along with other statewide and regional positions.

The last day to file for a position will be Jan. 2.

Crowd small for Air Force RBTI hearing

Staff Writer

U.S. Air Force officials held a public hearing before a small crowd Wednesday evening at Pecos High School on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Realistic Bomber Training Initiative Proposal.

The RBTI involves low-level training flights by the USAF over Reeves County and the surrounding area. Wednesday’s hearing was to deal with and questions about the effects high-speed bombers may have on areas beneath the flight path.

The Supplemental EIS clarifies and adds to the Final EIS with regard to two topics (wake vortex impacts on ground structures and aeronautical information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration) as required by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals order filed Oct. 12, 2004.

“There are two issues that will be specifically addressed,” said Brandon Pollachek, Public Affairs Officer from the Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene.

The Supplemental EIS report states that wake vortices, except under rare atmospheric and wind conditions from standard B-52 and B-1B low-altitude flights, fail to generate sufficient wind velocities to damage ground structures and vehicles, or pose a hazard to people or animals on the surface.

Wednesday’s hearing was to give area residents a chance to comment on that supplemental EIS report.

The meeting began with an Air Force open house with displays, then the representatives gave a presentation on the analysis and a public hearing comment session concluded the evening’s events.

“We’re going to give the public a chance to ask questions and voice their concerns,” said Pollachek.

The Realistic Bomber Training Initiative (RBTI) provides electronic bomber training for B-1B and B-52 aircrews from Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Barksdale AFB in Shreveport, La.

After issuance of the Air Force’s prpposal in 2000, the Davis Mountains Trans-Pecos Heritage Association and Buster Welch et al sued the Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration, alleging the Air Force and FAA failed to comply with the requirements of NEPA.

In March 2003, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Lubbock Division, dismissed both lawsuits. The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 2004. One of the plaintiffs also filed a separate petition in the Fifth Circuit alleging that the FAA had failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act in approving the RBTI airspace.

In a single opinion covering both the Air Force and FAA cases, the Court of Appeals upheld the adequacy of the RBTI Final EIS in most respects, but “remanded the Air Force and FAA to prepare a Supplemental EIS which adequately addresses wake vortex impacts and the FAA comments as required by Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and Air Force regulations.”

“This Supplemental EIS has been prepared to comply with the court’s order,” said Cheryl Parker, Air Combat Command of Air Force Base in Virginia.

Officials suspect suicide in trooper’s death

Pecos police are conducting an investigation into the death of a Department of Public Safety trooper, with preliminary indications that the death was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Police were called out Wednesday morning after the body of 37-year-old Romeo Garza was found at his house in Pecos.

“The Department of Public Safety requested that the Pecos Police Department investigate in the death of Trooper Garza,” said Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney.

McKinney said that officers responded to Garza’s home at 9:32 a.m., Wednesday. “When officers responded, they found Garza to be deceased,” he said.

McKinney said that they then called the Texas Rangers and Rangers Bob Bullock and Jess Malone, of the Midland DPS office were assisting in the investigation.

“An autopsy has been ordered by Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Amonario Ramon,” said McKinney.

McKinney said that Garza was alone at the time of the incident.

“In our initial investigation, evidence that we have before us today, shows that it was a self-inflicted gun shot wound,” he said, while adding that a positive determination would not be complete until they receive the autopsy report back.

“A .357 automatic was found by the body,” said McKinney.

Pecos Funeral Home transported Garza’s body, first to their building, before being transferred to El Paso.

Garza’s death comes a year after he was arrested while stationed with the DPS in South Texas, following an attack on a Pharr police officer.

According to the McAllen Monitor, he was arrested on Dec. 14, 2004 after assaulting Pharr officer Rodolfo Diaz at Garza’s apartment, where Diaz had been called on a report of a family disturbance.

The Monitor reported that Diaz said Garza had red eyes and looked like he had been crying when he entered the home. Diaz then asked Garza about his wife and her whereabouts, after which Garza became uncooperative. Diaz said that when he entered the apartment to check on the woman, Garza pushed him twice, causing him to fall on a sofa inside the house. Garza pinned the officer down, but Diaz managed to call for backup.

Diaz was not injured. Pharr Police Chief Ruben Villescas said Garza’s wife also did not report any injuries and did not press charges, the Monitor reported.

Oglesby named Trail committee member for area

An representative from Pecos has been named to the board of the Heritage Trail Committee, which is designed to improve tourism in the 22 counties that the trail passes through in West Texas.

The group met last week and is comprised of counties stretching from Reeves County and the city of Pecos to Kimble County and Junction, in the Texas Hill Country. “A representative from Pecos, Bill Oglesby, was named to serve on the board,” said Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce Director Linda Gholson.

Attending the meeting from Pecos were Town of Pecos City Mayor Dot Stafford, Main Street Program Coordinator Tom Rivera, Oglesby and Gholson.

“Pecos will be hosting the regional meeting set for Jan. 12,” said Gholson. “All the representatives for the region will be coming in for that meeting.”

“It’s wonderful to have a representative from our area,” said Gholson.

Gholson said that Pecos had made an offer to host the main office of the Texas Pecos Trail. Other cities on the trail include Fort Stockton, Ozona, Sonora and Del Rio.

“You could make your best offer and list your best attributes and the group will consider all the offers,” said Gholson.

Several years ago, the State of Texas divided up the state on different trails for tourism funding purposes and Pecos falls in to this one, according to Gholson. The Texas Pecos Trail itself was established over 40 years ago, and is one of over a dozen trails throughout the state that are designed to promote tourism.

November District Court Report

143rd District Court (Ward, Reeves and Loving Counties) Judge Bob Parks, Judge Presiding Nov. 15-29, 2005 Civil Cases Filed: The following delinquent tax suits were filed:

Reeves County, et al vs. Oscar N. Goode, Deceased, et al.

Town of Pecos City, et al vs. Alicia Barreno, et al.

Reeves County, et al vs. Mrs. P. Rutledge, et al.

Town of Pecos City, et al vs. Jose Hernandez, et al.

Town of Pecos City, et al vs. Isabel Barron, Deceased, et al.

Town of Pecos City, et al vs. Ralph Orosco, et al.

Other Civil Cases Filed:

State of Texas vs. $13,240 U.S. Currency, notice of seizure and intended forfeiture.

State of Texas vs. 2002 Red Dodge Ram Pickup, notice of seizure and intended forfeiture.

State of Texas vs. $40,020 U.S. Currency, notice of seizure and intended forfeiture.

General Motors Acceptance Corporation vs. Alonzo Munoz, account-note-contract case.

State of Texas vs. $34,990 U.S. Currency, notice of seizure and intended forfeiture.

State of Texas vs. 2000 Tan Chevrolet Tahoe, notice of seizure and intended forfeiture.

Family cases filed:

Two family cases were filed either as a petition to adjudicate parentage or petition affecting parent-child relationship.

Six family cases were re-activated on motions to enforce or motions to modify or confirm child support or visitation.

Civil Cases Disposed:

David Rodriguez, Sr. vs. Hartford Underwriters Insurance

Company, et al, a breach of duty and good faith and fair dealing case, dismissed by agreement with prejudice 11-28-05.

Don Weinacht et al vs. Bill Weinacht, trespassing case, judgment was entered 11-21-05.

Darlene Vasquez vs. DaimlerChrysler Corporation, injury or damage involving motor vehicle case, removed to federal court 11-28-05.

Ten family cases were dismissed.

Five family cases had orders entered.

Criminal Cases:

State of Texas vs. Imelda Jimenez Garcia, original offense: forgery; Defendant filed a Motion to Amend State Jail Sentence which was overruled.

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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321

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