Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Funding sought by city to repair downtown area
By JON FULBRIGHT
Town of Pecos City Council members agreed to let city officials seek a infrastructure improvement grant for the downtown area under the Main Street Program during their regular meeting on Thursday at City Hall, and also awarded the city pharmaceutical bid and agreed to gauge interest in a proposed ambulance subscription service.
Main Street Program Executive Director Tom Rivera said the city had the option of seeking four types of grants through the Texas Capital Fund, though it could only obtain one grant at a time. For the first grant, Rivera said, “We could apply for up to $150,000 for the Main Street Program for capital improvements. We could either use it for the Main Street Program or the Downtown Improvement Program.
Rivera said the move would go towards improvements sought by city utilities director Edgardo Madrid in the downtown area.
“Edgardo has plans to replace the sewer lines downtown,” Rivera said. The sewers involved would be mainly along South Oak Street, where most of the downtown restoration effort is currently focused.
The city has worked in recent years on rebuilding the main sewer line along East Third Street through the downtown area, and the Texas Department of Transportation is planning a $1.4 million rebuilding project for Third Street through Pecos that includes a redesign of Third Street east of Cedar Street to improve the drainage.
“The deadline is between July and September, and I though we to run the sewer construction and make plans,” Madrid said. Matching funds for the project could be provided through in-kind services, such as use of city workers and equipment.
In addition to the sewer reconstruction, the money would go towards repairing downtown sidewalks and making them compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. TxDOT rebuilt sidewalks along Third and Cedar Streets several years ago to make them ADA compliant.
The ambulance subscription plan was discussed at the council’s previous meeting by Dennis Thorp of the Pecos EMS. Under the Lifeline program, ambulance costs for local residents during the year for local residents for a flat $60 fee. That would be about 10 percent of the cost of the average ambulance transport, he said, and would help cut into the local EMS service’s long-term deficit problems.
“We need to get the economics of scale,” said city finance director Sam Contreras. “If we don’t have a good turn-out, I don’t see where it would be cost-effective.”
Thorp said during the Feb. 24 meeting that the Odessa the program initially was used by only 1 percent of local residents, but that number increased after residents were given the option of attaching the fee to their monthly water bill. He said if 10 percent of local residents participated, that would give t he Pecos EMS an additional $42,000, based on 7,000 households in the city.
Contreras said along with participation, the city would also have to look at deposit funds and interest issues on the money during the time between payment and use of the funds for the EMS service.
“If enough people are interested, it may be a source of income to the ambulance service,” city attorney Scott Johnson said, and the council then agreed to send out a survey to local residents to gauge interest in the program.
The city's pharmaceutical bid for city workers was awarded to professional pharmacy in a 4-0 vote by the council. Council member Angelica Valenzuela, whose husband works for the company, and mayor Dot Stafford were not in attendance at Thursday’s meeting.
Contreras said Professional Pharmacy had the low bid for the contract, and has held the contract in the past, though the its bid and the other received, from Rediger’s Pharmacy, used different criteria. The Professional Pharmacy bid is based on the Texas Medicaid Maximum Allowable Cost, plus the Medicaid Basic Fee, while Rediger’s bid was based on the Average Wholesale Price minus 35 percent, plus $2.90 for generics.
The council also approved monthly bills, the juvenile and municipal court reports, and were updated by Johnson on the status of proposed regulation of the new mini-cycles and ATV vehicles on city streets.
“Chief (Clay) McKinney checked with other cities, and none of them have ordinances in place,” he said, while adding, “The legislature has a bill that would prohibit their use on city streets. So I think we should just wait and see what the legislature does, and if nothing’s passed, we can do a city ordinance.”
City’s sales tax rebate checks continue to rise
Sales tax collections continued their upward trend for the Town of Pecos City to start off 2004, according to figures released on Friday by Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s office.
March sales tax rebate checks, based on January’s local tax collections, were sent out on Friday, and showed Pecos received $66,004 as their 1 1/2-cent share of the state’s 8 1/4-cent sales tax. That represented a 15.2 percent increase over the $57,292 check the city received in March of 2004, and for the first quarter of 2005, the city’s tax rebate checks were up almost $40,000 over the same period a year ago.
The city received $183,620 for the January-March period last year, and has gotten back $221,066 so far this year, a rise of 20.39 percent.
One-sixth of the city’s 1 1/2-cent sales tax goes to fund the Pecos Economic Development Corp. For March, the PEDC will receive $11,001 from Austin.
Balmorhea joined Pecos in reporting a double-digit increase for both the month and the first quarter of 2005, but Toyah’s numbers were down sharply both for the month and for the first quarter of the year.
Balmorhea received $999 this month for its 1 1/2-cent sales tax, up 47.35 percent over last March’s check for $678. For the quarter, Balmorhea has gotten $2,952 back from Strayhorn’s office an increase of 31.73 percent over last year’s $2,241. Toyah’s March check for $189 was down 72.03 percent from last year’s $676 check and overall, the city had only gotten back $766 in sales tax money this year, down 44.53 percent from last year’s $1,380 total.
Also reporting a decline in their sales tax check was the Reeves County Hospital District. The hospital received $23,686 for its 1/2-cent sales tax, which was a drop of 2.25 percent from last year. For the first quarter of 2005, the hospital has gotten $82,384 back from Austin, which was down just under 1 percent from last year’s total of $83,199.
Increased oil and gas exploration and drilling activity in the Permian Basin helped almost all cities to the east of Pecos report double-digit increases in their sales tax rebate checks for the month. Midland received the single-largest check for the area, $1.825 million from its 1 1/2-cent sales tax, which was up 21.32 percent from March of 2004, while Odessa received a check for $1.26 million for its 1 1/4-cent sales tax rate, which was up 21.22 percent over a year ago.
Sales tax checks for March, for other area cities are listed below
Cities collecting 1-cent sales tax:
Andrews -- $74,626; Up 6.80 percent;
Kermit -- $27,487; Up 16.13 percent;
Wickett -- $4,369; Up 62.48 percent;
Wink -- $3,717; Down 30.39 percent.
Cities collecting 1 1/2-cent sales tax:
Alpine -- $67,024; Up 10.86 percent;
Crane -- $32,810; Up 38.65 percent.
Cities collecting 1 3/4-cent sales tax:
Marfa -- $15,771; Up 4.92 percent;
Van Horn -- $28,675; Up 4.03 percent.
Cities collection 2-cent sales tax:
Big Spring -- $297,706; Up 6.78 percent;
Fort Stockton -- $104,319; Up 13.48 percent;
Grandfalls $1,286; Down 1.24 percent
Monahans -- $66,873; Up 12.34 percent;
Presidio -- $20,717; Up 4.05 percent.
Statewide, the comptroller’s office sent out $221.5 million in tax rebate checks to cities and counties in Texas this month, which was 7.46 percent higher than a year ago. Houston received the largest check for any city in the state, $28.1 million, which was 8 percent higher than last year, while Dallas’ check was the second largest, at $14.2 million, which was 3.12 percent higher than a year ago.
County retains Austin attorney for 3rd lawsuit
By JON FULBRIGHT
Reeves County Commissioners on a 3-2 vote agreed to hire an Austin law firm to handle a third legal case against the county, after hearing an update from the firm’s lawyer who will handle all three cases in both state and federal court.
County Commissioners approved hiring the Austin-based firm, Allison, Bass and Associates, LLP to, to handle a worker’s compensation case due for trial in May, after being briefs on the case by attorney James R. Allison. He was hired last year by commissioners to represent them in a civil suit brought by local resident Robert L. Hanks, and Anita Baeza, who is suing Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo, Sheriff Andy Gomez and the county in a wrongful termination suit due to be heard in U.S. District Court in Pecos.
The 3-2 votes matched new commissioners Roy Alvarado and Saul Baeza against Galindo and the court’s two senior commissioners, Norman Hill and Hivi Rayos.
“I think from my perspective, we need legal representation for in all these cases for a variety of reasons,” Galindo said, with the focus centered on the upcoming worker’s compensation case, Cervantes v. Reeves County Detention Center.
“A lot of it took place before I came in. I want to take a look at it closer,” said Alvarado, who along with Baeza joined the commissioners court in January. He made his statement after an extended presentation by Allison and Reeves County Auditor Lynn Owens on the situations where the county can hire outside representation.
“I would hope your request to table is not an action to obstruct,” Galindo told Alvarado.
“I just want to look it over,” Alvarado said, while Rayos said “We need to decide on Cervantes today.”
After some additional discussion on the need to begin legal actions quickly to meet the mid-May court date, the commissioners voted first against tabling action on retaining Allison, Bass and Associates, and then voted to hire the firm to handle the Cervantes case.
The company already was representing Reeves County late last year when Hanks questioned the county’s hiring of outside attorneys during a Dec. 28 hearing in 143rd District Court. The hearing before Judge Bob Parks was on his allegations of financial mismanagement in connection with the Reeves County Detention Center, along with charges of violation of the state’s public information act, nepotism, conflict of interest and improperly reassigning county employees.
Parks dismissed on part of Hanks’ complaint after the hearing, which requested that Galindo, and commissioners Herman Tarin and Felipe Arredondo be removed from office for acts of incompetence and official misconduct. Tarin and Arredondo’s terms expired on Dec. 31, three days after Parks’ ruling.
Allison said Parks allowed the rest of the suit to go forward, but said it was subject to dismissal if there was no further action by Hanks within 60 days. He said that time limit has passed, but the complaint is still subject to continuation.
Hanks sent a letter to Owens on the date of the deadline saying he had been denied records connected with RCDC I and II, and complained to the two units’ business manager, James Martinez, in a March 2 letter that he was only allowed to send lists of vendors doing business with the prison after Feb. 18 of 2004.
Allison called Hanks’ initial allegations, “generalized and ambiguous,” while briefing commissioners on his opinion of their legal situation, and said the commissioners and Galindo had a right to be represented by attorneys using taxpayer funds.
He said on a couple of charges by Hanks, “There may be a misunderstanding in what the law is.” Allison said on the charge of shifting county workers, “There’s no right to continue to occupy the same position, even if you’ve been there for years.”
“It may be (Hanks) was thinking of the civil service terms of employment, where you can’t be terminated without a hearing” Allison said.
On the conflict of interest charge, he said, “Again the perception out there is if you work for the county you can’t have any business relationship with anyone who has a relationship with he county.”
He said if a commissioner or a family member had over a 10 percent relationship in a company dealing with the county or has a family member in that position, “you will have to disclose that relationship and abstain from voting.”
He said fiscal management of the county is vested in the commissioners and in the offices of Owens and County Treasurer Linda Clark, and involved the allocation of funds for the budget along with setting tax rates.
“Within that, the commissioners court has broad design to determine what are the necessary expenditures of the county,” he said. “You of course are responsible to the electorate. If they think you spent too much … they have the opportunity to vote on that in an election.”
Allison said in the Baeza case there also was no grounds for permanent employment in a job, but that suits were possible under federal job discrimination laws, while in the third suit, Cervantes v. Reeves County Detention Center, Allison said that under the law t he county attorney was not required to defend commissioners or other county officials, though a response to the lawsuit was filed by county attorney Louis Carrasco.
“If an outside attorney is hired, the decision has to be by the court that is the public need met? Is it in the interest of the taxpayers for this procedure to be done?” Allison said. After Alvarado first made his motion to table any action, Allison went on to say that the action could be justified in order to avoid putting all the legal costs onto the commissioners.
“The public has an interest and the public has a right to have both sides heard. If we had to do it out of our own pockets, I’m sure you’d quickly run out of resources,” Allison said. “I think you’d have a hard time getting anybody to serve.”
“This is the first time the county has taken action on our own to hire an attorney without our insurance company,” Owens said. “We need to determine for insurance concerns if we can be reimbursed for retaining Mr. Allison.”
Owens said his objection earlier to the retention of outside council was over questions about taxpayer funds being used for a criminal case. However, Allison said all three cases were being heard in civil court.
Workforce’s new jobless stats slashes total
The Texas Workforce Commission has eliminated reporting unemployment numbers for the Town of Pecos City, and 73 percent of Texas’ other cities, based on changes in reporting methodology officials said were mandated by the federal government.
In addition, officials said the new methodology is responsible for a downward revision of roughly 25 percent in the total number of jobs and the workforce within Reeves County, along with an increase of 2 to 3 percent in the county’s jobless rate during 2004 as compared with what the Texas Workforce Commission was reporting until Thursday, when the unemployment numbers for January 2005 were released.
According to the TWC, Reeves County’s workforce in January consisted of 4,020 workers, 3,596 of whom were employed. The 424 jobless workers gave the county an unemployment rate of 10.5 percent, which is an increase of 3.8 percent from the December unemployment numbers reported by the commission in late January.
However, officials with the TWC now say those numbers were not accurate, and have revised all of their job figures dating back to January of 2000, based they said on new census numbers received from the federal government.
Under the old formula, the TWC said December 2004 unemployment in Reeves County was 6.7 percent, with 5,231 people in the workforce and 4,881 employed. Under the new formula, the TWC says there were only 4,060 people in the county’s labor force last month, with 3,648 employed, and a jobless rate of 10.1 percent.
Taking similar numbers from 10 years ago, the TWC numbers would indicate one third of the county’s workforce has disappeared in the past decade. In January of 1995, the TWC reported 6,564 people in the labor force, and a total of 5,713 jobs, with an unemployment rate of 13 percent.
Robert Crawley, a labor market analyst for the TWC in Austin said changes in methodology by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics were the reasons behind the changes.
“It’s not necessarily that we were off on the numbers. The changes that have gone into the calculations prior to these numbers were because we were using 1990s census inputs,” he said.
Ken Levasseur, a senior economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said unemployment data based on the 2000 Census had been in use before now, but a change was made when an error was discovered in the secondary reporting procedure, which included numbers for smaller cities.
“The input data was subject to procession errors on information about workers living in group quarters, such as dormitory housing,” he said, while adding that would not affect people living in places such as prisons, “because they’re not in the workforce.”
However, Levasseur said due to the error, “We recommended states switch to the (federal) preferred procedure,” which only surveys cities with populations of 25,000 or more.
Crawley said the changes in methodology, “is to assure a more accurate list of employment data,” even if it does mean there will be no further to reports to any small cities in Texas on their monthly jobless totals.
Although there are no new numbers for unemployment in the Town of Pecos City, the TWC’s past numbers dating back to 1995 indicated the city’s workforce and total number of jobs was usually between 15 and 20 percent below that of Reeves County as a whole. In January of 1995, the TWC said Pecos had 5,170 workers and 4,480 with jobs. City unemployment was 14.7 percent, and over the years has usually come in between 1 and 2 percent above the jobless rate for the entire county.
Based on that, and on the new county numbers the TWC is using, the total workforce in Pecos for January would be between 3,200 and 3,400 people, and of that total between 2,950 and 3,100 would be employed. But city manager Joseph Torres said numbers like that wouldn’t jibe with several other numbers tracked by the city, including residential water connections.
“From what Sam (Contreras, city finance director) gave me, we have about 3,200 connections, which is a 9 1/2 percent drop in connections since 2000,” Torres said.
The 9 1/2 percent drop would match the loss of jobs in the period between 2000 and 2002 when Freeport McMoRan finished closing its Culberson County sulphur mine, Smithers Transportation Testing Center relocated operations to Laredo and McCain Foods bought and then closed the Anchor Foods plant in Pecos. But the 3,200 residential connections still being served would mean Pecos has roughly one worker for each residence in the city, based on the TWC’s figures.
“Unless we have a lot of senior citizen retirees, people on welfare or on Social Security disability benefits, that doesn’t sound right,” Torres said. “You need to look at the other indicators. The total number of people who vote, that’s an indicator; tax collections are an indicator, water connections are an indicator and sales taxes are another indicator.”
While Crawley said there had been no revisions in the local labor force statistics until now, based on the 2000 census numbers, the TWC did modify some area statistics in 2001, most notably Loving County. The county's labor force in the January 2001 report was listed at 145 workers, but that was before the 2000 U.S. Census figures showed Loving County's population had declined to only 58 people.
The TWC's revised numbers for the county released in March of 2001 showed a workforce of only 48 people, all but four of whom are employed, giving the county an 8.3 percent jobless rate. The January 2001 numbers listed seven people without jobs, but because of the much higher workforce number, the county's jobless rate was only listed at 4.8 percent.
“This not only impacts Texas, it impacts all states,” Crawley said, though Levasseur said that the secondary job numbers are still available, but would have to be modified by the states in order to be accurate.
“The states have the option of using this data for smaller cities, but it would take a lot of resources for them to use that data,” he said.
Torres said budget cuts for the Workforce Commission may have something to do with the cutback in reporting statistics. “They outsource their operations now through the Permian Basin Regional Planning Commission, so the money is a little tighter over there, too,” he said.
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321
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