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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Top Stories

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Local races' early voting stays strong

Staff Writer

PECOS, Thurs., April 25, 2002 -- Early voting has been strong for the city, hospital and school  board elections and is winding down.

A large number of voters have took advantage of the two-week voting period and have cast their votes early in the election. As of Wedensday, a total of 739 people have voted by personal appearance. There were 361 ballots mailed out and 14 that have been returned, election clerks said.

Early voting is taking place at the Community Center, located at 510 S. Oak St., next door to the former Pecos Police Department offices. Early voting will continue until April 30.

Early voting is also underway in the Balmorhea city and Balmorhea ISD elections, and will also continue through April 30.

Voting is scheduled for May 4 at the different polling sites, including the Community Center for Pecos' local elections; the Balmorhea Fire Hall in Balmorhea for city, school and hospital elections; the Multipurpose Center in Saragosa and Toyah City Hall for those individuals in Toyah and for those voting in both the school and hospital races.

City elections in Toyah and Barstow are uncontested this year, but both the mayoral and council races in the Town of Pecos City and Balmorhea are contested this year, as is the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah and Balmorhea ISD board race. Under state law, both Toyah and Barstow can cancel their city elections in order to save money.

In the city election, Pecos Mayor Ray Ortega is being challenged by former mayor Dot Stafford, who he defeated two years ago. Ortega is seeking his second two-year term, while Stafford is seeking a third term as mayor.

In the city council race, newcomers Angelica Valenzuela and Michael Benavides are challenging Danny Rodriguez and Ricky Herrera.

In the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board election, both incumbents are seeking new terms. Billie Sadler has filed for a new three-year term on the school board, while Michele Galindo, who was elected last year to fill out an unexpired term on the board, is also seeking a full three-year term to that school board seat.

The two are challenged by Paul Deishler, who was defeated last year in his bid for a full-term on the school board, and Connie Herrera.

In the Reeves County Hospital District Board of Directors race, only one of the three races on May 4 will be contested. Jim Breese, of Pecos and Bill Wendt and Janelle Ward, both of Balmorhea, filed for the two-year term on the board for Precinct 3, currently held by Jesse Prieto. Prieto was unable to file to retain his seat, since he now lives in Precinct 2.

Incumbent at-large board member Leo Hung, and Precinct 1 board member Chel Florez are unopposed for re-election, but voters can still cast ballots in both those races.

In Balmorhea, Mayor Ruben Fuentez will be challenged by Balmorhea ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Saenz. In the city council race, Teresa "Terry" Barragan and Yolanda M. Hernandez are challenging incumbent councilmen Eddy Roman and Rosendo Galindo.

In the Balmorhea ISD race the three incumbents up for election are among five people seeking three-year terms on the board. Regina Lozano and Dora Machuca will challenge Jimmy Barragan, Jesus Matta and Javier Lozano in the May 4 election.

In Toyah, current Toyah Mayor Ann Marsh in unopposed in her re-election as is incumbent Sharon Sanchez on the city council and the only other candidate for the two available seats, Shaina R. Enmon.

In Barstow, Mayor Benny Hernandez and council incumbents Robert Ortega and Carol Gonzales are unopposed in their bids for new two-year terms.

Renovation work at high school causes driver delays

Staff Writer

PECOS, Thurs., April 25, 2002 -- Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD students are sure to have a  newer and better environment to learn in next school year thanks  to numerous renovations to be made this summer, though its  causing temporary problems for drivers on the north side of the Pecos  High School campus.

Anyone trying to go down Washington Street this week might have noticed a portion of it blocked off next to the high school.

P-B-T ISD Superintendent Don Love explained that the closing off of that portion of the street was due to the installation of more electrical cabling to the school in order to install separate air conditioning and heating units to each classroom.

The project is one of several the school district is undertaking, and Love is excited about the changes being made throughout the district, which are funded by rollback taxes and a grant awarded to the district.

"This is a one time opportunity," he said.

Love explained that the district's Technology Coordinator, Jodi Exum, applied for a grant through the state that would be used for school renovations.

Through the grant, the district received $780,000 after requesting $800,000.

In addition to the grant, Love said that the rest of the money comes from rollback taxes that the area taxpayers recently passed.

With the rollback taxes and the $780,000 grant the school district is able to spend over $2 million on renovations.

"It's going to give the schools a heck of a face lift," Love said.

Pecos High School Principal Danny Rodriguez credits Love for coming up with the idea that allowed the district to make the renovations.

"A lot of this goes to Mr. Love's idea to use rollback taxes," he said.

Love, Rodriguez and District Maintenance Director Joe Coody explained what a difference school staff and students should see by the beginning of next year.

Many may have already noticed some of the changes that have been made so far when they drive by the high school tennis courts, which were recently replaced.

Pecos Kindergarten has also received some renovations with new carpet and tiling.

The top priority, however, is removing asbestos from the schools, which they have already started at the high school.

"The main thing is we're getting the asbestos out of our schools," Love said.

Rodriguez explained that the asbestos has already been removed in the high school auditorium along with the asbestos in the ceilings and floor tiles of numerous classrooms.

Once all the asbestos is removed from the ceilings, the three men explained that the ceiling would be lowered with new lighting in efforts to make both the classrooms and senior and freshman hallways brighter.

Rodriguez also explained a little more of the plans to be done in the two hallways.

He said that the lockers in those hallways would be removed and 100 new lockers would replace them in each hallway.

Rodriguez said that often it is difficult to enter into the hallways with lockers so close to the entrance, therefore the new lockers would be centered in the hallways to allow more room for students to move around.

Love said with the combination of the new lockers, new paint, better lighting and lower ceilings the hallways should be much brighter.

"Instead of the dark and dreary hallways it'll be bright and cheery," he said.

Love said he understands how hard it is to spend time in the classrooms that only have evaporative air coolers therefore the district is adding HVAC units in classrooms in several schools including the high school, Crockett Middle School and Bessie Haynes Elementary.

Air conditioning units would also be placed in the Crockett gymnasium.

Also in the plans for the high school is new carpeting in classrooms, new windows in the main building and new doors in the main building.

Coody also mentioned that the fire alarm systems would be brought up to fire and safety code and the restrooms would be renovated to be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Construction on the renovations started in March and should be completed by August 12, which is the first day of teacher inservice, Love said.

"We're just really excited about this," he said.

With all the renovations, Love said that the students all over the district would be starting off the 2002-03 school year in a better environment and as for the high school students, it would be like going into a brand new school.

"We're kind of looking at it like a brand new 1951 school," he said.

Truck crash, fire near Monahans forces shutdown

PECOS, Thurs., April 25, 2002 -- An accident that occurred in Monahans Wednesday  afternoon led to the closure of the westbound lanes of Interstate 20 until 2 a.m.  this morning.

At 4:07 p.m., Wednesday, an accident involving two semi-trucks was reported at mile-marker 88, eight miles east of Monahans, according to the Department of Public Safety report.

Both westbound lanes of I-20 were blocked and one of the trucks was reported to be on fire.

Injuries in the accident were reported, but the extent of the injuries was not known at press time.

The westbound lanes were re-opened just before 2 a.m., today. Drivers headed west were diverted onto the I-20 service road while the accident was being cleaned up

Trooper James Johnson of Monahans investigated the accident.

The DPS office in Pecos also received a report of an accident on Wednesday, at 11:14 a.m., involving a truck-trailer on US 67 about 10 miles south of I-10 in Pecos County.

Trooper Robert Lasoya of Fort Stockton investigated that accident and it is not known if there were any injuries.

Ambulances were also called out to two other accident sites on Wednesday, on State Highway 302 a mile west of the Pecos River crossing near Mentone, and to an accident reported involving a four-wheeler on U.S. 285 near Orla. No other information was available on those accidents.

Council to discuss 10th St. reopening at meeting

PECOS, Thurs., April 25, 2002 -- The Town of Pecos City Council is scheduled to discuss a resolution that would reopen a portion of 10th Street during the regular meeting at 5:30 p.m., today at City Hall.

The Council has discussed the possibility of opening the portion of 10 th Street that is directly south of Pecos Elementary, which was closed off by the school district many years ago.

Since that school has been closed the Council began looking into the possibility of reopening it.

The Council will also discuss authorizing an increase in well size at two water well locations for the South Worsham Water Well Field project.

Also on the agenda is the discussion and approval of the monthly tax collection report, the accounts payable and the minutes from the previous meeting.

Mayor's property tax liability may still remain on lots

Arredondo says no agreement to take back Ortega's Pecan St. properties

Staff Writer

PECOS, Thurs., April 25, 2002 -- Who owes the taxes on all of Lot Three and portions of Lots One  and Two of Block 18 of the Original Town of Pecos City plat? 

These properties are located in the 200 block of S. Pecan St. and were recently owned by, and may currently be owned by, Pecos Mayor Ray Ortega.

The question of ownership and tax liability arose last week when Ortega stated that the properties had been deeded back to the original owners who had agreed to pay the delinquent taxes.

The answer to the tax question may have political consequences for Ortega who is running for re-election since the city charter bars elected city officials from holding office if they owe back taxes to the city.

Section 2.02 of the charter states that, "The mayor and each of the five city councilmen, shall ….. not be in arrears in payment of any taxes or other liability to the city. A member of the council ceasing to possess any of the qualifications specified in this section…. Shall immediately forfeit his office."

Last week, the Pecos Enterprise published an article that explored the tax issues regarding four parcels of property that are currently listed under Ortega's and business partner Louis Matta's names on the local tax rolls.

The Enterprise reported that Ortega had paid the city portion of the taxes owed on a fourth piece of property at 201-203 S. Walnut St.

As to the properties on Pecan St., Ortega said, "The property that Louis (Matta) and I owned was deeded back to the property owners, and they've agreed to pay the taxes."

That does not seem to be the case.

But, even if Ortega and Matta have successfully rid themselves of the property, they may still be liable for the taxes that accrued while they owned it.

According to David Stephens, owner of the Elliot and Waldron Abstract Company, the only document recorded by the Reeves County Clerk concerning the Pecan St. properties since the sale to Ortega and Mata is a document filed with the clerk's office in December 2001 titled, "Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure."

The document seems to state that in consideration for Matta and Ortega deeding the property back to the original owners, the original owners agree not to try to recover any amounts of money owed by Ortega and Matta including taxes.

The only signatures on the document are those of Mata and Ortega.

According to Reeves County Commissioner Felipe Arredondo, who is one of the four persons who originally sold the property to Ortega and Matta, neither Arredondo nor any of the other original owners have agreed to take the property back subject to the existing tax lien against the property.

"I've started making payments on the taxes because I do not want the property to be seized, but I have not agreed to take this property back or to do anything else," Arredondo said.

Arredondo said that he and the other three owners were seeking the advice of an attorney before they took any action regarding the property.

"I may end up paying the back taxes but I don't think owe them," he said.

According to the Texas Comptrollers office, Arredondo is right _ the taxes must eventually be paid if Arredondo or anyone else is to keep the property, but the person who is personally liable for the taxes is the owner of the property when the taxes were levied.

"Even if a person sells property on which taxes are owed, the person is still personally liable for those taxes until they are paid," Connie Rose said. Rose is a technical assistant in the Property Tax division of the Comptroller's Office. The Technical Assistance Division is a public resource to both property owners and taxing entities that is available to answer property tax questions, she said.

"Selling the property does not release the owner from the tax liability," Rose said. "While taxing authorities do not often go after a previous owner personally, the tax liability for that previous owner still exits and the taxing authority could go after that previous owner. The liability is still with the person who owned the property when the taxes attached."

"The previous owner still owes the taxes," she said.

According to receipts supplied last week by the Tax Collectors office for the city, school and hospital, taxes are delinquent on the Pecan St. property dating back to 1991, and including the years 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2001 when Ortega and Matta owned the property.

"It seems to me that he owes those taxes and if he does, then I don't think he is qualified to be mayor," former Pecos city councilman Saul Roquemore said. "He should have been disqualified last time. It's not right to hold a position with the city when you owe taxes." he said.

Mayoral candidate Dot Stafford declined to comment on the issue.

Mayor Ortega said that he would have to look into the situation further and have his attorneys look into it.

"As far as I'm concerned everything is okay," he said.

Ortega also owned back city taxes on property he held in his own name, located at 201-203 S. Walnut Street, which were paid on March 13 according to PBT-ISD tax office.


PECOS, Thurs., April 25, 2002 -- High Wednesday 99. Low this morning 59. Forecast for  tonight: Mostly cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers  and thunderstorms. Lows in the lower 50s. Southeast winds 10 to 20 mph.  Friday: Mostly cloudy and breezy. A 30 percent chance of showers  and thunderstorms. Highs in the lower 80s. Winds becoming southwest  15 to 25 mph. Friday night: A slight chance of showers  and thunderstorms, otherwise decreasing clouds. Lows in the mid 50s.  Chance of rain is 20 percent. Saturday: Partly cloudy. Highs in the mid 80s.  Sunday: Partly cloudy. Lows 55 to 60. Highs near 90.


Mitchell Hoover

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