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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, January 31, 2003

PUC grants First Choice 5.5 percent increase

From Staff and Wire Reports

The Public Utility Commission on Thursday approved a request by First Choice Power Inc. to raise its rates by about 5.5 percent.

First Choice is the company created by Texas-New Mexico Power Co. two years ago to sell retail power to homes and businesses across Texas. The increase would affect its traditional customers in several small- and mid-sized Texas cities, including Pecos.

Company officials said with the rising cost of natural gas, prices on electricity will also be on the rise as a result of the deregulation rule that went into effect at the end of 2001. electric companies now have that option.

The state's deregulation law, that took effect last year, temporarily froze rates for the formerly regulated monopolies but it allows new companies to set their rates so they can compete for customers.

However, the formerly regulated companies can make a request to adjust their price twice a year when natural gas prices increase by at least 4 percent for a 10-day period.

"There was a fuel adjustment for natural gas prices set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality," said Texas-New Mexico Company area manager Donald Hunt.

Hunt said that he doesn't know when the new prices for this area will take effect.

"It all depends, there is a hearing and a case set to the Public Utilities Commission for fuel and deals with stranded costs," said Hunt. "And that won't be determined until after the case has been heard," he said.

Even though the electric company began filing that case this year, it won't be due until 2004.

Hunt said that when they approved deregulation prices per unit for natural gas prices, there was a provision in there that allowed First Choice and other electric companies to adjust their prices, if prices of gas went up.

"When the price of natural gas went up the electric companies could adjust their prices as well," said Hunt.

Hunt said that First Choice representatives would have more information on that part of the electricity provided to residents in this area.

"We won't know yet how that will affect this area and how much the price will go up," he said. However, under the increase, customers on average are expected to see their rates increase by about $5 a month. From Staff and Wire Reports

New House Speaker Tom Craddick on Thursday appointed some new faces to powerful committees, a move criticized by some veteran lawmakers who lost leadership positions to freshmen legislators.

At a time when the state is facing tough issues such as a $9.9 billion budget shortfall, Craddick named 11 first-time lawmakers vice chairmen of various committees, including public health and transportation.

Two Republican freshmen - Reps. Jack Stick of Austin and Dan Branch of Dallas - were appointed to the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, the first rookie members to serve on the panel during a regular session since 1977.

Gallego shifted to insurance, reform committees

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, is one of the veteran legislators who lost a spot on the Appropriations Committee as a result of the changes by Craddick. The 12-year House veteran, whose district was expanded to include Reeves County in the new legislative session, was a senior member of that committee, which appropriates funds for projects across Texas, when Laney served as House Speaker.

Craddick said earlier this month that he would make major changes in the appropriations panel after House agreed to change the rules to eliminate seniority as a factor in the committee's makeup. Gallego would have been the senior Democrat on the committee under the old rules, but the new committee has just eight returning members out of 29 and just under two-thirds of the panel will be Republicans.

Gallego will be the vice-chairman of the newly created House Government Reform Committee, with another West Texas legislator, Republican David Swinford of Dumas, serving as chairman of the committee, which Craddick established to eliminate wasteful government spending.

He will also be on the House Insurance Committee, which will be busy in the current legislative session working on proposals for home insurance reforms,

Gallego was unavailable for comment as of press time. But as chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, he told the Houston Chronicle he was pleased that Hispanics received leadership positions, while being disappointed that Moreno was removed from the Appropriations Committee and that Rep. Irma Rangel, D-Kingsville, was demoted from chair to vice chair of the Higher Education Committee.

Rangel, of Kingsville, lost her chairmanship of the Higher Education Committee and Moreno, of El Paso, was not reappointed to appropriations.

"These members have experience that has helped lead the state through both shortfall and surpluses," said Gallego, D-Alpine.

Along with losing his seat on the Appropriations Committee, Gallego was also removed as chairman of the General Investigating Committee, a post given to Rep. Kevin Bailey, D-Houston.

Branch, 44, a lawyer who has experience with local government finance, said he's honored Craddick gave him a chance.

"I'm excited for the challenge," Branch said. "I do understand that there's a learning curve, so I do want to be realistic, but this is what I signed up for."

Republican Talmadge Heflin of Houston will chair appropriations, a crucial panel that will write the next two-year state budget along with the Senate Finance Committee.

Heflin wasted no time getting to work with 16 other Republicans and 12 Democrats, including Vice Chairwoman Vilma Luna of Corpus Christi.

He called a meeting minutes after committee assignments were announced and laid out a busy schedule for next week, when hearings will begin at 7 a.m.

"There is no room for slackers on this committee," Heflin said.

Houston Democrat Sylvester Turner was named speaker pro tempore, an important position that makes Turner second-in-command of the Republican-dominated House.

Turner "is a very competent individual," Craddick said. "He's a leader on the House floor and I think he'll do a great job."

Republicans, who control the chamber 88-62, chair 29 of the 42 committees, while Democrats run 13.

Women, who make up 21 percent of the members, lead 21 percent of the committees.

Black and Hispanic members, making up 29 percent of the body, were named chairmen of 30 percent of the committees.

Rural lawmakers saw their power diminish significantly as urban and suburban power grew.

Craddick, who's from Midland, appointed representatives from rural areas as leaders of 20 percent of the committees, down from the 43 percent under former Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center.

Ft. Worth man killed in crash

Staff Writer

A two-vehicle accident between Pecos and Fort Stockton Thursday night claimed the life of a 40-year old man from Fort Worth.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety report the accident occurred at 11:52 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 285 and Farm Road 1776, 14 miles north of Fort Stockton in Pecos County.

The report stated that the driver, Jose G. Carnero, was in a 1988 Chevy Van traveling north on Farm Road 1776 when he failed to yield the right of way at a stop sign.

At which point the driver, Chad Stewart of Laredo, struck the van with his 2000 Dodge pick-up on its right rear passenger area.

Carnero was ejected from the van and suffered from lacerations to the neck. He was transported to Memorial Hospital in Fort Stockton where he was pronounced dead at 12:42 a.m. today.

Carnero's body was taken to Fort Stockton Funeral Home.

The report also stated one injury in the accident. The injured was Beverly J. Stewart, 51, of Farmington N.M.

At the time of the report Stewart was listed in stable condition.

The intersection, which is the main crossing for Pecos-Fort Stockton traffic and traffic headed from the Alpine area to Midland-Odessa, has been the scene of fatal collisions in the past. Flashing lights were set up at the stop signs on FM 1776 to warn drivers of the intersection following a fatal collision in the 1980s.

High Thursday 77. Low this morning 47. Forecast for tonight: Mostly clear. Lows in the upper 30s. Southeast winds 5 to 15 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny. Highs in the upper 70s. Southwest winds 5 to 15 mph. Saturday night: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 40s. Sunday: Partly cloudy. Windy. Highs in the lower 80s. Monday: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 30s. Highs in the upper 50s.

Main St. program hosting business seminar

The Pecos Main Street Program and the Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce are co-sponsoring a small business seminar on Feb. 18.

The seminar will begin at 6 p.m. and will be held at the Pecos Community Center, 508 S. Oak St.

The seminar is free of charge.For more information contact Tom Rivera at 445-9656 or 940-4387 or Linda Gholson at 445-2406.

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