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Weekly Newspaper and Tourism Guide for Ward County Trans Pecos, Big Bend of West Texas

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July 9, 1998

TAAS tells the tale

Students in the Grandfalls-Royalty school district soared to
a new level this Spring in the Texas Assessment of Academic
Skills tests, reports Bonnie Jones, the district's

"Everyone worked hard. The teachers worked hard. The
administrators worked hard," says Jones. "But most of all,
the students worked very, very hard."

The number of students over all who passed the reading
portion of TAAS increased by 20.56 percent; the number
passing math increased 11.8 percent, according to the tests
released by the school district..

At grade level, the pass rates showed even sharper jumps:

For example, according to numbers calculated by Jones.

-Fourth graders increased pass rates by 70 percent when
compared with TAAS scores they made in the third grade.

-Eighty-two percent more fifth graders passed compared with
that class performance when they were fourth graders.

-Fifty-three percent more seventh graders passed tests
compared with their scores a year ago when they were in the
sixth grade.

-Grandfalls-Royalty tenth graders showed exceptional
abilities, Jones notes, in the Spring TAAS tests.

One-hundred percent passed the reading examinations and 92.3
percent of the sophomores passed the mathematics portion of
the tests.

According to those Spring TAAS results: 81.3 percent of the
Grandfalls-Royalty students passed reading; 79.7 percent,
mathematics; 53.6 percent, writing; 71.4 percent, science;
and 42.9 percent, social studies (history, geography and
related disciplines).

Gregorio takes green (thumb) ribbon

Fe Gregorio won three, including the dumb thumb citation, at
the annual Green Thumb awards presented at the annual Green
Thumb competition held at the Chamber of Commerce's Freedom
Fest 1998 in Hills Park at Monahans on July 4.

Gregorio also won the canned, preserved and dried foods
award with her apricot sauce and the Summer Garden

Other winners, according to the announcement from the Green
Thumb officials, were:

Bob Stevenson for fruits and nuts with his June apples.

Jim Taylor for vegetables. He won for his golden zuchinni
and finished second and third and fourth for his egg plant,
cumcumbers and straight neck.

Jane Martin in horticulture.

Debra Bean in culinary herbs with lemon verbena.

Gena Zinanni for tomatoes. Her winner was cherry tomatoes.

The judges, according to the statement, were Janet and Buck

Payroll shortage portends furloughs

Employee furloughs at Ward Memorial Hospital may start as
early as Friday, July 10, when yet another crisis in the
hospital's more than $140,000 biweekly payroll is

That was the word from hospital officials, who acknowledge
that the hospital has not generated the revenue necessary to
cover the pay checks.

A survey of rural county hospitals comparable in size to
Ward Memorial, most with a higher daily patient census,
operate with 90 to 100 employees. At Ward Memorial, about
150 checks are issued each pay day - including about 130
full time workers.

Dyer Moore, chair of the Hospital Board of Managers, says:
"The next two or three pay rolls are going to be tight.
We're at our low volume time of the year. Even if we were in
good financial shape, payroll would be tight for a while."

Still County Judge Sam G. Massey promises he will vote to
use county funds to cover the pay checks in a special
meeting of the Commissioners Court on Friday morning.

Massey says he will take this action if county commissioners
are shown solid proof hospital administrators have curbed
the health care institution's continuing financial ills.
Massey notes he speaks only for himself and not the whole
court. County commissioners have warned they will be
reluctant to subsidize the hospital's payroll unless they
see evidence of better attempts at financial control.

That proof is expected in a meeting of the Hospital Board
of Managers on Thursday night, July 9, at 6 p.m. in the
Family Health and Wellness Clinic. It will come in reports
from representatives of Covenant Health Systems Inc., the
Lubbock group which signed on June 11 an agreement to
manage Ward Memorial Hospital.

The Commissioners Court has scheduled a meeting at 9 a.m. on
Friday, July 10, to "consider and act on the financial
situation at Ward Memorial Hospital.

Moore says he; interim administrator Holmes; and Vicki
Yates, chair of the hospital board's finance committee, will
report to the commissioners.

In reference to possible hospital staff reductions, hospital
chair Moore says: "We're going to go by the staffing
recommendations of Covenant Health Systems Inc."

Covenant is the group formed when Lubbock Methodist and St.
Mary's of the Plains medical centers merged the first week
of June.

Two weeks ago late pay days for 11 salaried or supervisory
employees prompted the resignations of then interim
administrator James M. Robinson. Robinson said he quit on
the advice of an attorney who told him he would be liable if
a suit were filed by employees who received their pay late.
The Monday following, two unit directors - Rae Gressett of
radiology and Nichole Venters of the Pharmacy-also resigned.

Steve Holmes of Covenant then succeeded Robinson as interim
administrator of Ward Memorial.

More from Moore: "There' are going to be lay offs and it
will affect every department in the hospital.

". . .No matter how much we hate to do it, there are some
people going to be let go. This will depend on the Covenant
recommendations on what needs to be done."

Where's the drug task force?

Ward County law officers wonder when, and if, Gov. George W.
Bush's alternative to the dismantled Permian Basin Drug
Task Force will begin.

They say they simply don't know.

Monahans Police Chief Charles Sebastian and Ward County
Sheriff Ben Keele, a member of the board of the defunct task
force, both say they have not been told anything about the
anti-dope smuggling alternative since its much ballyhooed
announcement in Austin on June 12.

"We responded to the Department of Public Safety letter by
the June 30 deadline as they asked and we have heard
absolutely nothing," says Sebastian. "They are supposed to
have a meeting but we haven't heard anything. We need a task
force like operation but it appears there is no real hurry
in Austin."

Says the Ward County sheriff: "They said they would get
back to us before the end of the month. They didn't. They
were supposed to have had a meeting. They haven't. "

Both men made the comments in interviews on Tuesday, July 7.

Both the sheriff and the police chief are concerned about
the future of narcotics interdiction in West Texas.
According to intelligence reports, the Trans-Pecos has
become an increasingly major corridor for smugglers since
the demise of the Permian Basin Drug Task Force because the
illicit narcotic traffic no longer is hampered by the
interdiction coordination possible with a task force
operation. Still, local efforts have not ceased. For
example, Department of Public Safety Trooper Darren Storer
and Ward County Sheriff's Sergeant Juan Rodriguez June 5
intercepted near Monahans a methamphetamine run from
Phoenix to Fort Worth on Interstate 20, made two arrests and
confiscated 106.3 grams of methamphetamine.

Local efforts help locally but they cannot mitigate a
regional problem, say Keele and Sebastian.

"If we don't get something in place soon," says the Monahans
police chief, " We can return to the way we used to do it
where we would call each other up and share men and
equipment and expertise on a one-to-one or individual basis."

Keele and Sebastian note that one major use of a task force
like operation is that it provided a ready way in which
undercover officers could be brought to bear against
smugglers. Because officers in local departments are known
locally, they cannot work undercover cases in their areas.
Undercover officers must come from the outside if they are
to be effective, the law enforcement chiefs note. There also
is a jurisdictional problem that arises with area wide
actions against illicit operations.

"One of the problems with this is ," says Sebastian. "Who
is going to commission these multi-jurisdictional officers?
DPS probably should do it because they have statewide
jurisdiction. But we have heard nothing from the state
about the proposed new task force and it already is the
second week of July."

On June 12, staff members of the governor's Criminal Justice
Division announced the establishment of a Department of
Public Safety-led West Texas Narcotics Enforcement Task
Force. The new unit would provide coordination and service
in the 15 West Texas counties, including Ward, that had been
served by the old Permian Basin Drug Task Force the
Criminal Justice Division killed when it denied that task
force about $2 million in federal anticrime funds the first
week in June. The denial was based on allegations of
mismanagement of funds and a combined Federal Bureau of
Investigation and Texas Ranger investigation into the task
force's operations. That investigation report has been
transferred to the office of Attorney General Dan Morales.
So far, after an investigation of more than 18 months, no
federal or state grand jury has been presented any
evidence on which to act. The target of the investigation
was the leader of the Permian Basin Drug Task Force, Tom
Finley, and his top aides, most of whom, includ
ing Finley, have found new jobs within law enforcement since
the demise of the Permian Basin Drug Task Force.

Keele and Sebastian both say the task force should have
been maintained because of the need for a regional effort
against the smuggling of illicit narcotics. Both have said
the problems with management, if there are problems, could
have been resolved by removing the managers and keeping the
task force.

Burglars peel Motor City safe

Burglars have cracked the ceiling and the safe of Motor City
at 2506 South Stockton Avenue in Monahans, reports Ward
County Sheriff's Deputy Jim Price.

Price described the thieves as professionals who quickly
peeled the safe.

"I'd call it a professional job," says Price. "Around here,
it is rare. There hasn't been that kind of skill in a while
in this area."

A comparable burglary was reported at the same dealership,
then John Paul Jones Motors, about a decade ago, recalls the
law enforcement officer. Price says he remembers no other
comparable thefts.

John Black of Motor City says of last week's theft: "They
ruined the safe and that's about a $1,500 safe. They took a
little over $2,000 in cash and checks.

" The ceiling - It was a tile ceiling and about all we had
to do there was replace the tiles and clean up the wall
where they came down. They knew what they were doing."

Price says the burglary was reported about 8 a.m. on
Thursday, July 2, when Motor City employees opened for the
day's work.

"The cleaning lady noticed the ceiling had been pushed down
and then she saw the mess in the room where the safe was and
they called us," reports Price.

The investigator reconstructed the burglary this way:

Sometime overnight, the burglars broke a window in the
machine shop to get into the building. They entered the drop
ceiling area and crawled over at least two walls to the
ceiling above the office and pushed their way through the
tiles. Black believes the thieves must have visited the
offices, probably posing as customers, at some time in the
past because they appeared to know the Motor City floor plan.

Tax auction nets $338,116

Taxing entities in Ward County (schools, water districts and
local governments) will share $338,116.75 gained in a
delinquent tax auction at the Courthouse in Monahans.

On the block were 120 mineral leases, reports County
Collector Dolores Fine. The auction was conducted at 10 a.m.
on Tuesday, July 7, in the Commissioners Court Room by the
Ward County Sheriff's Department.

"We had 18 people signed up to bid but not all of them bid,"
says Fine.

She says delinquent tax attorney Russell McInturff, who
represents all the taxing entities including the schools,
was present.

"Total sales were $338,116.75 out of approximately 120
(mineral interest) tracts. Only six did not sell," says the
county tax collector.

Fine says the mineral tracts offered at the auction "have
been on the delinquent rolls for some time. In most of
these tracts, we no longer have addresses for or know the
whereabouts of the original listed owners. We have not been
able to locate them."

Only 11 bidders purchased tracts. Fine says they were:

1. Tommy R. Vascocu of Midland, acting for himself and
partner J.V. Mabelle.

2. Henry Hughes of Royalty Acquisitions of Richardson.

3. C. Robert Crawford, bidding for BTA Oil Producers of

4. Ken Kamon and Richard Luttrell of Midland.

5. Ernest Walker of Texas City.

6. Forest Walker of Barstow.

7. David Hill of DOH Oil Co. of Sweetwater.

8. White Star Energy of Midland.

9. Jeff Kester and RWS Oil CO. of Royalty.

10. Chris Hisel of MR Oil Co. of Monahans.

11. Bambi Harvey of Permian Basin Minerals.

TU value protest could hurt big

Members of the Ward County Appraisal Review Board Thursday,
July 23, will decide a TU Electric tax protest which
threatens to remove nearly $1 million in tax revenues from
Ward County and the Monahans-Wickett-Pyote schools

David Armstrong, Ken Benad and Pat Ramsey comprise the
Appraisal Review Board.

No one on either side of the issue expects eventual
appraisal review board action to decide anything. Both
sides have the option of going to the courts if they don't
like the decision.

A terse statement to the Monahans News from the TU corporate
offices in Dallas says: "Texas Utilities Electric Co. is
currently reviewing the proper valuation of the leased
combustion turbines in Ward County as well as other
locations in the state. It is the company's goal to insure
(sic) that such property is appraised at market value
pursuant to the Texas Property Tax Code. In order to
exercise our right as a taxpayer to appeal, the Company has
timely filed a protest with the Ward County Appraisal Review

At least one other area in which TU has taken similar tax
protest action is Colorado City where a hearing scheduled
last week was posponed.

Next Thursday's hearing is scheduled at 9 a.m. either in
Ward Memorial Hospital class room space across from the
appraisal offices at 420 South Ike Avenue or in the
appraisal offices. The exact Monahans hearing site still is
to be determined, says County Appraiser Arlice Witte.

If the TU protest is upheld, Ward County would lose about
$225,000 in tax revenues, estimates Wittie.

Joe A. Hayes, business manager for the
Monahans-Wickett-Pyote school district, projects the
potential revenue loss to the Monahans area schools at
about $625,000.

Combining those potential downturns in TU tax revenue and
possible declines in tax revenues based on devaluations of
mineral wealth (triggered by diving oil prices), one local
government officials says: "It's a challenge."

TU Electric's Texas Utilities Service Inc. protests the
appraisal evaluation tax purposes of the generators at the
Permian TU Plant just west of Monahans on Old U.S. Route 80.
The notices of protest were filed on June 12.

Wittie says the difference between his appraisal of the
generators and the claim by TU Electric is $45 million. TU
and generator lessor Nynex Credit Corp. say gas turbine
units 1, 2 and 3 are worth $9,939,652. Wittie estimates the
value at $34,370,370, a decrease of $2.2 million from last
year's appraised value. TU and generator lessor Phillip
Morris Credit Corp. value gas turbine units 4 and 5 at
$7,099,751. Wittie says they're worth $28,127,330, a
decrease of about $1.7 million from the last evaluation.

The traditional answer would be an increase in ad valoreum
tax. But, Hayes notes, the school district already is at the
maximum $1.50 per 100 property valuation. County taxes
could rise, spurred by TU Electric, where the current rate
is 67.11 cents.

County Commissioners have not established a new tax rate and
will not until after budget workshops conclude.

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Copyright 1998 by Ward Newspapers, Inc.
Joe Warren, Publisher
107 W. Second St., Monahans TX 79756
Phone 915-943-4313, FAX 915-943-4314

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Copyright 1998 by Ward Newspapers Inc.