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

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Thursday, July 23, 1998

City dads attend seminar

Four Monahans elected city officials, including Mayor David
Cutbirth, attended a municipal seminar July 16 through July
19, according to a statement from the office of City Manager
David Mills.

The conference was the thirty-third annual Institute for
Mayors, Council members and Commissioners. It was held at
Bryan/College Station.

Mills identified those attending from Monahans as Cutbirth,
Mayor Pro tem Clarese Gough and council members Mary Garcia
and Ted Ward.

Says Mills: "The four-day meeting provided an opportunity
for municipal officials to enhance their knowledge of
municipal government and to increase their leadership
skills. In addition, the institute offered an opportunity to
visit with elected officials from across Texas to learn how
other cities are coping with the challenges of municipal
government today.

Disaster loans available

Ward County ranchers, farmers and merchants who depend on
agriculture for their profits are eligible for low interest
federal loans under a drought disaster declaration announced
by the federal government on Tuesday, July 21.

Every county in Texas was declared a drought disaster area

In Ward County, farmers plant cotton, cantaloupe,
watermelon, onions, alfalfa and other crops in the area
close to the Pecos River.

Ward County Judge Sam G. Massey says he was told on
Tuesday Ward County had been designated part of the drought

The last appreciable rain recorded at Monahans was 0.83
inches on Dec. 20, 1997.

Horse show jams coliseum

Equestrians and their horses jammed Monahans this week for
the annual Monahans Quarter Horse Shows series at the Ward
County Coliseum.

By Wednesday night, all 70 stalls at the Coliseum had been
taken, reports show manager David Tucker.

Competitors in the open, youth and amateur divisions and
their animals were practicing through the day into the night
this week at the Ward Coliseum Arena to prepare for the
competitions scheduled Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July
24, 25 and 26. Shows start at 7:30 a.m. all three days.

The annual Monahans Quarter Horse Shows are the start of
nearly two weeks of celebration in the Ward County seat.
Fiesta continues with the beginning on Thursday, July 30,
of Western Week and the fifth Annual Butterfield Overland
Stage coach and Wagon festival. That rendezvous doesn't stop
until Sunday, Aug. 2.

This weekend's focus is the quarter horse shows, which have
become, Tucker notes, more prestigious and more fun for
the competitors from year to year. Tucker notes the event is
an economic boom for Monahans and Ward County. During the
shows, he emphasizes, competitors eat in Monahans
restaurants, stay in Monahans hotels and spend money in
Monahans stores.

"We'll have at least 200 riders and their horses," says
Tucker. "The show gets a little larger each year and it
could get much larger if we had more stalls and if the
stalls were larger and better suited to the size of the
animals that are being shown today."

Meanwhile Tucker prepares for this year's quarter horse

Friday the judge will be Jerry Lacy of Texas; Saturday,
Randy Fowler of Indiana; and Sunday, Cheryl Sarci of

"This show already is big and respected," says Tucker. "It
is sanctioned by all the major quarter horse associations
(including the American Quarter Horse Association) and it is
a show in which riders want to compete." He notes the shows
will bring "serious dollars into the Ward County economy
this weekend."

Hospital reduces staff

Oft promised budget reforms at financialy troubled Ward
Memorial Hospital began on Friday, July 17, with a sharp
reduction in force.

The down-sizing was the first visible evidence that Covenant
Health Systems Inc., of Lubbock means to meet its goal to
control the county-owned hospital's budget and enhance
services. Covenant signed a management agreement with the
Ward Memorial Hospital Board of Managers in June.

County Judge Sam G. Massey says, "I have great confidence
Covenant will do what they say they are going to do. The
county commissioner's court is doing its best to keep the
hospital open. We are going to keep the hospital open. We
are sorry for those who lost their jobs but we will keep the
hospital open."

Steve S. Holmes, the Covenant appointed interim
administrator at Ward Memorial, made the official
announcement in a statement released on the day that workers
at the hospital were being notified if they were to remain
as part of the hospital's team.

According to the statement from the hospital administrative

"Ward Memorial Hospital Interim Administrator Steve S.
Holmes announced that the hospital was reorganizing its work
force to effect a 30 percent decrease in its overall
staffing effective today (Friday, July 17, 1998). The staff
reduction will affect approximately 32 employees as well as
four other hospital positions which are currently vacant."

That action means a reduction of 37 full time positions at
the hospital which will drop its full time work force to
about 100, comparable to other hospitals of the same size in
Covenant's regional hospital network which includes
hospitals managed, leased or owned by the health care
company formed by the merger of Lubbock Methodist and St.
Mary's of the Plains.

"Our commitment to high quality health care services is
foremost in our decision making and planning process," said
Holmes. "To meet the challenges of tomorrow, we must
reorganize today to survive the increasing financial
pressures and changes in our industry."

Holmes had told the Ward County Commissioners Court on
Friday, July 10, budget controls would be in place quickly
and the hospital's about $288,000 monthly payroll would be
reduced by about $107,000.

In his reduction in force statement, Holmes noted the
trends and challenges of rural hospitals.

"What we are doing (reducing expenses by down sizing and
reorganization of duties ) is being done in communities
everywhere to try and maintain the viability of their

Holmes said he did not like to remove workers from the
payroll. Covenant teams were attempting to help those laid
off in filing with the Texas Workforce Commission as well
as job searches elsewhere.

"While the displacement of excellent employees is extremely
difficult, we must take these necessary measures in order to
continue in our mission of providing comprehensive health
care services to the people of this region," said Holmes.

The administrator also said: "This reorganization is just
part of the . . .plan to position Ward Memorial . . .for
continued success."

Sheriffs target smugglers

Fifteen Trans-Pecos county sheriffs have scheduled a summit
in Monahans at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23, to evaluate
regional smuggler interdiction.

Right now, they note, there is no coordinated regional
attack on the dope traffic. There hasn't been since the
Governor's Criminal Justice Division killed the Permian
Basin Drug Task Force although local efforts continue. For
example, Ward County Sheriff's Deputy Juan Rodriguez and
Department of Public Safety Trooper Darren Storer June 5
intercepted near Monahans a methamphetamine run on
Interstate 20 from El Paso to Fort Worth. They made two
arrests and confiscated 106.3 grams of meth.

Neither Department of Public Safety chiefs nor members of
the governor's Criminal Justice Division staff are part of
the planning for the summit. But representatives of both
are welcome, the Monahans News was told.

The focus of the conference by the top law enforcement
officers in the region will be to find options to the now
defunct Permian Basin Drug Task Force. It was struck down
by the denial of federal funds by the office of Republican
Gov. George W. Bush, which allocates the dope fighting money
in Texas.

Ward County Sheriff Ben Keele, a member of the board of the
old task force, confirms the sheriffs will meet in the Ward
County Convention Center at Monahans.

Most Trans Pecos sheriffs say they are concerned about the
continuing delay in Austin on establishing a successor to
the task force. Monahans Police Chief Charles Sebastian,
Keele and other law enforcement officials have said they
responded to a statement from the Department of Public
Safety which was to lead a successor to the Permian Basin
Task Force. But so far, they have heard nothing.

Ward County Judge Sam G. Massey says someone in Austin had
reserved the Commissiners Court Room in Monahans for a
meeting they said was to establish a new task force. That
meeting was supposed to have been at 10 a.m. on Wednesday,
July 29. The judge said the caller, who he cannot identify,
telephoned again and reset the meeting for Thursday, July 30.

Says Sheriff Keele: "I don't know anything about it. But we
sheriffs are meeting this week on our own."

Late Wednesday, July 22,Linda Edwards, a press officer for
the governor, reported that the Criminal Justice Division
had scheduled a meeting at 1 p.m. on Thursday, July 30, in
the Ward County Commisioners Court room in the Courthouse.
She said letters were sent Wednesday to more than 30 law
enforcement agencies in the Trans Pecos and that some
officers reportedly were being notified by telephone.

There was no word on whether representatives of the
governor's office would attend the sheriff's summit.

Earlier this year the governor's staff cited allegations
of fiscal mismanagement and malfeasance in office by command
personnel when they eliminated the unit that coordinated
the dope war in the 15 counties. Results of an 18-month
inquiry by Texas Rangers and the Federal Bureau of
Investigation have been sent to the office of Attorney
General Dan Morales, where it remains.

So far, no evidence of any kind in the affair has been
submitted to a grand jury, federal or state.

Area law enforcement officers attacked the decision to kill
the task force, saying the task force should have remained
even if it had been necessary to remove command personnel -
an option many of them say they doubt.

Last week, Nancy Hugon, a former prosecutor who had been
director of Bush's criminal justice efforts for 18 months,
resigned effective Friday, July 17.

Edwards says there is no link between the task force
demise and the Hugon resignation.

Tobacco pays off big

Ward County is scheduled to receive $231,625 in January from
the tobacco settlement reached on Saturday, July 18, among
attorneys for the state and the tobacco industry.

Under the terms of the agreement, Ward County receives the
bounty although the county, like many other political
subdivisions in Texas, chose not to join the suit. Lawyers
for the state alleged tobacco was a major factor in
indigent health care costs.

The tobacco settlement check to Ward County is part of an
initial payment of about $300 million to be shared by
various Texas governmental entities.

That payment is only the first that will be coming to Ward
County as its share in the billion dollar plus settlement.
The dollars are to be shared with all Texas governmental
entities whose responsibilities include indigent health
care. In Ward County, that entity is the county which
operates Ward Memorial Hospital. Elsewhere it may be a
hospital district or other political subdivision.

County Judge Sam G. Massey calls the dollars "a welcome
windfall the county certainly can use."

State Rep. Bob Turner, D-Coleman, says, "This news comes
like manna from heaven" to the mostly financially strapped
counties in his 73rd Legislative District, which includes

Ward County's initial share was based on estimates
prepared by the State Comptroller.

Massey, Turner and the Comptroller note the January payment
will be only the first. Payments also are scheduled in the
years 2000 and 2001. Those payments will be based on a
formula that includes dollars spent on indigent care by the
county, city or hospital district.

In four years, annual dollars will be distributed from a
Permanent Trust Fund account to be established with $1.8
billion in tobacco settlement money.

Says the statement from the state: "The income from this
permanent fund will be distributed to the counties and
hospital districts on a pro rata basis in proportion to
their amount of unreimbursed health care expenditures for
indigent health care."

Massey notes subsequent payments are for indigent health
care. But there is a question about the initial payment.

"Those may be general fund dollars," says Massey, " But it
is probable they also will be spent for health care."

TU cuts deal on taxes

TU Electric Co. will pay a total of about $150,000 less in
Ward County and Monahans-Wickett-Pyote school district
property taxes this year on the combustion turbines at the
TU Permian Power Plant complex West of Monahans.

The figure contrasts sharply with the about $1 million less
TU had sought in a tax protest that triggered an annexation
plan by Monahans Mayor David Cutbirth. In the Cutbirth
scenario, the city would add its own property tax to the
Permian Basin Power Plant complex in two years after the
plant complex would be annexed by the city.

Although lower on the combustion units, TU's total tax bill
in Ward County - including those units, the remainder of the
Permian complex, distribution facilities and other TU
properties - will be about $2,157,000, according to county
records. That estimate does not include the land TU owns in
Ward County, only the improvements.

The smaller TU tax bill for the units at issue was
contained in an agreement reached among executives from
TU; Arlice Wittie, the Ward County appraiser; and Pritchard
& Abbott of Austin, the county's appraisal firm which
includes an engineer who specializes in evaluation of

In the negotiations, the TU team argued:

-The turbines were "basically old technology and not as
efficient as newer turbines."

-TU installed the units because of expected economic and
customer growth in the region which did not happen.

-Because of this lack of expansion, the units are not being
used as much as had been projected.

Members of the Appraisal Review Board -David Armstrong, Ken
Benad and Pat Ramsey - accepted the settlement on Thursday,
July 16.

"Just for the school, TU will be paying about $455,000 in
taxes on 1, 2 and 3. TU will pay about $374,000 on 4 and 5,"
says the county appraiser. "Their total tax bill, county and
school, is an estimated $660,000 on 1, 2 and 3; $540,000 on
4 and 5 for a total payment of more than $1 million on the
combustion units."

Wittie and the TU team led by Marshall Childress of Fort
Worth, the area tax representative for TU, met for more than
two hours before reaching the compromise..

TU had protested the appraisal by Wittie of the combustion
turbines at the TU Permian Basin plant just West of
Monahans. If the protest had been upheld, the combined tax
loss to the county and the school district would have been
nearly $1 million.

Says Wittie of the agreement between his office and TU:
"Roughly, it'll be about a $105,000 reduction in tax
revenue for the schools and a $46,000 reduction in county
revenues. This will be an estimated total revenue loss of a
little more than $150,000."

At issue was the appraisal of the value of the combustion
generators at the TU Permian Plant on which the taxes are

Revenue losses were estimated based on the school tax rate
of the maximum $1.50 set by law for each $100 of assessed
valuation and the old county tax rate of 67.11 cents. A
1998 county tax rate will be established by the
commissioner's court at the conclusion of the budget process
which is in progress.

Originally, Wittie had valued TU Permian combustion
generators 1, 2 and 3 at $34,370,370, a decrease of $2.2
million from last year's appraisal. Wittie appraised units 3
and 4 at $28,127,330, down $1.7 million.

TU filed a tax protest on June 12. They said the appraisal
decreases were not enough.

The difference between the utility's original evaluation of
the units at issue and that of the Ward County appraiser was
about $45 million.

That would have meant a major blow to county government and
the Monahans-Wickett-Pyote school district where the revenue
loss alone would have been more than $600,000.

"Basically we reached a settlement," says Wittie, "and
presented that to the Appraisal Review Board.

"On turbines 1, 2 and 3 we agreed to reduce (the appraisal)
to $30,417,800.

"On 4 and 5 we agreed to reduce to $24,892,600.

"So we lost somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million in
the appraisal because of the compromise."

Excluding land, the total value of TU properties, according
to current appraisals, in Ward County is $99,364,850.

Wittie says the total tax bill is about $2,157,00 with about
$1,490,000 being paid to the Monahans-Wickett-Pyote school
district and the remainder to Ward County.

City continues annexation plan

Monahans Mayor David Cutbirth says the City Council's plant
to annex all city-owned land contiguous to the city limits

This includes the landfill adjacent to the Permian Basin
Power Plant and the land around Perch Pond.

Cutbirth had suggested last week the city could annex the
TU Permian Basin Plant complex in two years and impose
city property taxes there. The first step was annexation of
the landfill which is immediately North of the power plant

Cutbirth talked about a dollar property tax to be imposed by
the city with the city returning any major revenues lost to
the county and school district through intergovernmental

He made the comment after TU Electric filed a tax protest
that, if upheld would have cost Ward County and the
Monahans-Wickett-Pyote school district a total of nearly $1
million in revenue. A compromise reached prior to the tax
protest hearing reduced that revenue loss to about $150,000.

Emphasizing Monahans appreciates TU's presence in the
community , Cutbirth says: "The city is going to continue
with its plan to annex city owned property. That, of course,
places us in a position to annex further, depending upon
future developments. This is not an attack on anyone. We
love the local TU people."

Weevil hearing set for Pecos

Special to the News
AUSTIN - Hearings will be held on Tuesday, July 28, in
Reeves County on the proposed Trans-Pecos Boll Weevil
Eradication Zone, which includes Ward County, according to
the Texas Department of Agriculture.

The hearing will be at 4 p.m. at the Pecos Research Center
seven miles west of Pecos at Mile Marker 33 off Interstate

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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.