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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Council hears complaints on city water bills

Water was the main topic discussed by the Town of Pecos City Council Thursday evening, during their regular meeting at City Hall, as they approved retaining a law firm to help their with their water rate dispute with Reeves County, heard complaints about water bills from two local residents and discussed the effects and some problems associated with the new water meters installed in late 2004 by Johnson Controls.

The complaints, and the legal action being taken by Reeves County, are connected to the sharp increase in water rates council members approved late last year. The increase was approved to fund both repairs to the city’s water and sewer systems mandated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and to prepare for the assumption of a $400,000 annual payment in 2011, related to the city’s new South Worsham Water Field.

Reeves County has been making those payments since 2001, under an agreement with the city to provide water for the Reeves County Detention Center. But the recent rate increase resulted in the county taking legal action, and on Thursday the council approved the hiring of Bill Dugat of Bickerstaff, Heath, Smiley, Pollan & Kever, an Austin-based law firm that specializes in water-related and other environmental issues.

“This is the same firm that helped us the last time with the TCEQ,” said city attorney Scott Johnson, who also told the council that the city cannot recover legal fees from Reeves County if the win the legal action over the water rates.

“That’s the only problem I see,” said council member Gerald Tellez. “Their expenses go through the RCDC and they pass it on to the feds, and we have to take the money out of our general fund.”

“It’s going to cost the taxpayers more,” added councilman Frank Sanchez.

Earlier in the meeting, utilities director Edgardo Madrid said the state Office of Rural Community Affairs told the city that it will receive a $350,000 grant in April for construction of new sewer lines on the north and east sides of town.

The council also heard from two city residents at the start of the meeting about sharp jumps in their water bills since the rate increase.

David Reyes told the council that hit unit water use had dropped from a 10 to a 7 over the past two billing cycles, but that his water bill had remained unchanged, at $66.

“Last month they gave me an $8 discount on my water bill,” Reyes said. “This month my bill was $66 and the department said the discount was already in, so my bill without the discount would have been $74.

“What I do not understand is one month I used 10 and the other month I used 7 and it’s the same amount of money,” he said.

Mary Apolinar told the council that while she understood the city had to raise rates, she said the city’s water manual listed other options for water rates that local residents should be given the ability to use. She also wanted to know about water usage and rates for recreation areas and at the RCDC.

“What about all the recreation areas in the city using water free? What about the prison? Are you enforcing those?” she asked.

Madrid said he would talk with any resident about the city’s water rate system.

Tellez also said any complaints about the higher rates should be directed at the council.

“There are rumors going around that Mr. (city manager Joseph) Torres and Mr. (city finance director Sam) Contreras are responsible for the increase in the water rate. That is false. The responsibility for raising the water rates and sewer rates is solely on us, and it was a 3-2 vote,” Tellez said. “Mr. Torres and Mr. Contreras gave us the pros and cons and we decided for ourselves.”

The council voted back in November to raise the rates to have funds for the mandated projects and the future grant repayments. Tellez and council members Danny Rodriguez and Michael Benavides voted in favor of the increase, while Sanchez and councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela voted against.

The discussion on the water meters with Max Ustinov, performance assurance specialist with Johnson Controls Lubbock office, centered on the testing of the new meters and problems with billing since the meters were installed in late 2004.

“What we’re doing right now is we’re verfying the accuracy of the meters that went into the ground,” Ustinov said. A total of 86 of the 3,500 new meters were selected at random for testing and sent off to Abilene.

He said the testing is about 85 percent complete and that any problems is with the mechanical part of the system, as opposed to the electronic transmission of meter information to a remote laptop reader.

Torres said one monthly bill sent out by the city for $800 to a family of four should have been flagged by water department workers, after the family’s water usage went from an 11,000 gallon monthly average to 280,000 gallons for that particular month.

“If we get abnormal consumption, we need to look at the meter, and not just send it (the bill) out,” he said.

City accountant Mark Rushing said a glitch in the program was responsible for some of the errors, and that if the previous meter had produced no readings, the new software then couldn’t determine what the correct monthly average should be.

Madrid told the council that while the number of service orders on water meters has gone up due to the electronic monitoring, some of those have been due to better reporting of water leaks to customers as a result of the new system. He said for the period of February through August of 2005, the city only had to change out 76 meters, versus 526 for the same period in 2004 using the old meters.

Benavides asked Ustinov to appear at the council’s next meeting on April 13 to discuss the final results of the meter testing.

Rivera details park, zoo problems, solutions

Putting more animals into cages and keeping vandals outside park fences were two items discussed Thursday by Town of Pecos City Council members, as part of their regular meeting at City Hall.

Council members heard updates on the situation at the Maxey Park Zoo and other city parks sites, including the Rodriguez-Mata Skateboard Park, which opened last year and has been plagued with vandalism problems in recent month. The council also received an update on the city’s plans to assume full control of the local landfill, and approved action to do so during the meeting, as well as approving seeking federal grants to purchase to new defibrillators for the Pecos EMS.

Tom Rivera presented the council with a slide show on the local parks situation, along with discussion of a master plan for the city’s parks, which he said was three years overdue. The update on the zoo had been requested by councilmember Danny Rodriguez at a previous meeting. That included a list of the animals currently in the zoo and plans to acquire or swap out other animals in the near future.

He said the zoo is expecting to get two new buffaloes from the ranch of Mrs. Elizabeth Longbotham in the Del Rio area. “She will also take the one buffalo that we have right now and put him out to pasture,” Rivera said.

Other animals, including antelope and sheep, are to be provided by rancher Tony Timmons and the Waters Family, which has provided the zoo with stock for a number of years.

Rivera said the zoo has cut its feed costs from $18,000 to $8,000 annually, in part by phasing out its meat-eating animals such as mountain lions and bears. “Also Dr. (Ronald) Box has said he will not work on non-hooven animals, so we have to get a vet out of Midland to do that,” he told the council.

City manager Joseph Torres said if the budget situation improves in the future, the city could look at reassessing its animal situation. “Once we get to the point where we get a little in the budget, then we can say, should we get a giraffe, should we get a zebra, should we get a mountain lion,” he said.

“My point is we’re losing (animals). We’re not replacing,” Rodriguez said. “You need to maintain the number of animals. If we have to remove some due to budgeting, but don’t leave it empty.”

Rivera also told the council that repairs are needed to the Athletic Pool in Maxey Park, due to tears in the pool’s 4-year-old liner.

“We’re going to come back and re-seal all those bad spots,” he said, adding that city crews should be able to get the job done in time for the pool to open Memorial Day weekend.

City workers also will fix problems with the pool’s filtration system.

Earlier in the meeting, during a discussion on accounts payable, Rivera told the council the city had to spend $7,000 on a new fence for the skateboard park, though they should be able to acquire some outside funding to offset the cost.

“The park wasn’t even a year old, and they were tearing it up,” he said. That included spray-painting the concrete skateboard area and damage to the benches and restrooms in the park. All those areas are now fenced in, with barbed wire on top of the fence.

“At 10 o’clock that park is locked down,” he said, with future plans to install new security lighting.

“It infuriates me that people do something like that,” said councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela.

“I don’t think the skateboarders themselves are doing this. We’re getting complaints about older kids hanging out there,” Rivera said, while parks department employee Israel Marruffo said someone already has attempted to get under the fence when the park is closed.

Council members said the Campus CrimeStoppers program would offer a reward on information leading to the arrest of the park vandals.

On the landfill, the council voted to implement a plan to take full control of the facility from Duncan Disposal by December, after a brief discussion with Martin Arreguy, who is supervising the effort. He said the city has received a grant from the Permian Basin Regional Planning Committee to buy a new bailer, at a cost of $6,500, and will apply in April for a grant of about $10,000 for new roll-off bins, that will be used at 13 designated large-item collection points in the city.

“We need to move forward, and I know when we come back and look at this four years from now, you’ll be pleased,” Arreguy said. “Other entities within the city limits are interested in dealing with us, and are dealing with Duncan right now, so this is going to be a profitable venture.”

Pecos EMS chief Dennis Thorp outlined plans to apply for a FEMA firefighters grant for $48,500 to buy the new defibrillators, to replace the aging ones currently used by ambulance workers. He said FEMA would pay 95 percent of the cost, with the city responsible for $2,426 of the total cost.

“Those are two pieces of equipment we’re going to have to have,” he said. “We’re get a better price if we buy them together.”

At Valenzuela’s suggestion, the council voted to take the $2,426 out of the EMS’s current tools budget to match the FEMA grant, instead of approving a budget amendment. Thorp said the fund has about $5,500 of its budgeted $7,500 remaining, and if more funds are needed later in the year, a budget amendment can then be approved.

Other approved items included the accounts payable and tax collection reports, and the sale of two properties, at 1256 Martinez St. to Cruzelda Luna, at a cost of $1,000, and at 608 N. Ash, to Zair G. Estrada, at a cost of $1,400.

Arredondo deployed overseas with Air Force

Air Force Senior Airman Alexa Arredondo is currently deployed to an overseas forward-operating location to support the missions of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name given to anti-terrorism military operations involving U.S. troops and allied coalition partners. Reserve component members from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces have been mobilized, activated and deployed along with active duty members to support the war against global terrorism. Mission objectives encompass combating the international terrorist network or regime forces outside the borders of the United States. U.S. troops serve in South Asia, the Arabian peninsula, Central Asia, islands in the Pacific, and in numerous other countries.

Operation Iraqi Freedom is the official name given to military operations involving members of the U.S. armed forces and coalition forces participating in efforts to free and secure Iraq. Mission objects focus on force protection, peacekeeping, stabilization, security and counter-insurgency operations as the Iraqi transitional governing bodies assume full sovereign powers to govern the peoples of Iraq.

Members from all branches of the U.S. military and multinational forces are also assisting in rebuilding Iraq’s economic and governmental infrastructure, and training and preparing Iraqi military and security forces to assume full authority and responsibility in defending and preserving Iraq’s sovereignty and independence as a democracy.

Arredondo, a logistics plans journeyman with four years of military service, is normally assigned to the 12th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio.

She is the daughter of Mary C. Arredondo of Pecos.

The airman is a 2001 graduate of Pecos High School.

Students learn about rain forest, desert climates

The rain forest can be a really interesting place and students in one fifth grade class at Bessie Haynes Elementary School have been enjoying learning more about it.

For instance, did you know that predators have eyes in the front and the prey in the back? Zach Johnson, a fifth grade student in Annabel Chavez’ class has been learning that and much more.

The class set up a mural in their classroom and will be enjoying a trip to the Living Desert State Park in Carlsbad, N.M., as a culmination of their activities and studies of the rain forest.

“We have been studying the rain forest and this trip will be like a reward for all their hard work,” said Chavez.

Jarick Matta said he learned that coyotes eat what they can find and are opportunistic. “Bats and owls use echo location, their vision is very poor,” said Damian Perea.

The three categories include carnivorous, omnivorous and herbivorous, according to Maddie Urias.

“Humans are omnivorous. We eat both plants and animals,” said Marcus Williams. Eric Castillo said that owns can’t move their eyes, but can move their heads almost all the way around.

“Owls cannot digest their food, but burp it up in owl pellets,” said Carrie Shores. Amanda Mora said that there are decomposers, conservers and producers and that we need all this to survive.

Chavez said that she is real proud of her students and that they had all passed the TAKS. “Their TAKS scores were really good and we have been enjoying studying the rain forest,” said Chavez. “These students have gotten all excited about it and are learning fast,” she said.

Chavez said that it was a very enthusiastic group of students and that they are looking forward to their trip to Carlsbad.

“Their attitude towards school is good and really enjoy learning,” she said.

RCDC payments, new hires approved by commissioners

Property bids and payments for the Reeves County Detention Facilities were approved during the regular Reeves County Commissioners Court meeting held Friday afternoon.

The group met for their regular meeting at 2 p.m., Friday in the third floor courtroom. The meeting was delayed four days from its normal time, which is set for the second and fourth Mondays of the month.

Commissioners authorized payment for the RCDC I and II lease in the amount of $495,000; the RCDC I and II maintenance reserve payment in the amount of $29,166; the RCDC III lease payment in the amount of $346,524 and the RCDC III maintenance reserve payment in the amount of $29,166.

The group approved property bids for property located at 109 S. Mulberry, two vacant lots, valued at $510, which received a bid for $510, and property located at 810 E. Ninth St., valued at $8,080.

Commissioners approved reports from various departments and line-item transfers.

“All the line-item transfers are within the departments,” said county auditor Lynn Owens.

Personnel and salary changes included: new hire at RCDC-III, Isabel Lara, correctional officer at $22,880; Robert Overcash promoted to Captain at $38,215 and Yolanda Acosta, vocational, at $30,000. At RCDC II, Catherine Contreras, Mike De La Cruz, Leticia Acosta, correctional officers at $31,179; Juan Salcido, landscaping, $21,198; Francisco Ramirez, food services assistant, $37,299; Jose Hernandez, promoted to case manager, $32,115; in the transportation department promoted to lieutenant at $35,033 and in the Road and Bridges Department, Enrique Ornelas, tech I at $19,778.

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