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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, September 1, 2006

Baeza given probated sentence in charge plea deal

A local woman was placed on probation following a plea agreement on Monday, stemming from four counts of voter fraud involving the 2004 Reeves County Democratic Party primary election.

Anita Baeza, 68, was charged with four counts of voter fraud by a 143rd District Court grand jury in January. The indictment against her and another woman were Class B misdemeanors, however, all but one of the charges was dropped, and the remaining charge was removed from 143rd District Court to the Reeves County Court-At-Law.

“They agreed to go ahead and let her plea,” said County Court-At-Law Judge Walter Holcombe. “It was a plea arrangements for pre-trial diversion and she received six months probation.”

However, court records, including depositions, were sealed, according to the county clerk’s office.

The Texas Attorney General’s Criminal Investigations Division handled the case, and prosecutors claim that Baeza was involved in five incidents of fraud between Jan. 28 and Feb. 23 of 2004, involving ballots for early voting by mail that had been sent to Sebastion Martinez, Juana Ibarra, Encarcion Ibarra, and Belia Montanez for the purpose of early voting by mail in the March 2004 Primary Election.

Baeza’s son Jeffrey at the time was seeking the position of Reeves County Sheriff. He was defeated in his bid by incumbent Arnuflo “Andy” Gomez in the March 2004 primary and current works as an investigator for 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds. Due to his employment with the district attorney’s office, Reynolds recused himself from the case and it was handled by the Texas Attorney General’s office.

At the same time Baeza was indicted, the grand jury also indicted Trine Villalobos, 60, on four separate counts of voter fraud. In late June, Villalobos was convicted on two counts by a 143rd District Court jury and was given probated sentences on both charges.

The charges against both women are violations of Chapter 86 of the Texas Election Code, which specifies the officials who may handle and process mail-in ballots. The charges, Class B misdemeanors, carried a possible $2,000 fine and up to 180 days confinement on each count.

Baeza was subpoenaed to testify last week in 143rd District Court in a lawsuit by Reeves County Judge candidate Al Gomez, seeking to overturn the results of the April 11 runoff election he lost by 15 votes to Sam Contreras.

A petition filed by Gomez’s attorney in late June questioned whether Baeza had illegally assisted voters in casting mail-in ballots in the runoff race. Baeza testified on Aug. 24, and on the following day, Visiting Judge Joseph Connally dismissed the case and declared Contreras the winner of the election.

Council won’t cut police stipends caused by error

Town of Pecos City Council members on Tuesday voted to overlook an $80,000 payroll error and maintain salaries for Pecos Police Department members at their current levels.

Council members voted 4-1 to keep officers at their current pay rates, saying they have become use to those salaries since the error was first made 22 months ago.

The mistake came at the time the council increased pay for Pecos police officers, in order to keep their starting salaries from being lower than those paid to jailers at the Pecos Criminal Justice Center. The CJC houses U.S. Marshal’s Service inmates, and the U.S. Department of Labor ordered the city to raise jailer’s pay levels to those already being paid at the Reeves County Detention Center I and II units.

The police pay increases included stipends based on education and training levels, along with seniority. But city manager Joseph Torres said the changes led to overpayment of the officers due to incorrect calculations, a mistake not discovered until Aug. 3 when the city was working on its 2007 fiscal year budget.

The officers’ pay was then cut to the proper levels, but Torres said the council needed to decide whether or not to adopt a 2007 budget with the salaries adjusted downward to correct the mistake, or to raise the salaries back up to their pre-Aug. 3 levels.

“Whoever said we were going to come around and cut police officers’ pay, that’s not a true statement,” Torres told those in the audience at the meeting. “We never said we would cut police officers’ pay.”

“The council already voted to forgive the back pay issue,” he said. “Because the mistake was done in-house.”

City finance director Sam Contreras said he took responsibility for the mistake. He said the police stipends ranged from as low as $13 every two weeks to $138, depending on officers’ experience and level of training.

Contreras added that due to the mistake already being factored into last year’s budget, keeping the stipends at their pre-Aug. 3 levels could be worked into the 2007 fiscal year budget.

However, he also said he had heard from other city department heads, who were concerned that workers in their departments who had taken additional training courses or had certain levels of seniority were not going to get the same stipend levels as those in the police department.

“That’s the problem we have with our regular employees. They feel left out,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Gerald Tellez, who was the only council member to vote against keeping the current stipend levels in place. He said the police “have been well-rewarded for their education. They’ve been doubly rewarded.”

“Some are making $3,000 (more), some are making $2,000. That’s something they’ve acclimated themselves to,” said councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela, who along with councilman Danny Rodriguez, Frank Sanchez and Michael Benavides voted to maintain the pre-Aug. 3 wage rates.

Tellez pointed out that the cash-strapped city has been scrutinizing the budgets of other groups that receive money from the city, including the Pecos Chamber of Commerce, the West of the Pecos Museum and the Pecos Economic Development Corp.

“They don’t affect our budget, but the police department does,” he said. “I just see ourselves digging into a bigger and bigger hole.”

“Anytime you raise costs, you have budget issues,” said Torres, while adding that “We’ve come a long way from two years ago.”

However, he reminded the council that the city is facing future costs, including the assumption of the $420,000 annual bond payment from Reeves County in 2011 for construction costs on the new South Worsham water field.

“We have to start putting resources back where they used to be, for the wasteater treatment plant and the payments” Torres said. “We can’t continue to have deferred maintenance.” “We need to continue to work to reward our employees,” said Rodriguez. “I hope we can come up with ways to level off all employees, not just one department.”

“In order to make this work, you have to start at one end or the other,” he added. “I was under the impression that when we did this two years ago we were going to do that next year for the others.”

City salaries were frozen last year due to a budget gap of around $900,000 that also forced major increases in the city’s water rates. This year’s preliminary budget gap, pending final cuts to balance the 22007 budget, was put at $100,000 by Contreras at a previous council meeting.

“I feel that the individuals who are being penalized are not the ones who made the mistake,” said Rodriguez, who added Contreras’ department should take the blame for the problem.

“I have no problem being written up,” said Contreras, while adding, “If we do that with the issues seen here … several department heads have issues that were never written up. To discover all those errors, we’ll have to go back, and that will open a can of worms.” “I feel that’s a different agenda item,” said councilman Frank Sanchez.

Torres said the numbers for calculating the 2007 budget are still awaiting final word from the U.S. Marshal’s Service on whether or not it will raise the man/day rate paid to the city for housing inmates at the CJC. The council has to approve a final budget and tax rate for 2007 by the end of September.

When the Department of Labor ordered the city to increase is pay rates for jailers two years ago, the Marshal’s Service did not raise its payments to the city under the current contract. The action left the city owing just under $415,000 in back pay to CJC guards, and has left the city with a deficit each of the past two years due to the salaries ordered by the DOL and the compensation offered by the Marshal’s Service. Torres did say the city has been able to lower the deficit from its initial $433,000 level to just a little over $100,000.

City officials have been working with U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla and Sen. John Cornyn over the past several months to get the man-day rate increased, along with receiving back pay compensation from the Marshal’s Service due to the DOL ruling. Torres said later in Tuesday’s meeting they are still awaiting word from the Marshal’s Service on how they plan to handle the situation.

RCH board keeps tax rate, hopes to avoid rollback vote

Reeves County Hospital District board members voted on Tuesday to maintain the district’s current tax rate, while hoping that their action won’t lead to a rollback election sometime next year.

The board voted unanimously to keep the district’s current rate of .38602 cents per $100 in valuation, a move that is expected to bring the hospital an additional $460,000 in revenue in 2007. Board members said the money was needed to close the hospital’s budget gap, as well as going towards recruitment of a new physician for the hospital.

Lydia Prieto, who calculates the tax rate for the hospital under a contract with the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, told members that due to an increase of over $100 million in valuations since last year, the hospital would need only a .31384 cent tax rate to raise the same amount of revenue as a year ago, while the rollback rate under state law would be .36182 cents per $100 in valuation.

“If you go beyond .36182, taxpayers can petition for a rollback election,” she told the board. A petition would have to carry the signatures of 10 percent of the county’s registered voters and would have to be filed by the end of December in order to be placed on the ballot sometime in the spring of 2007.

Prieto told the board using the rollback rate would get the hospital an additional $300,000 in tax revenues for the upcoming year.

“Is it worthwhile to get $160,000 more. That’s what we have to decide,” said board member Leo Hung.

“The extra $160,000 is not large in the scheme of things, but it’s an extra $160,000 we can use,” said interim CEO and Chief Financial Officer Frank Seals.

“To me that’s a lot of money,” said board member Brenda McKinney. She added that the district needs to maintain its health care services in order to attract growth in the Pecos area. “To bring people into the community, health care is a big issue for them,” she said. “The taxpayers are used to the current rate, and we’ve made a big investment in our dialysis center. It’s a tremendous asset within the community.”

Along with the dialysis center, the hospital also is in the process of recruiting a doctor to replace Dr. Haitham Jifi, who closed his practice in Pecos two months ago.

“We have to explain to normal home owners that they are not going to be paying any more,” Hung said.

“I think 2 cents really will not affect a lot of citizens, and mainly a lot of it will be (paid by) the oil companies,” he said.

Prieto said a rollback election would cause her office problems if voters decided to order a tax rate cut. The P-B-T ISD handles tax mailings for the school district and Town of Pecos City, along with Reeves County Hospital.

“Right now we don’t have enough staff to do a second mailing in May,” she said, which would be both for the new tax rate, along with refunds to property ow

ners who paid at the .38602 rate. “It’s going to be a lot of work to do all those refunds.” The vote to maintain the current tax rate was 4-0, with board member Terry Honaker absent for the meeting. Prieto then said the board will have to hold hearings on the tax rate, and they were scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 14 and Sept. 19 in the hospital classroom. Final approval of the rate is scheduled for the board’s regular monthly meeting, on Sept. 28.

PEDC board votes to cut Burkholder’s pay

Pecos Economic Development Corp. board members voted 3-2 to cut the salary of PEDC President Mike Burkholder by $18,000 following a contentious two-hour meeting on Monday in the conference room of the TransPecos Bank building.

Board members also opted to make no changes in the location of the PEDC office for now, and approved selling a property owned by the corporation on the north side of Pecos before getting into discussion of Burkholder’s salary.

The item was due to be discussed in executive session on Aug. 21, but it was tabled after Burkholder asked that the discussion take place in open session. City attorney Scott Johnson attended Monday’s meeting, and said under state law Burkholder was within his rights to allow the press and public to attend the meeting.

Board members Jimmy Dutchover, Angelica Valenzuela and Al Gomez voted in favor of the cut, while board chairman Joe Keese and board member Leo Hung voted against. The three cited problems with Burkholder’s communication skills and his lack of assistance for small businesses already in the community, as outlined in a November 2005 evaluation report, as reasons for the cut, along with their feelings that the $60,000 annual salary with benefits was not justified based on the work load required of the PEDC president.

Burkholder said following the meeting he had no plans to quit his position, despite the cut in pay to $42,000 a year.

The original vote was to also cut the hours of the president from full to part-time, while hiring a secretary to answer phone calls, but after a heated exchange at the end of the meeting, board member Angelica Valenzuela made the motion to cut the pay while keeping the position as a full-time job.

“I say we need a full-time position. I agree with that. But have we gotten a full-time effort?” she asked.

“I understand the evaluation. People have issues with Mike. But I don’t understand a 40 percent pay cut,” said Keese. “That’s just like saying ‘leave, go away’.

“Don’t demote this position. I don’t think Pecos needs a part-time effort,” said Keese, who cited Burkholder’s other work assisting the Town of Pecos City with oil leases as things he has done to help the community. He also said they would have a hard time finding a qualified replacement for Burkholder at that pay level if he leaves the position.

“I truly believe this is a part-time position,” said Dutchover. “We can hire an administrator to handle office duties.”

Burkholder would later ask Dutchover how he could be devote his full-time effort at his pay levels to the positions he currently is holding.

“You’ve got jobs with the school, with the teacher’s credit union and a job with the county,” Burkholder said. “If I follow you, then $60,000 ought to be great for a half-time job.”

Dutchover serves as transportation director and AEP director for the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, as well as president of the Reeves County Teacher’s Credit Union. He was hired last year by Reeves County to help secure grants at an annual salary of $40,000.

“We have a full-time person at the Chamber making $36,000,” said Valenzuela, who estimated Burkholder’s salary and compensation package as being in the $80,000 range. “That’s basically what the city manager makes.”

“I don’t think you’re being fair,” Burkholder later asked Valenzuela. “What would you do if they cut your salary 40 percent?”

“I’d quit” Valenzuela replied. Valenzuela later said Burkholder had failed to keep members properly updated on PEDC activities, and Burkholder then said Valenzuela had missed three straight meetings, a change she denied, and said he was unable to contact her on the phone.

“Every time I’ve tried to call your number, all I’ve ever gotten was an answering machine,” he said. Valenzuela then said she was through discussing the issue and called for the vote to reduce Burkholder’s salary.

Hung said he wasn’t against a salary reduction, if the board felt the position was only worth $42,000 a year. But he added, “Don’t lower it just to force him out.”

CPA Randy Graham, who handles the audits for the PEDC, said he didn’t understand why board members were intent on cutting Burkholder’s pay.

“This is a very important position in the community,” he said. “It needs to be adequately compensated.”

He added that he thought current salaries paid to the city manager and Reeves County Judge were also below their proper levels, and that given the PEDC’s current financial situation, it could afford to maintain Burkholder’s current salary.

Dutchover cited the part-time status of the head of Fort Stockton’s economic development corporation, though Keese said the Fort Stockton EDC president has two assistants.

Burkholder took over the position on an interim basis in the fall of 2004, replacing Gari Ward. Last week, he said he did not know that the board had voted to cut his salary until he drew up the 2007 fiscal year budget with his pay remaining at the $60,000. Board members also told Burkholder on Monday that contrary to his belief, he had not been named as the official replacement for Ward and was still serving in the job on an interim basis.

Other problems listed by board members on the November 2005 evaluations were failure to update the PEDC Internet site, too much focus on dairy farm recruitment and failure to develop joint ventures between Reeves County and the Town of Pecos City.

In reply, Burkholder said the site has been updates after working with webmaster Peggy McCracken, and he had cut off advertising for dairy farms due to higher transportation costs. He also said city-county joint ventures were not really part of the PEDC’s operating mandate.

Valenzuela and Dutchover corrected a statement made by Keese during the board’s Aug. 21 meeting, saying they had taken their vote in March to cut Burkholder’s salary following an executive session, and not during the session. However, Burkholder was not in attendance during the session, and the agenda item on evaluating the president’s performance did not include mention of a vote on lowering his salary, which necessitated the second vote.

Earlier in the meeting, the board accepted a $5,000 bid for the Robertson/Burkholder Property from John Armstrong. He said the property borders his family’s home on three sides, and Burkholder said due to the location, it was not a high-priority site for economic development.

The board also voted not to order the PEDC to relocate its offices to City Hall, after Burkholder said out-of-town businesses seeking to locate in the area often don’t want others to know about their visits before any deal is announced.

“I thought it was something for thought,” Dutchover said.

“When folks come to town, they don’t want people to know they’re in town until they’re ready,” said Burkholder.

“It’s about as public as it gets at City Hall,” said Gomez.

Keese said the Fort Stockton EDC is in a business site with its Chamber of Commerce and Main Street program, but all are located away from City Hall. He said combining those same three groups in Pecos at the same location, but away from City Hall, could cut administrative costs, but said, “I think that’s a long-term project.”

Loving Co. oilfield accident leaves one dead

An investigation is ongoing in an oilfield-related accident that occurred Wednesday in Loving County that claimed the life of one man.

“We got the call yesterday about midday,” said Richard Tapio, Area Director of OSHA for the West Texas Division.

Tapio said that they have someone at the scene at this time investigating the accident.

“We have an inspector out there today and he was there yesterday as well,” said Tapio.

Tapio said that it was reported to them that there was an accident in Loving County and that it involved a piece of equipment.

“They said that apparently someone was struck by a vehicle,” said Tapio. “And yes, there was a fatality,” he said.

The name of the victim, reportedly from Odessa, was not released as of press time on Thursday.

Tapio said that it normally takes about one to six months to complete a fatality investigation. Loving County Deputy James Clark said that they could not release any information except to say that there had been a fatality at one of the oil rigs out there.

“They told us the closest town was Kermit,” said Tapio.

The incident was the third in August involving drilling activity in the Loving County-northern Reeves County area. Texas Railroad Commission officials were in Mentone in early August to investigate the cause of a gas pocket breach that sent a 60-foot water geyser spraying into the air across the street from the Loving County Courthouse, and last Friday investigators were dispatched to a rig in Reeves County eight miles northwest of Mentone following a gas well blowout. There were no reported injuries in either of those two incidents.

Citizens Police Academy to meet

The Pecos Citizens Police Academy Alumni will meet at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 5, at the Pecos Police Department.

All members are urged to attend.

Masonic Lodge sets open meeting

The Pecos Masonic Lodge #736 will have an open meeting at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 12.

The group will meet for the presentation of 60 years for Jimmy Toone and 50 years for Harold Elder.

Marruffo, Corrales to exchange wedding vows

Israel and Hortencia Marruffo announce the upcoming wedding of their daughter, Olivia Marruffo to Mark Anthony Corrales.

The couple will wed at 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 2, at Santa Rosa de Lima Catholic Church.

A reception and dance will follow.

The bride to be is a 2005 graduate of Pecos High School.

The future groom is a 2001 graduate from Tulare Western High School in Tulare, Calif.

He is currently serving as a combat medic for the United States Army.

The couple plan to reside in Nolanville, Tx., following the wedding ceremony.

Hill receives Masters Degree

Karen Hill received her Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction through the University of Phoenix on July 29.

She graduated from Waylan Baptist University in 1990 with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and a minor in business administration.

Hill is employed by the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah School District where she teaches math at Pecos High School.

She is serving her second term as President of Delta Kappa Gamma International, an educational society for women educators.

Taylors announce birth of daughter

Kyle and Myra Taylor announce the birth of their daughter, McKinzie Jean Taylor.

McKinzie was born Thursday, Aug 24, at Reeves County Hospital in Pecos.

Welcoming her home were her brother, Michael and her sister, Kellie.

Paternal grandparents are Steve and Dawn Taylor of Midland and Dan and Kathy Painter of El Paso.

Maternal grandmother is Christina Bitolas of Pecos.

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