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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, September 15, 2006

Office closings have city weighing utility takeovers

Town of Pecos City officials may look into taking over operations of local utility services, after First Choice Power Co. notified local residents they’d be closing down their Pecos office at the end of the month.

The utility’s decision to shut its 22 payment centers in cities across the state on Sept. 29 comes after an earlier announcement by Texas Gas Service that it would shut its local office. The council took no action on the issue during their Wednesday evening meeting, but said the possibility of municipal ownership would be considered at future meetings.

“It is something that’s going to take place across the United States,” said mayor Dick Alligood, who brought up the issue for discussion on the council’s Sept. 28 agenda. “They’re shutting them down and pulling them in, and this is something we’re going to have to look at.”

First Choice sent out notices of the closings earlier this month. The company said they would offer several alternative payment options, including payment in person at Western Union offices across the state. Catherine K. Carlton, with media relations for First Choice, said that option would include two Western Union offices, at La Tienda Thriftway on South Eddy Street and at Desert Rentals and Sales on East Third Street, but for a number of customers who received the closing notice, the nearest Western Union office listed was in Kermit, 50 miles away.

“We continuously look for ways to make First Choice Power more effective and efficient in support of providing our customers with consistent Simply Better service and pricing,” said Jeff Weiser, co-president of First Choice Power, in a news release. “There are many other ways to pay your bill that save time, money and gasoline. We remain committed to exceptional customer service and believe that centralized service helps us deliver on that commitment consistently.”

Other options listed by the company include payment by mail, payment over the Internet, payment by phone and automatic bill payment through checking account deductions.

A First Choice press release also said customers could opt for budget billing, which would average out monthly payments for customers, but council members and others at Wednesday’s meeting said some of those options aren’t viable for some customers, especially the elderly.

“They expect everybody to have a computer at home,” said Martin Arreguy, in charge of the city’s street maintenance department. “It’s a hardship on people who pay cash.” Carlton said cash payments would be accepted at the Western Union offices.

She explained that the deregulation of electric power in Texas four years ago led to the company’s decision to close its local payment offices.

“Because of the changes, our customers are no longer concentrated in our original service territories,” she said. The deregulation allowed all of the state’s power companies to offer service to customers across Texas.

“We will continue to fully support the communities we serve,” Carlton said. She said the company is offering grants of $3,000 to $5,000 to teachers as part of its commitment to education, and added that First Choice has recently returned its call center to Texas, locating it in the Dallas area.

First Choice Power was created by parent company Texas-New Mexico Power to be its retail electricity sales arm in Texas and Southeastern New Mexico. In June of 2005, TNMP and First Choice were acquired by PNM, the largest private utility in New Mexico, in a $181 million deal.

While First Choice will close its office on South Cypress Street in two weeks, the company will maintain its TNMP district office, located on Stafford Boulevard.

Arreguy told the council that Fort Stockton already serves as that city’s natural gas provider, while Alligood said municipal operation of the gas and power services has proven profitable for other cities of similar size to Pecos. Currently, the city operates as the water and sewer utility provider for local residents.

Council, homeowners discuss Jackson Blvd. Repairs

Town of Pecos City officials and residents along Jackson Boulevard talked about how to solve the problem of leaking water lines and collapsing pavement along the west side street, during Wednesday’s meeting of the council at City Hall.

The council and those at the meeting were given an update on the problems, related to water lines designed to provide irrigation to the grass and trees on the traffic islands. City Parks Department Director Tom Rivera said the water leaks and roots from the fruitless mulberry trees planted in the islands are causing pavement too be pushed up in some areas while sinking in others.

“If you drive down Jackson Boulevard recently, it feels like a roller coaster ride,” Rivera said. He also showed slides of areas where grass had overgrown the pavement next to the islands, though city crews have been able to blade off the grass in recent days.

Rivera also presented charts showing the leaks resulted in one million gallons of water usage from one traffic island water line in 2004, and that before the lines were shut down earlier this summer, the islands had consumed 588,000 gallons of water so far in 2006. A city water truck is currently providing the irrigation for the traffic islands, though Rivera and city utilities director Edgardo Madrid noted that rains over the past month have made watering the trees and grass unnecessary. They also offered up a plan to prevent the grass in the street from returning.

“Edgardo recommends cutting back 2-3 feet of asphalt at the curb, sterilizing the soil and then replacing the asphalt,” Rivera said. “It’s not an overnight solution, but if we begin this winter, we can do 2-3 islands at a time.”

Rivera also recommended replacing the mulberry trees with Afghan pines and possibly desertscaping the traffic island, though those suggestions were questioned by Jackson Boulevard residents.

“I personally want to see those trees saved,” said homeowner Jerry Millsapps. “Desert landscaping I’m opposed to. You can drive to the city limits and see all the desert you want. Anything that’s green and grows, we need to keep.”

Millsapps noted that he and other local residents have helped maintain the traffic islands, both through watering and through planting rose bushes, which he said had begun dying after the water lines were shut off.

“We are very fortunate we got some rain that kept them in good shape,” he said.

“Other than Jefferson (Street) and Winding Way, I think Jackson Boulevard is the nicest three blocks you can drive down,” said homeowner Bill Oglesby. But he did note that the huge water leaks are unfair to other local residents, who end up having to pay for the wasted water.

“If I lived on Oleander or some other street, I wouldn’t be interested in giving us water,” Oglesby said.

His son, TransPecos Bank president Bill Oglesby, said the mulberry trees do use a lot of water and have roots that damage underground pipes, but asked the city if they could look at some other type of replacement tree.

“I think Afghan pines are nice, but I’d rather see something like a soapberry or another native tree in its place,” he said.

Mayor Dick Alligood said the city would take local homeowners’ concerns into consideration while coming up with a plan to fix the water problems.

“You will be notified and contacted about the plans on Jackson, and your input is important, but we need to cut this waste,” he said.

“I think we need to get more research now,” said councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela. “Then we can look a the budgetary expense with each alternative.”

City manager Joseph Torres added that there are other projects on the list for the Parks Department and street maintenance crews to work on before major rebuilding is done on Jackson Boulevard. “But we’ll do whatever the council directs us to do.”

Council members eventually decided to table the issue until a later date, after Madrid can work up options for redoing the traffic islands that the council can consider.

Museum eyes Oak St. park deed from city

Pecos City Council members agreed to seek ways to deed over park land on South Oak Street to the West of the Pecos Museum, during their meeting on Wednesday at City Hall. The council met for over three hours to discuss a number of issues, which included modification of the city’s leave of absence policy, and approval of filling a vacancy on the Pecos Police Department’s patrol force. The length of the first meeting of the month led the council to move it to Wednesday evening from the normal 7 a.m. Thursday date for the first monthly session.

The Museum is seeking rights to land that currently houses the Jersey Lily Saloon replica and another building moved from the city’s original location along the Pecos River.

Museum board president Bill Oglesby made the request to the council, after discussing the plan previously with city manager Joseph Torres and city attorney Scott Johnson.

“I talked it over with Mr. Torres and the city staff. They think it’s a good idea for the city and for the city’s staff,” said Johnson, but he added he didn’t know if the sale could be done without going through a bidding process.

“If we have to bid it, we’ll bid it,” Johnson said, telling council members any bids would come with deed restrictions on use of the land.

Oglesby told the council the replica was built for the Texas centennial in 1935 and was copied from the original design of Judge Roy Bean’s Jersey Lily Saloon in Langtry. It was at two other locations before being moved to the Oak Street park for U.S. bicentennial in 1976, while the older building at the park dates from the original city founding and was moved to the city’s new location in 1883.

“They need to be preserved as part of history,” said Oglesby. Both are located next to the museum, which he said was seeking to develop the park as part of a major tourism effort. “There are things that need to be done to those buildings now,” he said. “If we don’t get good roofs on those buildings, we’re going to lose them.”

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” said mayor pro-tem Gerald Tellez, and the council instructed Johnson to work up a plan to give the land to the museum, with the deed restrictions.

Torres and police chief Clay McKinney asked the council to review the current leave policy, after a police officer was approved for an extended leave of absence without pay due to unexpected circumstances. The changes will affect not only the police department, but all city workers.

“To the best I can remember, we have utilized this policy just three times in the past 15 years,” McKinney said. He added that the affect on other officers, “depends on how much leave the officer is requesting.”

“When we look at compelling circumstances, it’s only granted with the city manager’s approval,” said Torres. “This last one eventually resigned from the police force.”

Torres said the current policy allows for up to six months unpaid level, a period council members had problems with, due to the extra work other employees would face while the position is held open.

“I don’t think it should exceed 30 days,” councilman Michael Benavides said.

“Thirty days, and then if it comes up again, you can look at that,” said councilman Danny Rodriguez.

Councilman Frank Sanchez then proposed a 30-day limit, except for mitigating circumstances, and the change was approved by the council.

Members then voted 3-2 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation. McKinney told members the police department’s staffing is current at the average level for other area cities of similar size, but that the department had cut three full-time and two part-time positions in the past two years, and some community outreach programs police are involved in could be threatened if any further cuts were made.

He added that two other officers are currently looking to take jobs with the Midland Police Department and the U.S. Border Patrol, though their situations are still uncertain.

Council members were given the option of filling the vacancy immediately, waiting until the city gets reply on its request for increased payments from the U.S. Marshal’s Service for the Criminal Justice Center, or not filling the vacancy, and ended up voting 3-2 for the first option, with Benavides and Tellez voting against.

“We’re in a budget crunch right now. Let’s help out the community with lower water rates and sewer rates,” Tellez said, while Benavides wanted to wait until a decision from the Marshal’s Service came back before hiring a new officer.

Red Bluff’s salt solution still cloudy

Red Bluff Water Power Control Board members spent most of their time on Tuesday discussing non-agenda items, mainly dealing with the ongoing problem of salt removal from the Pecos River, during their monthly meeting held at the district’s office on West Second Street.

Managing director Randall Hartman told members the resumption of pumping salt water from Malaga Bend into ponds is still on hold, while the city of Carlsbad tries to buy land for the new ponds.

“Right now Carlsbad can’t acquire the land because the McDonalds are filing a protest,” Hartman said. Red Bluff had to work out an agreement with M&M Cattle Co. and owner Harold McDonald back in the late 1990s to allow the original construction of ponds next to Malaga Bend, but the State of New Mexico later determined the ponds were within the Pecos River’s 100-year flood plain.

The decision required the acquisition of land away from the river, where water from the salt spring will be pumped and then evaporated, after which the salt will be mined for commercial use by a company under a new contract with the district. Water from the salt spring at Malaga Bend causes the river’s salt content to double from the area north of the spring in New Mexico

“If we can pump the well at 400-500 gallons a day we can control this to a point,” Hartman said. “You can go above where this comes in and below and there’s a definite difference. “Controlling it is never going to happen, but if we can get them to come in with the current people and pump, that would be the best solution.”

While the district and the city of Carlsbad try to get land for the new ponds, board member Ava Gerke said Ward County Water Irrigation Districts 1 and 3 have been under pressure from a local farmer about the water quality.

“(C.J.) Cullum says he’s going to sue us for the quality of the water,” she said. “We’re not responsible for the quality of the water,” Hartman said. “Everybody knows what the quality of the water is.”

“We’re a little district. We have no control about the quality of the water,” said Gerke, who later added, “Mr. Cullum is just going to have to serve the State of New Mexico.”

Board members also discussed a letter from landowner Michael McCullough about the salt cedar removal project sought for the Pecos River. The first of the non-native trees along the river were killed off by aerial spraying seven years ago, but the dead trees threaten to uproot and clog the river if a flood occurs, and Hartman said some new trees are beginning to sprout up along the river.

“We’ve got a lot of little salt cedars coming,” he said, while adding, “Burning should take care of a lot of it.”

No action was taken on the Malaga Bend or salt cedar discussions. Board members earlier approved the district’s monthly reports, along with the quarterly investment report.

Cash disbursements for the month totaled nearly $84,000, with over $61,000 of that for the purchase of a new backhoe for Red Bluff Lake.

The monthly water report showed that even with releases downstream for irrigation, rains during August caused Red Bluff Lake to gain over 1,000 acre/feet of water, and board secretary Robin Prewit said the lake has added another 4,000 acre/feet since then.

“It’s up to 91,600 as of yesterday,” she said. The lake was over 120,000 acre/feet before the start of the current irrigation season, but dropped as low as 30,000 acre/feet four years ago, when the district was unable to release water for irrigation for two consecutive years. Robin Lebouf, secretary for Ward County WID 1, asked the board if the deadline for requesting a fall water release could be extended past Friday. “I’ve got several planning fall planting,” she said. “We’ve got some farmers in Ward 1 who are on the verge of not having any water, and they still need to water two or three times.”

Board members agreed to move the water allotment request deadline for the fall back from Sept. 15 to the final week of October.

State student art exhibits added to Fall Fair events

A downtown art show that is part of a traveling display will be held the first week of October, as part of the Reeves County Fall Fair, and booklets detailing events for the 62nd annual fair and the 33rd Reeves County Sheriff’s Posse Barbecue Cook-off are now available.

The fall fair and cook-off set for next month were among the items discussed during the regular Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors meeting held Tuesday at noon at the Pecos Senior Citizen’s Center.

“We have booklets available and there are a lot of new and exciting things,” said chamber of commerce director Linda Gholson.

A new item added to the fall fair this year is ‘Art of the Wall,’ which will be open to the public for three days.

“This is something different, different art form, with glass and metal,” said one of the organizers for the event, Debbie Thomas.

Thomas said that it would feature a Student Art Exhibit, with 100 pieces of the Best of the Best.

Pecos High School art teacher Walter Holland helped with the event, which is part of a display traveling around Texas. Pecos is the smallest city that the show will stop in, Gholson said last week.

“Mr. Holland has one student who has already graduated that will have his piece on display there,” said Thomas. “We’re very excited about that, it will be a great exhibit.”

On Saturday, there will be a chalk artist competition. “All of the schools in the Permian Basin will be invited, we hope it will bring in more people,” said Thomas.

“We have all the booth spaces taken and we need volunteers,” said Gholson.

The fair will run from Oct. 5-7, and the cook-off will take place on Oct. 6-7 and will be sponsored by the Reeves County Sheriff’s Posse.

The Women’s Division reported that they would once again feature the Pretty Baby Contest during the fall fair.

Children ages birth through 24 months can be entered in the contest.

“They also reported that they are working on the Mother Goose and Friends Parade, but didn’t say what date,” said Gholson. “The Golden Girl Pageant has also been set for June 22,” she said.

The Women’s Division is also looking for members, according to Gholson.

Board member Brenda McKinney reported to the group about the West of the Pecos Rodeo, which for the first time will begin and end in late June.

“We have already set our dates for next year, which will be June 27-30,” said McKinney. “We know a lot of people won’t be happy with us, because we won’t have one on the Fourth, but we feel like we really need that weekend.”

Rodeo officials had the option of holding the event in later June or beginning the rodeo on the 4th of July, which falls on a Wednesday in 2007, in order to finish up events on Saturday night.

McKinney said that they are already working really hard on next year’s event. “We’re trying to plan something for the fourth, though,” she added.

McKinney said that the group is thinking of sponsoring a carnival on the fourth.

“But we really need that weekend to have a rodeo, because it will bring in more cowboys,” said McKinney. “This last year, Pecos was number three, with Colorado being named first, but this speaks very highly of us.”

A job fair will be held sponsored by the Reeves County Detention Center from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 23 at the Reeves County Civic Center.

“We’ll have representatives out there, and they will answer any questions that they have,” said Reeves County Detention Center III Warden Martin McDaniel, who told the group that they were in need of personnel at the prison.

“If you know of anyone that needs a job, we can use them out there,” said McDaniel. “All they need is to be 18-years-old and drug-free.”

Another job fair is scheduled for Oct. 26, at Odessa College and the Workforce Network, the Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce and Odessa College will be on hand.

Mendozas’ announce birth of son

Jaime and Frances Mendoza announce the birth of their new son, Ryan James Mendoza.

Little Ryan was born at 6:24 p.m., on Sept. 8, at Medical Center Hospital. He weighed six pounds, 13 ounces and was 19 1/2 inches long at birth.

Paternal grandparents are Joe Mendoza Sr. and Olga Garica and Johnny Mauldin and Socorro Mendoza of Pecos.

Maternal grandparents are Ismael and Anita Dutchover of Balmorhea.

Williamson graduates from university

Jennifer Maryann Williamson of Katy graduated Houston Baptist University on May 20, with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mathematical Studies/Pedagogy.

Williamson has been employed by the Humble Independent School District to teach in their Timberwood Middle School instructing 7th Grade Math. She began her first teaching day with students on Aug. 14.

She is the daughter of Joseph Mark and Sarah Jane Harrell Williamson of Katy. Her paternal grandparents are Tommy and Margie Williamson of Pecos and Harry Harrell of Amarillo is the honoree’s maternal grandfather.

Her maternal grandmother was the late Margaret Harrell of Pecos, a former teacher of Business Classes at Pecos at Pecos High School and BPA’s sponsor.

Following the graduation ceremony Williamson was honored with a party and luncheon in the home of her uncle, aunt and family, Miles and Kristi Williamson, Miranda and Mark Williamson of Katy.

Other family in attendance were Jennifer’s parents and siblings, Joseph, Mark and Sarah Harrell Williamson, Jessica and John Mark of Katy and her paternal grandparents, Tommy and Margie Fowler Williamson of Pecos.

Other special guests included Jennifer’s fiancée Nathan Craig Garner and his parents, Dearing and Bobbie Garner, all of Kingwood.

The honoree was the recipient of several special gifts including James Avery jewelry and an original watercolor landscape painting rendered by her grandmother, Margie.

The festivities were concluded with visiting and competitive games during the afternoon.

Rusty and Lisa Conley of Sugarland held a poolside swimming party and cookout dinner on Sunday evening May 21, in honor of four young women who had graduated from Houston Baptist University the previous day, and had been close friends during their university years and some of them through previous years.

The special honorees were Kara Conley, Jennifer Williamson, Lauren Burn and Allyn Kraig.

Numerous other friends at HBU were included as attendees, as well as some high school and church friends of the honorees. Also included were the parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family and finances of the honorees.

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