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for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Review of city water use, rates gets council’s OK

A review of the city’s water and sewer rates was approved on Thursday by Town of Pecos City Council members, and a report is expected in before the end of the year.

Nelisa Heddin, vice present of Water Resources Management L.P. of Austin, made a presentation to council members, who then approved on a 3-1 vote contracting with the company to conduct the rate review, at a cost of $7,880. She said the review would look at several factors from before and after the city’s sharp increase in water and sewer rates last December, including actual and projected revenues on water sales.

“We want to see how on-track we are, and if there have been any changes in the system,” said Heddin. Other factors include any disconnects or impending additions to the city’s water system, and any changes in levels of water use by current customers as a result of the rate changes.

City manager Joseph Torres said when the council approved the increases last year, they also agreed to conduct a rate study to see if the projected increases between now and 2011 could be adjusted downward.

“We want to look at how customers are using water and what their patterns are,” Heddin said. “Most of your costs are of a fixed-cost nature. When you can use more within the current (system) capacity, that’s when you can adjust rates down.

The study is scheduled to begin at the start of the city’s new fiscal year in October, and is expected to be completed within 60 to 90 days.

Heddin said Water Resources Management could get the data directly from the city’s Incode computer tracking system, which led councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela to question the need for having an outside firm conduct the rate review.

“If this is data we have, I thought that’s why we got Incode. “I thought it would make it a lot easier for us to retain the information and not go outside.”

“We could do a rate analysis, but I don’t consider myself to be an expert,” said city finance director Sam Contreras. “I would not know the standards. She does.”

Contreras and Torres added that having an outside review would help the city in their ongoing dispute with Reeves County over water fees changed to the Reeves County Detention Center.

“A lot of this we’ve been challenged on for our water-sewer transfers,” Torres said. Reeves County has filed complaints with the State of Texas over the city’s use of water and sewer rate funds for use in the General Fund. Torres said the review would help the city in any court fight with the county.

Council members then voted to approve the study, with Valenzuela casting the only vote against, while councilman Danny Rodriguez was absent at Thursday’s meeting.

Ordinances on budget, taxes zoning change gain approval

Town of Pecos City Council members held the final readings on the city’s new 2006-07 budget and tax rates during their meeting on Thursday at City Hall, along with several other budget adjustments for the just-completed 2005-06 fiscal year budget.

The council also held a special meeting on Monday at City Hall to approve the final reading on a zoning change for the land located next to the Pecos Valley Country Club that is to be the site of 44 new apartments.

The new budget took effect on Sunday, along with the new tax rate of .81399 cents per $100 in valuations, which was only a fractional increase over last year’s rate. The council also approved exceptions for over 65 homeowners, along with those with medical disabilities and disabled veterans.

Lydia Preito, who calculates tax rates under a contract with the city, said the exemptions have been approved in the past by council members. Over 65 homeowners will receive a $15,000 exemption, those with medical disabilities will get $10,000 exemptions and veterans’ exemptions will be based on the level of disability.

The council later would approve amendments to the just-completed budget, but sought further information from city finance director Sam Contreras on changes made to the budget over the course of the past fiscal year.

“He gave them to the totals for each department, but the council wanted the items summarized in the final totals,” city manager Joseph Torres said.

Torres said the zoning change was already approved by the city’s zoning board for the site, located on Country Club Drive. Zimmerman Properties sought the change, cutting 11 feet off the clearance on the east side of the property next to the road to the Reeves County Golf Course.

The Springfield, Mo. company is currently completing an apartment complex in Fort Stockton and will start work in Pecos when that work is finished. “They’re hoping to break ground in December, if all the permits come through,” Torres said.

In other action on Thursday, the council tabled action on the sale of the former Stafford Cleaners at 211 S. Cypress St. The city received an offer of $1,000 from Lorena Archuleta for the tax sale, and in her offer said she planned to open a rental and sales business on the site. However, council member Frank Sanchez said because the property is located downtown, the sale should first be run through the Pecos Economic Development Corp. “We decided some time ago any properties in the downtown area of a commercial nature should go through the PEDC,” he said.

“We can do due diligence on all properties,” said mayor Dick Alligood. He said the council could take action at a later meeting, and that Archuleta could also appear before the council prior to any action.

Council members approved allowing the Pecos Police Department to apply for a grant for a new radio console and repeater. Police chief Clay McKinney said the grant will be 100 percent funded through the federal government’s Homeland Security Grant program, at a cost of $33,646. He said the city already has received grants totaling just over $90,000 fro the program over the past two years.

McKinney also said he had adjusted the police department’s schedules to make up for two vacancies on the department’s staff, and is the process of hiring two new officers to fill those positions. “We’ve got everything covered until we can get the vacancies filled,” said McKinney, who expects to do that within the next six weeks.

The council tabled a review of current public works construction projects until the end of October, until city utilities director Edgardo Madrid cane get cost estimates on water line and street repair projects at Fairview Cemetery and on the Jackson Boulevard traffic islands. No action was also taken on the position of Municipal Court Judge, following an executive session by the council.

Council reaches airport pact deal with Blanchards

Town of Pecos City Council members approved a new contract with Pecos Municipal Airport managers Isabel and Dennis Blanchard on Thursday, that clarifies responsibilities for both parties while maintaining the Blanchards’ access to the city’s health insurance plan.

The one-year contract was the result of several months of negotiations on benefits received under previous agreements and responsibilities of the city and the Blanchards for airport operations.

City attorney Scott Johnson said that Isabel Blanchard would be included on the city’s municipal health insurance package, but it would be considered as a benefit, as opposed to being part of her basic package. “She’ll get a 1099 form and will have to pay taxes on it,” he said, while the Blanchards will have to handle any coverage for dependents out of their own funds.

Council members did have concerns about the insurance deal, since similar requests had been made by Pecos EMS and Pecos volunteer fire department members. However, city finance director Sam Contreras said the deal was possible because the city’s insurance company had approved an exemption for Blanchard. City manager Joseph Torres said the deal was first arranged in 1999, though the council didn’t vote the specifics on until 2004.

“It’s been grandfathered in, and we had no choice in the matter,” said councilman Frank Sanchez. “I don’t want to drag it on any longer. It’s been a pretty painful ordeal for the Blanchards.”

Under the new contract, the Blanchards will also be responsible for the purchase of fuel for resale to pilots and for replacing parts for the airport’s mowing equipment, and will turn over the sprinkler system around the airport housing to the city, which will put the watering onto a well and off the main water line. They will also receive free use of one hangar for their airplane.

The Blanchards will get work order tickets to present to city officials to document requests for work to be done around the airport by city employees.

“It’s a one-year contract that doesn’t tie either side down to a long-term agreement,” Johnson said. “That’s what we tried to do, get rid of the handshake deals.”

Hospital board gives final OK to maintaining rate

Reeves County Hospital Board members approved the proposed tax rate during their regular meeting held last Thursday.

The board set the tax rate at .38602, the same as last year’s, according to Interim Reeves County Hospital CEO Frank Seals.

The rate is expected to bring the hospital an additional $460,000 in revenue in 2007. Board members said in August the money was needed to close the hospital’s budget gap, as well as going towards recruitment of a new physician for the hospital, but the rate leaves the district open to a possible tax rollback election next year.

Seals said that the group also approved the operating and capital budgets.

Board members tabled a proposed oil and gas lease for Galveston County and approved the sale of property.

“They approved the sale of this property, with a contingency, that they do something with the property within one year,” said Seals.

The property will still have to be approved by the school district.

Uresti discusses school concerns during area trip

Knowing the needs of the different school districts and the issues that they are facing was the main goal of one of our state representative’s visit to the area.

State Representative Carlos Uresti was in the area last week meeting with the different superintendents.

“I have been meeting the superintendents in different groups and have already met with half of the superintendents in my district,” said Uresti, who defeated Frank Madla this past March for the Democratic nomination for the District 19 seat in the Texas Senate, and is expected to win election to the seat in November. He currently serves as state representative for an area that includes south San Antonio and the areas to the southeast side of the city. Uresti was in Alpine last Wednesday afternoon and in El Paso Thursday. “A few weeks ago I was in Fort Stockton meeting with a group of superintendents there,” he said. “I am hoping to meet with the superintendent from Pecos and discuss the specific issues that Pecos is facing,” said Uresti.

He said he realizes that each school district has different issues.

“Some of the needs are different, while others are the same,” said Uresti.

Transportation is a big issue in San Antonio, and it will be in big cities, while in Pecos it isn’t a big issue, according to Uresti.

“We also have some really old school buildings in San Antonio, some are like 70 years old and those pose a concern,” he said.

Uresti said that some communities were the same, while others are different even though they are located in the same area and are not really that far apart.

“Fort Stockton is considered a wealthy school district, while Pecos is not, even though the cities are not that far apart,” said Uresti. “It might have something to do with the oil wells.” “I met with 35 superintendents and most of them have one concern in common, more pay for the teachers,” he said, adding that turnover in teachers is tremendously high in the smaller school districts and cities.

“Most of these teachers are young and obviously want to meet people, so they move to bigger cities,” said Uresti.

Bilingual education is also an issue and Uresti said that they needed to work on education. “We have met with 90 percent of the superintendents. “They tell me that this is the first time they have been able to meet with the future Senator, so that I can take all these concerns back to the capitol.”

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