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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, April14,2006

Contreras, Martinez, Guerra score runoff victories

Town of Pecos City Finance Director Sam Contreras scored a narrow victory on Tuesday in the runoff election for Reeves County Judge, while both incumbent commissioners lost their bids to be nominated for new terms in the Democratic Primary election.

Contreras scored a 65-vote win over former Pecos Chamber of Commerce President Al Gomez, in the race to replace Jimmy Galindo as Reeves County Judge. Contreras will face Republican Bobby Hanks in the November general election.

Meanwhile, challengers Gabriel Martinez and Ramiro “Ram” Guerra scored runoff wins over Precinct 2 incumbent Norman Hill and Precinct 4 incumbent Gilberto “Hivi” Rayos in their primary races, and both will be unopposed in the Nov. 7 election.

Martinez and Guerra finished first in the March 7 elections, and both widened their margins of victory on Tuesday. However, Contreras’ win came after he had placed second in last month’s election, finishing 145 votes behind Gomez in the five-person race.

Contreras won with 1,162 votes to 1,097 for Gomez in an election hampered by both a shortage of ballots and by the failure to count votes cast in Toyah on election night.

The election was the second using the county’s new electronic voting equipment, and polling sites on Election Day ran out of scannable ballots, forcing poll workers to use “emergency” ballots. Despite the problems, the results were reported at about 9:30 p.m. that evening.

However, the count did not include the ballots from Toyah, which was accidentally left out of the count. The totals were later recorded, but there were not enough votes to alter the outcome of any of the races..

Despite problems with the ballots, Gomez said he would not ask to have a recount of Tuesday’s runoff election.

“I want to apologize to my supporters, because they are the ones who wanted me to request a recount,” said Gomez.

Gomez received 1,097 votes to his opponent’s 1,162.

“I was disappointed, obviously,” said Gomez. “First, and foremost, thank you to the supporters, volunteers and everyone who voted for us,” he said.

Gomez said that everyone worked really hard. “I want to thank the people,” he said.

“I want to thank everyone. I couldn’t have done it by myself,” Contreras told the crowd gathered outside his election headquarters on North Cedar Street following the announcement of the results on Tuesday. “It’s to the credit of you guys, and I want to give thanks.”

He reminded the group that Tuesday’s election didn’t decide the race. “Don’t forget we’ve got another run in November. It’s not over yet.”

He said winning the runoff, “is somewhat of a surprise,” but added he was optimistic going into Tuesday’s vote due to the work of his supporters. “With something like this you can never take anything for granted.”

“Al is a good opponent and he should be congratulated for running a good race,” Contreras said. “Hopefully Al will help us out running this community and his supporters as well.”

Gomez said that he wanted to congratulate Contreras and said, “He worked really hard.” “I felt that both of us had a desire to serve the public,” said Gomez. “I know that as far as me, if I would have won, I would have worked hard for the betterment of the citizens of Pecos and the community,” he said.

Gomez said that there would be no recount.

“A lot of people have been urging me to do a recount, but I sincerely feel not to, it was a good lead for me to do a recount, I don’t think it will make a difference,” said Gomez. Gomez said that he felt there were a lot of discrepancies with the voting methods and the new machines. “There were paper jams,” he said. “It was a first election with the new machines, it’s unfortunate it happened during the runoff.”

Gomez said that he felt that maybe some voters were turned away during the transition, when they had run out of the official ballots and resorted to the “emergency” ballots.

“I was also kind of sad that the Toyah box was left out during the election, even though I won that box,” said Gomez. “It’s disheartening, that it wasn’t done properly.”

Gomez said that this omission reflected on Toyah. “It makes it seem like their votes didn’t count, but I want to thank them, we gained six votes,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that this election had to go through so many discrepancies,” said Gomez. “We did our best,” he said.

Contreras said he plans to continue working as city finance director at least though the November election. “I’d like to work with all the entities to try and make this a better place,” he said.

He said he also plans to talk with Galindo in the upcoming months. The current county judge and Town of Pecos City officials have been at odds over the past few months, and the county has taken legal action over the water and sewer rate increase imposed by the city, which affected water service for the Reeves County Detention Center.

“I think I need to speak with him and see where they’re going,” he said. “It would be a mistake not to go in without knowing what’s going on, so I hope to meet with him and with the commissioners.”

In the commissioner’s races, Martinez won the Precinct 2 seat over Hill by 134 votes, after outpolling Hill by 59 votes in a three-way race last March. Martinez had a total of 423 votes to Hill’s 289.

“I was hoping for the best and it worked out,” said Martinez, who denied Hill a second term as commissioner. “It was a good turnout. I knew the balloting started out slow in the morning, but it picked up after lunch.”

“I’m glad it’s over with, I wish them all the best,” said Hill. “I’ve got a few more months to go and I will do my best,” he said.

Hill said that he congratulated Martinez on his new position and wished him the best. “I called him the next morning to congratulate him, he’ll do well,” said Hill.

Martinez said he plans to attend the commissioners meetings between now and the end of the year “to stay abreast of things and get familiar with everything that’s going on, so it will be a smooth transition from one to the other.”

In the Precinct 4 race, Guerra won by almost a 3-to-1 margin over Rayos, who was seeking his third term as Reeves County Commissioner. Guerra had 384 votes and Rayos had 135 votes. Last month in a four-person race, Guerra had 315 votes to 164 for Rayos.

The confusion about the counting of the ballots, which initially was expected to last until midnight, resulted in Guerra and his supporters not finding out about the results until about 10:30 p.m., when he was informed by Pecos City Councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela. “I’m real grateful to my family, friends and supporters. They really helped me out a lot,” he said.

“I’m ready to start serving the county,” said Guerra, who also plans to attend the meetings between now and January. “It would be a mistake to go in without knowing what’s going on, so I hope to get with (Contreras) and with the commissioners.”

Rayos declined to comment on Wednesday, following his loss.

Council wants additional info on property sale, drilling bids

Action on bids for two properties, along with five oil and gas leases, were tabled by the Town of Pecos City Council Thursday morning, pending further study by city officials, lawyers and the Pecos Economic Development Corp., in order to decide which offers would be in the best interests of the city.

The larger of the two city-owned properties borders Interstate 20 near Reeves County Hospital, while the other is for a section of land along West Walthall Street. The city received three bids for that property and two for the 27.57 acres of land along the interstate, though council members were told the status of one of those two bids was up in the air.

The two bids come from Jaya Corp., which is owned by Ram Kunwar, and from Dr. Arbind Ghandi. Jaya Corp., submitted a bid for $1,125 per acre for the land, in which the company proposes to develop a number of different projects involving both business and residential uses.

Kunwar’s plan includes 120 town homes in the section located away from I-20, and business space along the interest, a motel, shopping center, fitness center, a number of medical facilities and a nursing home.

The other bid, from Ghandi, was for $8,000 an acre and proposes using the land for hospitality (motel) and retail purposes, along with physician-owned condominium offices. Ghandi said he has a five-year timeline on his project, and in his April 3 letter told the council he has build 12 motels over the past 20 years and has two current under construction, along with owning 80,000 square feet of office space.

However, city attorney Scott Johnson told council members Thursday morning, “We seem to have a letter of withdrawal, though it was not signed by the person who submitted the bid.”

Clyde Daugherty, who was at the meeting to represent Ghandi, said the second letter was sent by Ghandi’s brother Henry, and did not represent the doctor’s current position. “He talked to me last night, and was supposed to call at 9 a.m. (Thursday) to clear the air a little bit, but as of now he has not withdrawn the bid,” Daugherty said.

Kunwar currently is in the process of remolding both the former Ramada Inn in Pecos as part of the Howard Johnson chain, and the State Theater in downtown Pecos. He also has talked with the council about construction of up to 48 apartments in the city’s Airlawn addition, and was one of the three people to submit bids on the Walthall Street property. Johnson recommended tabling any action on the I-20 property until the council’s May 11 meeting, in order to settle the situation involving the Ghandis and to take a full look at both groups’ proposals. Under terms of the deal, the new owner would have to develop the land in a designated period of time, or the property would revert to the city.

“The other thing to look for is proof of financial responsibility, to make sure they can finish the project,” Johnson said, and council members approved putting off the matter until the first meeting in May.

The council may take up the bids on the Walthall Street site at their April 27 meeting, after getting bids from Kunwar, LeeRoy and Irma Rodriguez and John Lanahan of El Paso.

Kunwar’s bid was for $5,250, and city utilities director Edgardo Madrid said he is looking to construction new housing on the site. The Rodriguezes’ bid was for $5,000, and Madrid said they planned to build a storage area, while Lanahan’s bid was $1,500, with no usage stipulated.

“We haven’t got anybody interested in that area for business except those three people,” Madrid said.

“I’m not sure if we need to be divesting property all at one time. We need to find out what they’re going to do with the property,” said councilman Frank Sanchez, and members then voted to also allow city and PEDC officials to study the offers before any action is taken.

Earlier in the meeting, Madrid and city manager Joseph Torres briefed the council on Monday’s public hearing on a proposal by Kunwar and Armando Hinojos to construct 56 apartments on land originally designed for 20 single-family homes in the 1000 block of Washington Street.

Torres said Janet and Israel Natividad, who own the only home built so far on the land, voiced some concerns about the city’s request to the Office of Rural Community Affairs to change the terms of the project, on which the city currently owes just under $400,000 for repayment of a grant for construction of streets and infrastructure at the site.

“One of their concerns was if the value of their property. Would it get lower?” Torres said. “However, by the time they left, they wanted to be considered as resident manager.

“One of the things they felt was real positive was the architecture and layout of the new development,” Torres said. A play area and pool are included in the apartment proposal, which Torres said ORCA has given its tentative approval.

“ORCA agreed to sign off on the project, provided the packet the investor sent to them was satisfactory,” he said, following a Tuesday meeting with officials of that agency.

Pecos already has had two extensions on repayment of the grant, and Madrid said that while ORCA officials said the city was running out of time, “They said they were going to support us to get the amendment.”

The oil, gas and mineral lease bids on five tracts came from Ramsey Petroleum, LP, though Johnson said approval of the offer couldn’t be done on Thursday because the five tracts had not been advertised. He also said the $25 per acre bid was low in his opinion, while the 3/16ths royalty was about average.

“Sometimes you get 4/16ths, sometimes less,” he said. “The last (per acre) one we got was $37, and I considered that low. Most of the ones I get are in three figures.”

Council members then voted to advertise the bids in the Enterprise over the next two weeks, and consider offers either at the April 27 or the May 11 meetings.

Red Bluff seeks new deal on salt removal

The Malaga Bend salt alleviation project is at a standstill again, though Red Bluff Water Power Control District board members were told a new company may try to revive the removal of salt water from the Pecos River.

The board held their first meeting since January on Tuesday at the district’s Pecos office, and discussed the Malaga Bend project, along with a complaint about a complaint filed by board member Ysidro Renteria, and changes in the water allocations procedure for Ward County Water Irrigation District No. 3, after a local farmer demolished a temporary dam within in the district in order to get water into a canal scheduled for repairs.

Managing director Randall Hartman said Bryan Partners, the Illinois-based parent company of Loving Salt, is now officially out of the project to pump water from a salt spring at Malaga Bend away from the Pecos River and into man-made ponds nearby, where the water would be evaporated and the salt mined.

“They’re out of this, but they owe everybody in the country,” Hartman said. That includes about $30,000 in salt royalty payments to Red Bluff. He said the company’s permit to pump the water was rescinded, after it was found they were trying to sell some of the water to oilfield trucks as brine.

“It goes way back to when they were mining salt out of the old lake,” district secretary Robin Prewit told the board about the payments.

Members discussed whether or not the cost of legal action would be worth the effort to collect the $30,000, and Ward WID 3 representative Ava Gerke suggested putting a mechanic’s lien on the company. “If they have any assets in property they’ve got hidden, it can be seized as payment,” she said.

Red Bluff has been talking for a year with another company about taking over operations, but Hartman said the ponds built by Loving Salt are not usable, because they apparently were built inside the Pecos River’s 100-year flood plain.

“They were supposed to have done due diligence, but apparently they didn’t,” he said. He said the new company is looking at a different option for pumping the water. “They’re talking about buying land on the other side of the river and drilling a new well and getting their own water rights,” Hartman said. “They’re not going to take over this facility.”

He said the deal would be one directly between the company and the State of New Mexico. Red Bluff then would not get any salt royalty payment for use of their water pumping permit. “It would benefit us by taking salt out of the river, but we won’t get any money,” Hartman added.

Gerke asked if the district could inject the salt water into deeper ground the way drillers inject brine water during their operations. She said due to royalty payments to Red Bluff for drilling on district-owned land, “The amount of money you’re making from oil is incredible. You’ve got enough money now to do it.”

Hartman said permitting rules in New Mexico would mean at least a five-year delay before any type of brine injection could begin.

Gerke said the district should also look at contacting United Salt, the area’s largest miner, about pumping Malaga Bend water 11 miles to their lake east of Loving, N.M. Hartman said United had talked with the district in the past about use of the water, but that the discussion seemed more designed to eliminate any other local competition to its Carlsbad-area operations.

Gerke and Ward WID 1 secretary Robin Lebouf earlier had told the board Ward 1 would now become the representative for Ward 3’s water orders with Red Bluff, in order to set up a more orderly system of water transfers and enforce penalties for violations. The action came after farmer C.J. Cullum used personal construction equipment to destroy a temporary dam keeping Pecos River water out of a Ward 3 canal.

“The canal blockage was dug out and water was running where the canal repairs and a gate installation was to be done,” Gerke said, adding that the current gate was damaged while the dam was being torn out, and now doesn’t close at all.

“Maybe in December we can try and dam it up and shut down that gate again,” she said. Ward 3 used 119 more acre/feet than allotted during the 2005 irrigation season, but Lebouf said even more water was being sent down the canal in February that Red Bluff had not listed in their water report.

“We know they ran water for six consecutive weeks,” she said, and Prewit said she would recheck the district’s water usage records.

The complaint by Renteria centered on a complaint he had made to Hartman about improper vehicle use by district employee Tommy Moseley. Renteria said when he asked Hartman to put the item on the board’s agenda, “He said we had to go into executive session, but I didn’t want to.”

Renteria said he was unable to find a letter Hartman said he had written to Moseley about the problem, but Prewit said the letter had been read and returned to the district and was on file.

“The matter was handled. It was taken care of then,” said Hartman. “He has brought the letter back. It’s in the file if you want to go look at it.”

Hartman apologized to Renteria for not getting back with him on how the situation had been handled, while he and Gerke got into a discussion on whether or not the issue should be handled in executive session with the district’s attorneys or if it should be taken care of in open session.

“If you addressed it with him and you’re comfortable with it, I’m satisfied, but as far as I’m concerned you’re accountable,” she said. “You’ve accepted responsibility for it.”

City sales tax rebates again up 10 percent

Town of Pecos City sales tax collections reported another 10 percent jump in February, based on the city’s tax rebate check sent out this week by Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s office.

The comptroller sent out checks to cities, counties and special purpose districts collecting part of the state’s 8 1/4-cent sales tax, and Pecos’ 1 1/2-cent share netted the city a check for $70,035.55, up 10.27 percent from a year ago. One sixth of the total, or $11,673, goes to the Pecos Economic Development Corp. for its operations.

The 10.27 percent increase was in line with the increase show during the first quarter of 2006. For the first four months of the year, the city has gotten $314,713 back from sales tax collections, up 10.59 percent from the $284,575 it had received at the same time a year ago. Balmorhea’s sales tax check for the month also was up, while Toyah showed a drop in its check from 2005, but remains up for the year as a whole.

Balmorhea got a check for $771 in April on its 1 1/2-cent sales tax, up 9.31 percent from last year’s $705 check. The city has gotten $4,947 back so far this year, an increase of 35.23 percent over last year’s total of $3,658. Toyah’s April check was $252, a drop of 40.47 percent from last year’s $423 total, but the four-month total of $1,676 is up 41 percent from the $1,188 it has received in 2005.

The biggest percentage increase so far in 2006 has come from the Reeves County Hospital District. It’s 1/2-cent sales tax brought in a check for $32,597 in April, up 25.54 percent from last year’s $25,964 total. For the January through April period, the hospital’s tax rebates are up 59.74 percent from last year, jumping from $108,348 to $173,078.

Big increase continued to be common among Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos cities in April, as the rise in oil and gas drilling continues to cause local economies to surge. However, a couple of cities did see slight declines from a year ago.

Midland’s check for $2.13 million on its 1 1/2-cent sales tax was up 30.14 percent from last year’s $1.63 million, while Odessa’s $1.4 million check on its 1 1/4-cent sales tax was up 30.71 percent from the $1.1 million check it received a year ago.

For other cities collecting the 1 1/2-cent sales tax, Alpine received $86,295 in its March check, up 39.99 percent from a year ago; Crane received a check for $37,423, up 27.08 percent from last year; Lamesa got $62,156 back from the comptroller’s office, which was up 4.48 percent; and Seminole received a check for $69,725, which was up 17.7 percent. Among cities collecting a one-cent sales tax Kermit received $32,201 in their rebate check, up 4.35 percent; Pyote received a check for $422, which was up 50.36 percent ; Wickett received a $5,070 check, up 11.3 percent, and Wink received a check for $4,701, which was up by 43.08 percent.

For area cities collecting a 1 3/4-cent sales tax, Andrews’ check for $172,893 was up 152.9 percent from last year, with about half of that rise due to an increase of 3/4-cent in the city’s sales tax since 2005. Marfa got a check for $15,455, which was one-half percent above last year; while Van Horn got a check for $28,453, which was 11.80 percent higher than a year ago.

For cities collecting the maximum two-cent sales tax, Big Spring received $348,964, an increase of 19.58 percent; Fort Stockton received $114,033, down 2.74 percent; Monahans received a check for $97,543, which was up 51.31 percent; Grandfalls got a $1,308 check, up 8.73 percent; and Presidio received $25,945, up 36.36 percent.

Statewide, Strayhorn’s office sent out March rebate checks totaling $249.4 million, up 17.79 percent from $211.7 million last year. Houston’s $31.5 million check was again the largest individual check sent out, and was 20.72 percent higher than a year ago. Dallas’ check was next, at $15 million, which was up by 10.81 percent from last March.

Easter Sunrise Service set in Barstow

The Easter Sunrise Service on the Hill in Barstow (Farm Road 516) across from the cemetery will be held Sunday.

Coffee and donuts will follow the service at the Barstow Community Center.

Mentone, Balmorhea rabies clinics set

The Pecos Animal Clinic will be in Balmorhea from 9 a.m. until noon, Saturday, April 22, at the Fire Hall.

Rabies shots will be $10 and all other shots will be available.

They will be in Mentone from 5-6 p.m., Wednesday, April 19, at the Mentone Courthouse.

Myers announce birth of daughter

Danny and Amy Myers announce the birth of daughter Natalie Marie.

She was born March 29, at 8:05 p.m., at Las Palmas Medical Center in El Paso.

She weighed six pounds, eight ounces and was 19 inches long.

Maternal grandmother is Rosa Carrasco of Pecos.

Paternal grandmother is Rebeca Myers of El Paso.

Navarette a candidate for State Student of the Year

Nicholas Navarette, of Barstow, has been selected as an Official State Candidate Finalist for the 2006 Texas Student of the Year Scholarship and Recognition Program.

The 2006 State program will be held at the beautiful Houston Airport Marriott on July 14-16, the weekend will be filled with fun, friendship, rehearsals, awards, recognitions and candidates “getting acquainted party.” All state candidates will be able to display their personality, intelligence, school honors, special development, and creativity abilities at the state program.

Candidates were chosen originally from information received at the State Program Headquarters through one of several ways: primarily through public announcement of achievement, participation in various activities, teachers and from past candidates.

The program also has an enthusiastic staff that is very much aware of a variety of youth-oriented activities and events which take place throughout the state, and they continually receive requests for applications to be sent to best friends, neighbors, granddaughters, grandsons and etc.

Through this program, students are eligible for over $20,000 in cash Scholarship, awards and prizes.

Over 450 awards will be handed out. The Student of the Year State Winner will each receive $2,000 cash scholarship and their school $500 cash, along with numerous other prizes.

Navarette is a fourth grade student at Bessie Haynes Elementary School and the son of Pablo and Lorna Navarette.

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York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321

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