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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, July 28, 2006

Pecos man faces drug charges after raid

A Pecos man was arrested and charged with several drug offenses, after Pecos Police officers obtained a warrant to search his home Wednesday morning.

According to police, at 9:12 a.m. officers arrested Don Barton, 52, at his residence at 309 S. Pecan St., on two warrants, with the other charges added later after a search of the home. During the arrest, Pecos Police Officer Felipe Villalobos observed a plastic bag lying on the living room sofa. The plastic bag contained a substance believed to be cocaine.

“The evidence was secured as well as Mr. Barton’s residence, while a search warrant could be obtained,” said Pecos Police Investigator Paul Deshler.

At 10:41 a.m., a search warrant was executed on Barton’s residence.

“During the search, officers located a substance believed to be heroin,” said Deshler.

Also found during the search were materials which are commonly used with the injecting and packaging of heroin.

“Officers completed their search of Barton’s residence and he was placed in the Pecos Criminal Justice Center awaiting arraignment,” said Deshler.

Barton was initially arrested on the outstanding warrants and was also charged with offenses of possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) and possession of a controlled substance (heroin), according to Deshler.

Pecosites receive awards from Bonilla

Two local women received awards from Congressman Henry Bonilla in honor of the hard work that they have done in the community.

Monica Hernandez from Congressman Henry Bonilla’s office and Pecos Police Officer Mike Balog presented awards to Anita Balog and Brenda McKinney, both members of the Citizen’s Police Academy.

The Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition Awards were made to the two local ladies in recognition of outstanding and invaluable service to the community and was signed by Bonilla.

The first recipient, Brenda McKinney, graduated from CPA Class No. 1, was very instrumental in the formation of the Pecos Citizens Academy Alumni and became the first CPAA president. Under leadership this became a strong and well organized program. During her reign as president the Alumni grew to well over 50 volunteers. Through her tireless and own effort was able to gain 501 c3 non-profit status for the Citizens Police Academy Alumni.

As a volunteer, she would miss work and give up weekends to help establish and make the Safe Kid ID Program a success by not only fingerprinting hundreds of children but also gain financial support for the program. She has given of her time for many projects such as bike rodeos, disaster situations, training programs, and safe community projects.

McKinney has been a driving force in gaining financial support for all of the community programs and has participated in many fund raisers. She also serves on the Pecos Valley Crime Stoppers Board and has helped make that a strong program. Besides her volunteer efforts for the Pecos Police Department she also volunteers on the Reeves County Hospital District Boards, the West of the Pecos Rodeo Committee, the Chamber of Commerce Women’s Division, the Rodeo Hall of fame, Catholic Daughters, and the Junior Livestock Show.

The second recipient, Anita Balog, graduated from CPA Class No. 3, and quickly became involved in the CPA Alumni and the community. She became a disaster instructor, CPR instructor, and helped form our first disaster team in which she became Captain. In 2004, she lead this team through three disaster shelters, waded through flood waters, did damage assessments, and comforted many victims. Her Team received The Disaster Volunteer Team of the Year Award from the American Red Cross. For over two years, she stayed on 24-hour call for disaster victims, responded to many house fires and made sure the families were taken care of. She was also a CASA Volunteer looking after and standing up for the rights of children in our community. She participated in every volunteer program that the Police Department or the CPAA held. She created a computer program that not only traced all the volunteer hours, but also broke the hours down into categories.

Balog was instrumental in helping to reorganize Pecos Valley Crime Stoppers and Campus Crime Stoppers, making the community and our campuses a safer place. She now serves as president of Pecos Valley Crime Stoppers.

Staff shortage threatens dialysis center

The financial situation at the two-year-old kidney dialysis unit at Reeves County Hospital is looking better, and is helping partially offset the hospital’s drop in patient volume during the first seven months of this year, hospital board members were told during their monthly meeting on Tuesday. But the center could face shutdown later this year unless nursing staff shortages are addressed quickly by the district, the board was told by a consultant.

Members were given updates on the hospital’s dialysis center, and the district’s financial situation during the three-hour meeting. They heard from Peggy Honaker, who is in charge of financials for the dialysis center, and Peggy Knudson, a consultant brought in to evaluate the facility, spoke to the board about the center’s problem.

Honaker spoke at the start of the meeting, while she and Knudson both spoke later and told the board action was needed immediately to address the staffing shortage in the dialysis unit.

“I think the facility has some of the best clinical care I’ve ever seen,” she told the board, but at the same time, she added, “On the other side of the coin, it’s very important the board and the community understand there are some long-term goals that need to be set for this program, or it will fail.”

She said part of that involves making greater efforts to attract area residents to the center who currently are going to Midland-Odessa or El Paso for treatment. But the more pressing need is for nurses trained in dialysis. Knudson said the loss of one nurse due to a family emergency has forced her to handle nursing duties while working on her consulting job, but that when her contract is up later this year, the facility could be forced to close if the staffing problem isn’t resolved.

“You need to be putting ads in the papers, and you need to be hiring recruiters,” she said. “You will fail the (state) administrative test is solutions are not found.”

“We have got to make this happen,” said hospital board president Linda Gholson. “We can’t let it close. That’s not an option.”

Honaker told the board that the dialysis unit currently has 24 patients, and might be able to handle two more patients with the current staff.

“We know what direction we need to go immediately, and that’s staff,” she said. “I’m asking Frank (Seals, the hospital’s interim CEO and Chief Financial Officer) for money to put ads in the paper to find staff.”

In-between the two discussions, Seals said the hospitals patient volume continued its downward trend in June, though the overall financials were better, due in part to the added income from the dialysis center. Board members were told the lower patient census affects both the direct income and the revenue the hospital gets out of Medicare and Medicaid.

“Our total posted revenue is $118,000 less at this time than last year, and that includes a $54,000 increase in dialysis,” Seals said. “If you take that out of the equation, that takes us up to a $170,000 decline in gross revenue. Our operating expenses are only $15,700 less, and that difference shows up in the bottom line.

He said the loss of Dr. Haitham Jifi, who closed his practice this month, was part of the reason for the decline, while Dr. K.M.L.S.T. Moorthi, who oversees of the dialysis center has helped make up some of the $128,858 net loss over the first half of 2006.

“He admitted 10 patients yesterday, so he has been taking up the slack,” Seals said.

While the current financials for the hospital were not good, board members did receive some good news during discussions with Lydia Prieto on the 2006 valuations for the district. The sharp jump in oil and natural gas prices has caused mineral valuations in Reeves County to rise, and increased the district’s total valuations by $99 million since lat year.

Based on the current .38602 cents per $100 in valuations tax rate, the hospital would receive an additional $484,000 in tax revenue if the current rate were maintained for 2007. However, that decision will not be made until budget hearings are held over the next two months, and as part of those plans the board voted to hire Prieto to calculate the district’s effective and rollback tax rates for the upcoming year.

PEDC board told oil firm looks at Pecos relocation

A possible new business in Pecos highlighted Tuesday’s meeting of the Pecos Economic Development Corporation.

The Board met at 5:15 pm at the Trans Pecos Bank building. President Mike Burkholder, and board members Joe Keese, Alfred Gomez, Leo Hung, and Jimmy Dutchover were in attendance. Board member Angelica Valenzuela was absent.

The name of the new business looking to establish itself in Pecos is not known, but it was confirmed at the meeting that the ongoing rumor has merit.

Burkholder reported to the board that a major, international oil company that owned 400,000 net mineral acres in the area had sent representatives to talk about a move to Pecos.

Burkholder said that the company is already headquartered in the Permian Basin and has plans to have 20 rigs working in the area in the coming months.

“At this time I’m not permitted to say what company this is,” he said.

Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood, who was part of the group that met with the prospective business, said that he and the city was very appreciative of the cooperation shown between PEDC, the City, and the Main Street program.

“I think these groups did an outstanding job working with these people and Mike Burkholder specifically did a great job,” Alligood said.

Alligood said that Reeves County officials had been invited to the meeting but that no one from the county attended.

In ongoing economic development news Burkholder reported to the board that several projects involving the former test track were in the works.

“The Texas Transportation Institute is in the process of submitting a bid for a pavement testing machine,” he said.

Burkholder explained that the machine would allow the company to test both pavement and tires without having to have driver physically drive a car around the track.

Also at the track, Applied Research Associates is scheduled to construct a permanent blast bunker at the track facility for blast testing, he said.

As well, the Petroleum Engineering Department of Texas A&M is currently looking at moving a special drilling rig from Alaska to the test track for testing in a desert environment, Burkholder said.

The rig is designed not to disturb the area and hence has ecological advantages for drillers, he said.

The board also tentatively approved the lease of two downtown buildings to City Engineer Edgardo Madrid.

The two buildings comprise the old Hubbs Office Supply. According to Buckholder PEDC owns one of the buildings and is negotiating for the other. The two buildings were physically merged when the office supply was expanded and the common interior wall was removed to add more floor space for the office supply.

The lease calls for PEDC to lease the buildings to Madrid for $10 per month for five years. In exchange, the lease requires Madrid to fix the roof and renovate the buildings.

Madrid said that he and his wife, Maria Teresa, hope to open a retail business eventually.

Open meetings law challenged in federal court

PECOS (AP) - Two Alpine city council members who claim the Texas Open Meetings Act stifles free speech made their case in federal court for overturning the nearly 40-year-old law.

U.S. District Judge Robert Junell heard arguments Wednesday in the case challenging the law, which was enacted in 1967 and prohibits elected officials from discussing public business in private.

Plaintiffs Avinash Rangra, a member of the Alpine City Council, and Anna Monclova, a former council member, sued last fall arguing the law is vague, confusing and violates their rights to free speech. The suit was filed against Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Brewster County District Attorney Frank Brown.

Junell did not make a decision Wednesday and gave the parties until late September to file additional pleadings.

"The essence of the First Amendment is at issue here," said plaintiff's lawyer Dick DeGuerin. "We choose our representatives in a democratic fashion to speak for us. Any impingement on that free speech has to be extremely limited."

The defendants urged Junell not to impose a federal ruling on a state policy decision. Deputy Attorney General Jim Todd said prosecutions of elected officials for open meetings violations are rare.

"Scores of thousands of public meetings are held every year, but fewer than a dozen are prosecuted," he said.

The case stems from an October 2004 e-mail message sent by then-councilwoman Katie Elms-Lawrence to three other Alpine councilors on the issue of hiring a water engineer for the city. Rangra responded to the e-mail with a suggestion of his own.

Brown charged Elms-Lawrence and Rangra with violating the Open Meetings Act, and both were indicted.

While the charges were dismissed in 2005, Rangra and Monclova filed suit in federal court to challenge the law as unconstitutional.

Rangra, Monclova and Elms-Lawrence testified Wednesday that the law is confusing and that the charges had a chilling effect. Monclova said she was afraid to talk to constituents in the aftermath of the indictments.

"I found myself not wanting to go to the grocery store, not wanting to go to town functions, because someone might be there that might constitute a violation of the Open Meetings Act," Monclova said.

During cross examination, the three said they agreed with the law's intent of stopping public officials from conducting public business in private.

Dennis Olson, a teacher of First Amendment Law at the Texas Tech University Law School, is assisting the plaintiffs.

"No other state both interprets meetings so broadly and imposes a criminal liability," he said.

Katherine Garner, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the law should be upheld.

"We feel the public's business should be conducted in public, and the public has a right to know what public officials are doing," she said.

Valuations keep rising in final appraisal totals

Reeves County Tax Appraisal Board members accepted the certified 2006 appraisal totals on Wednesday, which showed valuation increases of up to 20 percent for some local taxing entitles, during the board’s meeting at the Reeves County Tax Appraisal District office on South Cypress Street.

The revised valuations, following Appraisal Review Board hearings in late June and earlier this month, boosted the valuations of all but one of the eight taxing entities in Reeves County, both for the year and over the preliminary figures released by Chief Appraiser Carol King Markham in May. That included changing net valuation losses to gains for both the Town of Pecos City and the city of Toyah, while adding an additional $23 million onto the valuations of the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD and $26 million onto the valuations of both Reeves County and the Reeves County Hospital District.

“We picked up $125 million for the county and the hospital district, and $153 million for the school,” Markham told the board, citing a surge in mineral valuations as the reason for the sharp increases.

The valuations are used by the various taxing entities to determine budgets and set tax rates for the 2006-07 fiscal year. Increases in oil and gas prices caused the total valuations for P-B-T ISD to rise 20 percent this year, to $717.7 million, while the county and hospital district increased by 19 percent, to $664.6 million.

Based on their current tax rates for each $100 in valuation, the increases would mean about an extra $500,000 in tax revenue for the hospital district and county. The school district would stand to gain $2.5 million in tax revenues based on its current tax rate, but the state has revised the funding formulas for school districts in Texas, which is designed to allow schools to lower their property tax rates even without increases in valuations.

Also reporting a 20 percent increase in its valuations was Balmorhea ISD. It’s total net taxable jumped by just under $5.4 million, to $30.7 million. However, unlike the three other taxing entities, over 40 percent of that increase was due to a rise in real estate valuations. “I took the rural modification off. That’s the only reason why we had an increase in real estate, except for the Internet land. It’s still selling,” Markham said.

State officials had threatened to withhold funding from Balmorhea ISD after their audits indicated real estate valuations within the district were below market levels. The removal of the rural modifier, which gave rural real estate owners a discount on their property, caused a 25 percent increase in real estate valuations in the district. It also affected other rural real estate values in Reeves County and in the area of western Ward County served by P-B-T ISD.

Revised mineral valuations also helped Balmorhea’s schools. With most of the oil and gas exploration in the northern part of the county, May’s preliminary numbers showed a loss of $640,300 from 2005, while the revised figures show the mineral valuations for Balmorhea ISD are up $3.1 million.

“Balmorhea is doing good. We got them out of their grace period,” Markham said.

In connection with the Balmorhea ISD valuations, the board agreed to pay for Markham to travel to Austin for a meeting to discuss appraisal standards reviews. “It will highlight what they have available for us in Austin,” she told the board.

Mineral valuations in the Town of Pecos City didn’t match those outside the city limits and showed a decline. But the revised numbers cut that loss from $3.2 million to just $260,000, and more than offset a $150,000 drop in real estate valuations from May’s preliminary figures. Total net taxable income for the city is up $710,270 after a preliminary estimate of a $2.1 million loss.

The cities of Toyah and Balmorhea also saw their revised mineral valuations rise enough to move them from a net decrease from 2005’s figures to a net increase from the preliminary numbers.

Balmorhea’s mineral valuations were revised upward by $135,000, while real estate valuations were cut by $21,000 after the Appraisal Review Board hearings. The total changes from 2005 showed a net increase of $738,290. Toyah’s real estate values fell $10,000 after the ARB headings, but mineral valuations were revised upward $720,000 on the certified totals, giving the city a $318,290 net increase from a year ago.

The only taxing entity to show a net loss from May’s numbers was the Reeves County Water Irrigation District No. 2. Its real estate values stayed the same, but mineral valuations were revised downward by nearly $480,000, taking it from a slight gain to a $473,000 loss from 2005. Markham said infrastructure problems were to blame for the decline.

“I wish the water district did better, but a lot of that is caving in and hollowing out,” she said.

Over the past six years, since oil and natural gas prices first began their rise, valuations for P-B-T ISD are up by almost 95 percent, while the county and hospital district have seen their valuations jump by nearly 90 percent. In contrast, Pecos has seen a 3.4 percent drop in valuations over the past six years, and Reeves County WID 2’s valuations have almost been cut in half during that time.

In other action before the appraisal board of Wednesday, members were updated on the quarterly budget report for the district and approved repair work for the district’s pickup. They also approved a $5,000 pay raise for Markham.

“I hope this will bring us closer to what other counties are paying for the same job,” said board member Linda Gholson.

In addition to the salary increase, board members said they would look at increasing the district’s travel expense from the current 24 cents a mile when they hold their next meeting on Oct. 11.

Ex-NFL player sentenced for pot smuggling

A former Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bill football player was sentenced to federal prison on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Pecos on drug related charges, following a conviction earlier this year.

United States Attorney Johnny Sutton announced that 27-year-old, Lennox Constantine Gordon, a former NFL player who also played football at the University of New Mexico, will spend 97 months in federal prison for conspiracy to possess marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and obstruction of justice.

In addition to the prison term, United States District Judge Robert Junell in Pecos, Wednesday afternoon, ordered that Gordon, aka, James Nails, be placed under supervised release for a period of five years after completing his prison term.

On Feb. 24, 2006, a federal jury convicted Gordon of the charges. The jury found that beginning in March 2002, Gordon and his accomplices conspired to distribute approximately 700 pounds of marijuana. On June 14, 2002, one of Gordon’s co-conspirators was apprehended at the Sierra Blanca checkpoint with a 305 pound marijuana load. Evidence showed that Gordon and others hired a professional car hauler to transport marijuana from Phoenix, Ariz., to Atlanta, Ga. Gordon was also convicted of harassing the car hauler by instructing him on what to say to law enforcement regarding the apprehended marijuana load.

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and was prosecuted for the government by Assistant United States Attorneys Jay Miller and Jeff Parras.

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