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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, August 18, 2006

Congressman optimistic on re-election bid

Republican Henry Bonilla said he feels confident on his chances of being returned to Congress in November, in what will as of now be at least a three-person race for the 23rd District seat Bonilla has held since 1993.

Bonilla lost sections of the Texas Hill Country and gained parts of south San Antonio under a court ordered redistricting plan released two weeks ago. The district was redrawn to meet a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a 2003 congressional realignment by Texas Republicans of the 23rd District violated the Voting Rights Act due to a shortage of Hispanic voters in the border district.

Bonilla was scheduled to face El Paso Democrat Rick Bolanos in the November election. With the new plan, he’ll be paired against Bonalos and former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, a Democrat who has represented the Rio Grande Valley and part of San Antonio in the past. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held at least a month after the Nov. 7 general election.

Bonilla discounted reports that he was losing support among the district’s voters, most of whom are registered Democrats.

“We’ve got such strong bi-partisan support, we’re going to surprise some people,” he said during his stopover in Pecos on Tuesday.

He also said, as head of the House’s Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, they were working to get legislation passed by the end of this year to help out farmers, who have been hurt by a drought that began last fall. Statewide crop loss estimates from the drought are put at $4.1 billion.

“We’re well aware of the drought across the area,” said Bonilla, who ironically was heading to El Paso on Tuesday a day after President Bush signed a flood disaster declaration for that city.

Until rains began to fall at the end of July in the Trans-Pecos and other sections of West Texas, most of the area had received under two inches of rain over the previous 10 months. Pecos has picked up about five inches of rain since late July, while El Paso has seen more than 15 inches of rain over the past three weeks, leading to the flood disaster declaration.

City’s August tax check breaks upward streak

The Town of Pecos City’s sales tax rebate check was down for the first time in 2006, as compared to 2005’s totals. But the city’s total rebates on its 1 1/2 cent sales tax remain up by double digits for the first eight months of 2006 as a whole.

Balmorhea and the Reeves County Hospital District also received lower tax rebate checks from Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s office, based on its share of the state’s 8 1/4 cent sales tax collected during the month of June. Toyah was the only local taxing entity to report an increase in its August check.

According to the comptroller’s office, Pecos received a check for $82,608 this month, down 5.3 percent from last August’s check of $87,242. However, for the full year, the city has gotten $652,660 back from Austin, which is up 12.6 percent from last year’s $579,809. One quarter cent of the city’s sales tax goes to the Pecos Economic Development Corp., which this month received $13,768 as its share of the total.

Balmorhea’s tax rebate check for $2,738 was down 11.4 percent from last year’s $3,089 total for August, but overall the city remains up 10.7 percent, getting $12,090 back so far in 2006 versus $10.920 last year. Toyah’s August check for $618 was up 10.9 percent from last year’s $558, and for the year, the city is up by 18.3 percent ,from $2,902 to $3,434.

The Reeves County Hospital District had the biggest decline for the month in its tax rebate check, but continues to report the largest increase for the year. The hospital’s 1/2-cent sales tax resulted in a $34,982 check for August, down 13.6 percent from last year’s $40,504. Overall, the district has gotten $325,061 back this year, up 36.7 percent from last year’s $237,807.

Pecos, Balmorhea and the hospital district were in the minority this month, as most of the other cities in the Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos region continued to see increases in their tax rebate checks.

Midland’s $2.8 million check on its 1 1/2-cent sales tax was up 14 percent from last August’s $2.4 million, while Odessa’s $1.9 million check on its 1 1/4-cent sales tax was up 7.55 percent from the $1.8 million check it received a year ago.

For other cities collecting the 1 1/2-cent sales tax, Alpine received $99,294 this month, an increase of 28.6 percent from a year ago; Crane received a check for $50,393, down 24.3 percent from last year; Lamesa got $112,107 back from the comptroller’s office, which was up 8.1 percent; while Seminole received a check from Austin for $82,557, which was up 4.9 percent.

Among cities collecting a one-cent sales tax Kermit received $50,313 in their rebate check, up 38.4 percent; Wickett received a $6,916 check, up 20.4 percent, and Wink received a check for $8,666, which was up 35.4 percent. Pyote received no check at all for August, after getting one for $431 a year ago.

For area cities collecting a 1 3/4-cent sales tax, Andrews’ check for $248,315 was up 118.2 percent from a year ago, due with a 3/4-cent in the city’s sales tax since 2005 accounting for part of the rise. Marfa got a check for $24,208, which was up by 21.1 percent; while Van Horn got a check for $45,274, which was up by 45.4 percent from 2005.

For cities collecting the maximum two-cent sales tax, Big Spring received $476,101, an increase of 2.1 percent; Fort Stockton received $166,335, up 11.5 percent; Monahans received a check for $132,685, which was up 4.1 percent from last year; Grandfalls got a $2,511 check, down 61.3 percent; and Presidio received $37,864, up 29.1 percent.

Statewide, Strayhorn’s office sent out August rebate checks totaling $349.6 million, up 10 percent from $317.9 million last year. Houston’s $43.2 million check was again the largest one sent out, and was 17 percent higher than a year ago. Dallas’ check was next, at $228 million, which was up by 4.55 percent from last August.

City seeks cutbacks in airport contract

Town of Pecos City Council members were presented a draft contract with Pecos Municipal Airport manager Isabel Blanchard that would remove medical benefits from her contract with the city, while also discussing whether rent should be paid by Blanchard and her husband Dennis for any hangar space used by the couple at the airport.

Additional costs for personal water use at the family’s mobile home at the airport would also be added in the contract, which city manager Joseph Torres said was an effort to cut costs and make the facility more self-sustaining.

“We’ve had the fixed-based operator (Blanchard) there for 20 years,” Torres told the council members. “It’s been unchanged since 1985, and a lot of those issues haven’t been addressed.

“Previous city managers have given the fixed base operator benefits to attract the airport manager,” he said, while explaining that city health benefits normally are not provided to contract workers.

“TxDOT recommends making the airport as self-sufficient as possible,” Torres said. “If we do this, we should be closer to lowering the subsidy.”

Some local residents have accused the city of attempting to force out the Blanchards as airport managers with the new contract. Bill Hubbs, president of the Pecos Airport Board, said doing so would end up costing the city more money in the long run.

“If you check with any airport around here run by a city or county, it costs them thousands more to maintain their airport,” Hubbs said on Wednesday.

Under the proposal, the city would continue paying the Blanchards a $20,000 management fee, and they would still be able to earn additional money through fuel sales to airplanes and helicopters that use the airport. However, the city would no longer paid for medical insurance, and would not be liable for taxes from those sales, or for ad valorem taxes on equipment used at the airport for those purposes.

Utilities at the airport would still be paid by the city, but the Blanchards would now pay utilities at the mobile home. They would also have to provide the cost to fix their own equipment, along with providing the city with a monthly operating report at the airport. “There is revenue being generated from this contract, but the contractor is currently not providing reports,” he said.

“We’re not asking anything that wouldn’t be asked in any venue,” he said.

Torres said the current contract draft does not affect the current hangar agreement with the city. But the issue was discussed during Tuesday’s budget workshop, with councilman Danny Rodriguez saying that the Blanchards pay the standard $650 annual hangar rental fee.

The fee is set by the airport board, and is about average for other small general aviation airports in West Texas.

“My understanding is the airport hangar should be rented at an appropriate rate,” Rodriguez said. “They’re using it for business. I don’t see why she doesn’t pay for it.” The Blanchards current have two hangars at the airport on which they do not pay rent, Torres told the council. He added that Blanchard was making money off that, by using her personal plane to offer flying lessons.

Mayor Dick Alligood suggested allowing the Blanchards one free hangar to store their plane.

“If you’re using it for a personal business, you ought to pay,” Rodriguez said. He later added he also wanted to charge fees on older hangars at the airport currently being used for storage by the Pecos Police Department, the Pecos Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Other council members had mixed feelings about the hangar deal.

“I don’t feel at all comfortable. That belongs to the city, and when somebody else is drawing profits off it and we can’t see the financials,” said councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela. “If it’s being used for business use, I probably can’t agree to it.”

Alligood said that most other area airports provide that benefit for their manager, and that people who take flying lessons are more likely to purchase a private aircraft, which would then require hangar rental space.

“I know a few hangars out there have been rented by people who took lessons,” Alligood said. He added that the free hangar deal would be only if there were other vacant hangars at the airport.

“That’s a good point. I never looked at it that way,” said Valenzuela.

“Just because hangars are empty doesn’t justify giving it away,” Torres said. He said the free hangar takes repair and operating funds away from the city.

Torres noted that the Airport Board demanded that the Trans-Pecos Weather Modification Program pay the going rate for land at the airport for their Doppler radar system, after the service lost their cloud seeding plane in a crash two years ago and wanted to give up use of a hangar. He also noted another business that built experimental aircraft went six years without paying rent, and that the city was urged by TxDOT last year to put money gained from the sale of land on the western edge of the airport into a dedicated airport fund instead of the city’s general fund, in order to make the airport more self-sufficient.

“When we started asking for grants, the letter from TxDOT was very specific. We had to make the airport as self-sufficient as possible,” Torres said.

He said the city current subsidizes the airport at a cost of $33,000 a year. Repairs of water leaks on lines at the airport are expected to save the city about $5,000 annually, the council was told.

In other airport related business, Alligood said he planned to nominate Rodriguez to a position on the airport board later this month, replacing Mike Burkholder. Hubbs, Lynn Owens, Torres and Blanchard are the other members of the board.

The latter two are non-voting members because of their association with the city, and Hubbs said he didn’t think Rodriguez would be allowed to vote if appointed to the board, due to his position on the city council.

Council hears disputes over compensation

Town of Pecos City Council members were reluctant to give the city’s EMS and volunteer fire department chiefs a definite answer on their requests for improvements in their department’s compensation packages and tax withholding on their departments’ pay, during a budget hearing on Wednesday at City Hall.

Meanwhile, they also discussed the budget for the Pecos Economic Development Corp., but took no action pending a meeting of the board this coming Monday to discuss the salary status of president Mike Burkholder.

Burkholder spoke to the council about the budget and several other items, including an attempt by some members of the PEDC board, including councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela, to cut his salary and compensation package.

“We didn’t make any changes,” Burkholder said in response to a question about salaries by councilman Danny Rodriguez. “It’s the same salary as in the budget last year. Nobody said anything to me on if it should be reduced, or why it should be reduced.”

Burkholder said some members of the PEDC board during an executive session had voted to cut his salary by $18,000, and Valenzuela said, “I checked with three other board members of the PEDC, and they thought there had been a salary cut.”

Burkholder said while the board may had discussed cut behind closed doors, there was no vote on it in open session. A vote could be taken on Monday, when the board meets at 5:30 p.m. in the TransPecos Bank building.

“I think it needs to be researched by the PEDC board to see if it needs to be at $60,000 or if it needs to be reduced,” Valenzuela said.

On the other budget items, Burkholder said the current PEDC budget has basically been unchanged for the past five years.

“Actually, this year we didn’t expend funds budgeted to purchase the land we talked about (on I-20 near Reeves County Hospital),” he said. “So we are considerably under spent on our budget.”

He said the corporation’s cash balance was over $100,000, and they will be getting a $40,000 lease payment on Sept. 1 for the test track east of Pecos from the Texas Transportation Institute and Applied Research Associates. He added that an additional government contact at the site could boost future payments, while the amount of money PECD is receiving from it’s one-sixth share of the city’s 1 1/2-cent sales tax also is up, due to the area’s improving economy.

“From an economic development standpoint hopefully we’ve turned the corner, but if we have, we’ve barely turned the corner,” Burkholder said. “I think in a year or two years, we’ll see dramatic improvements in the city’s income that will get you out of this hole,” Burkholder told the council.

While city finance director Sam Contreras said Pecos’ budget deficit is only about $100,000 for the upcoming year, pending further budget adjustments, the council was hesitant to take any action on requests by Pecos EMS Chief Dennis Thorp and Fire Chief Freddy Contreras on compensation changes, including the possibility of making the department heads regular city employees.

Both made their second appearances this month before the council to discuss their department budgets.

Thorp said changes in bookkeeping, grant acquisition and better collection work have allowed the EMS to run a $30,000 surplus so far this year. But he said the EMS crews are running into personal deficits because the city doesn’t take out Social Security taxes in their payments.

He said with the shortage of EMS members and the mandatory 96 hours a week, the compensation is higher than those of volunteer firemen, and the lack of withholding due to their contract worker status hurts at the end of the year with the Internal Revenue Service. “When there were 31 of us, that wasn’t an issue, but with eight of us, I made $28,000 last year with the ambulance service, and I can’t even write it off as a personal business,” Thorp said.

“I think it’s worth looking into, but from the information we have right now, I don’t think it’s enough,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t want to do it without scrutiny. We need facts.” “I can give you a couple of facts. The IRS says we’re (city) employees. The Equal Opportunity Commission says we’re employees.”

Contreras said the lack of withholding also was hurting his department, and asked that the city change its policy. He also sought additional compensation for the department’s board members, at a cost of $3,250, and asked that he receive compensation for attending meetings and fire calls, along with his chief’s pay.

City manager Joseph Torres said a ruling by city attorney Scott Johnson stated that the EMS and fire department workers were not city employees. Sam Contreras said he disagreed with the ruling and that ways could be found to make the withholding payments, while Rodriguez asked Torres to seek an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s office on the decision.

Thorp also again asked the council to consider a tiered pay system for EMS workers based on training level that would increase the department’s budget by $81,000.

“I agree with being on a tier,” said Valenzuela. “But as you are well aware, we don’t have it in our budget.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Gerald Tellez noted that over half the EMS calls are outside the city limits, and the city could seek county funding to help with the financial situation of the department.

Local officials thank Bonilla for RCDC aid

Congressman Henry Bonilla was honored in Pecos for his support of the Reeves County Detention Center on Tuesday, with a ceremony held in the lobby of the Reeves County Courthouse and a barbecue lunch at the RCDC Units I/II training room.

Elected officials from all aspects in the community were on hand at the courthouse, which included a speech from Bonilla and a presentation of a map of Reeves County from Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo to Bonilla.

The congressman’s visit to Pecos came as part of a swing through West Texas that included stops in Alpine, Fort Stockton, Van Horn and El Paso. The reception was to thank Bonilla for his effort in June to include language in the fiscal year 2007 Science, State, Justice, Commerce Appropriations bill to save the jobs of all the employees at the Reeves County Detention Center.

Bonilla directed the Bureau of Prisons to renew its Intergovernmental Agreement with Reeves County, which houses over 2,000 inmates in the I and II units at the prison. A month earlier, Bonilla was instrumental in securing the Bureau of Prison’s decision to award a contract to utilize 1,400 beds in the RCDC II unit.

“The Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos is a first-rate prison facility, and I am glad these empty beds will now be utilized to alleviate our overcrowded prison system. More importantly, this decision will mean more jobs and revenue for the citizens of Reeves County,” Bonilla said.

“For the past 14 years, Henry Bonilla has been our voice in Washington. He has been a partner in every success and an essential advocate every time we faced a challenge,” said Galindo. “The decision by the BOP to award a contract filling 1,400 beds in Unit 3 would not have been possible without Congressman Bonilla’s support. We are fortunate to have Representative Bonilla as our champion in Congress and know his continuing support will be essential in all our future challenges.”

“Over the past few years we have been working on creating jobs, recreational activities for the kids and lowering taxes, which have been able to do,” said Galindo. “And now, we have created 380 new jobs in the community, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Washington and every time we were greeted great by both the congressman and his staff.”

Galindo said that both the congressman and his staff were always very helpful when they were in Washington.

Congressman Bonilla began is speech at the courthouse with a joke about not always receiving such a reaction from the community. “It’s not often we get that reaction,” said Bonilla, who said he was pleased with the crowd and their welcoming greeting.

Bonilla told the group that he represents several counties in West Texas and that each one has a different issue that they would like to work on or get resolved.

“It’s like a family, each one has their own needs,” said Bonilla.

Bonilla said that he was glad that when redistricting was finished he had the opportunity to remain in this district and to once again represent Reeves County in Washington.

“In Uvalde their concerns are agriculture issues; in Fort Stockton it’s the railroad; Alpine, issues pertaining to Sul Ross University and here in Reeves County, the prison is a vital part of the community,” said Bonilla.

Bonilla said that he really appreciated the county judge letting them know what the needs of the community were and how important and vital the prison is to Reeves County.

“I have to put on different hats to visit the different communities,” said Bonilla.

Bonilla addressed some questions and concerns from the community.

“I have three main things that we have been looking at: one, border issues, two, immigration and three, the deficit,” said Bonilla. “We will be looking at all three issues very closely and working on resolving the problems,” he said.

Congressman Bonilla has represented Reeves County since he was first elected to Congress in 1992. Since then, Bonilla has consistently fought for Pecos residents and secured important funding for the community.

Bonilla serves as Chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds all grants for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition to chairing the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Bonilla is a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Burning bed seen as source of Oak St. fire

Pecos Volunteer Fire Department members were called out twice on Wednesday to battle a fire that destroyed an Oak Street home.

It took firefighters an hour to extinguish a blaze that began in the bedroom of a home located at 1401 S. Oak.

“There were no utilities going to that residence, the electricity and gas were coming from the neighbor’s house,” said Town of Pecos City Fire Marshal Jack Brookshire. Brookshire said that the occupant’s mother is the individual who lives next door. “Apparently, the fire began in the bed,” said Brookshire. “There was nothing next to the bed or anywhere that showed what actually started the fire.”

Brookshire said that the home was completely gutted, that only one person lived in the home and no injuries were reported.

All seven city fire trucks were dispatched to the scene at about 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and were then called back to the scene later that evening.

“The fire started smoking again a little later and one fire truck was dispatched and the flame extinguished quickly,” said Brookshire.

Farming family celebrates together

Staff Writer

Mandujano is a familiar name in Coyanosa, where Alvaro Mandujano started to put down roots in the fertile valley in 1978. He is now a cattleman, and four of his sons raise hay to feed his herd.

Armando, the fifth child born to the Mandujanos, said that he partners with Alvaro, Jr., Tony and Humberto on farms that produce watermelon, cantaloupe, cotton, onions and hay.

Jaime, the youngest of 11 children at 19, attends Angelo State University in the city where his father started work as a young man. Alvaro Sr. did some farming at St. Lawrence before settling in Coyanosa.

Several of the children finished first or second in their high school classes, and most went on to college. The eldest, Jacquelyn, teaches school in Midland; Rafaela is a diagnostician in Cedar Park, and Tony teaches and is athletic director in Water Valley, in addition to his farming duties.

Tio lives in Fort Stockton and works for a Coyanosa farmer. Twins Adam and Joe have taken different paths. Adam is working his way through graduate school in San Angelo, and Joe works as a mechanic in San Antonio.

Diana, next to youngest, works for Midland College.

Family gatherings are frequent, said Armando. “We get together for any little thing: birthdays, holidays, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day,” he said.

Gatherings also include five grandchildren.

International circus to come to Pecos

The George Carden Circus International will be in Pecos on Wednesday, Aug. 23, at the West of the Pecos Rodeo Arena.

Show times will be at 4:30 p.m. and at 7 p.m. and tickets will be $14 for adults and $12 for children.

George Carden Circus International is owned and produced by George Carden. He is the fifth generation in show business and has been in the circus business all his life.

He has acquired knowledge of all aspects of the operation from front to back. George’s accomplishments in circus lighting, special effects and production are extraordinary. He is one of the largest producers of the Circus in North America. He has acquired this distinction through determination and hard work.

He has been around the Circus all of his life. His father, Larry Carden, owned a Circus and George was able to acquire first hand knowledge of all aspects of the operation. He is an astute concession manager, has worked a cat act, presented camels and elephants, oversees the bleacher operation, has expertise in the promotion and advertising of Circus and can shift the gears of an 18-wheeler as smoothly as a professional trucker. He went out with his own Circus in 1981 and then purchased his father’s Circus and integrated the two into an extremely successful business. To accommodate all of his business, three units were created.

He has a beautiful Winter Quarters between Springfield and Willard, Missouri, where he houses his entire operation. A beautiful 20-acre farm, with large shops for building, painting and maintaining equipment, houses the many performing animals owned by the Circus. They also own and maintain 27 pieces of rolling equipment including tractors, trucks and trailers. However, Mr. Carden’s pride and joy will always be his elephants. He currently owns ten elephants.

The Circus travels over 40,000 miles each year in the United States and Canada. The season lasts 42 weeks, during which part of the time the Circus has two units on the road. Both of his sons work elephants in the Circus.

George Carden Circus Internationl offers the finest in family entertainment. They present a beautiful three-ring production which is fascinating to children of all ages.

Soto receives degree from SMU

Ramona Talamantez Soto, graduated from Southern Methodist University on May 21.

She graduated in the top 10 in her class, which included 395 students.

Soto received her Doctor of Law degree and is a 1994 graduate of Pecos High School.

She has already taken her bar exam is awaiting the results.

Soto is the daughter of Ray and Rosario Talamantez of Pecos.

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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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