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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Board approves P-B-T cafeteria automation plan

Technology was the main topic discussed during the regular Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board meeting held last Thursday in the Technology Center.

Board members approved automating the cafeterias in the district and also the district’s technology plan for 2007-2010.

“This is something we have been looking at, automation for the cafeterias,” said Superintendent Manny Espino. “It will require some training, but we can do that.” He told the group that it was not their intent to take money from the employees or cause any of the employees to lose their jobs.

“This will hopefully speed up the process of kids going through the lines,” said Espino. “It should save us some time, taking money and balance at the end of the day and hopefully get this process done and get employees to help us in other areas.”

He said that they have different options with the software.

One of the methods discussed was using the student’s ID badges or their code, according to food services director Louis Villalobos.

Each student will have their own account, they can either pay day by day, or have some money put into their “account,” by their parents or guardian, according to Villalobos. “They can come in and pre-pay in advance if they want to,” he said.

“Parents will be able to check on their accounts and go back to day one and see where the student’s money is going,” said Espino.

“Will it work in the snack bar area, too?” asked board member Crissy Martinez.

Villalobos said that it will, but that they cannot tell the students what to get or not get. “We will have a list of what allergies the student has, such as lactose intolerance, and then if they get milk or something like that, the food services personnel will let the student know not to get that,” said Villalobos. “However, such as in the snack bar area, we cannot tell them not to get junk food or whatever,” he said.

“It will also give parents a chance to deposit on-line, we’ll have to work on that but it will be available,” said finance director Cookie Canon.

“It will allow the normal policies, of three charges a month,” said Villalobos. “If the student is on free lunch, it will have a code and let the food personnel know.”

Once the student has three charges, it will let cafeteria staff know, according to Villalobos. He said parents can also put money in the student’s account at any campus, not just their own.

“Let’s say for instance, they live on the east side of town and don’t want to drive all the way to the high school, they can go to the closest campus, such as Bessie Haynes,” he said.

Cost for the automation will be $36,915, an estimate provided by Nutrikids Point of Sale. Technology Director Jodi Exum told the group that the district currently had a technology plan that will expire in June.

“In order to file e-rate, we need a plan that cover every month and it will start July 1,” she said.

“We have a definite plan,” said Exum, adding that they had sent out staff surveys and received 133 back.

She said that they have four specific goals: teaching and learning; educator preparation and development; administration and support services and infrastructure.

“Texas has just received their long-term plan and needs to coordinate with the districts,” said Exum.

“In planning with our superintendent and board, we are seeking to replace our monthly leased T-1 circuits between campuses with Fiber connectivity to the campuses,” said Exum.

The research for that project has been done and now are close to beginning the process, she said.

“We are also planning to eventually centralize all server operations and IP phone systems after the Fiber is installed,” said Exum.

“Are there any types of grants out there that we can use for all this? asked board member Paul Deishler.

“I don’t know of any, we use e-rate, but not for fiber, but I can certainly look for some,” said Exum.

“Technology grants are so competitive,” said Canon.

In other action, board members approved the resignation of board member Amy Miller and decided not to fill her position, until the general elections in March of 2007. Miller and her family moved to Lubbock recently.

Board members approved giving some equipment from Odessa College to the city. “Mr. Torres from the city approached me and said that the city had a need for the VHS and the television, that is currently at OC,” said Espino.

The equipment had been purchased jointly by OC, the city and the school and is now of no use to the college.

“I would like to honor his request, we have to work together to move forward,” said Espino.

In return, the city will haul of the rest of the items to the landfill.

“If we needed to dispose of this equipment, the city will do that for us,” said Espino. The board approved an interlocal agreement between Reeves County and the school. “We had a 1976 bus and the city said that they had no use for it, but the county does,” said Espino.

“We want to work with both the city and county, so we want to let the county have it and in return they will do some work for us,” said Espino.

The board also listened to a facilities assessment update provided by architect Monte Hunter.

“These are just some of the items, that we feel need to be done to the schools and something we will be discussing in more detail in the future,” said Hunter.

LJS franchisee fishes Pecos for new market

Fish was on the menu Friday for Pecos residents at an unusual location - the corner of the Airlawn Shopping Center parking lot at Eddy and Walthall Streets. And customers also had the chance to buy chicken and other side dishes from the mobile truck being operated by the area’s Long John Silver’s franchisee, who is testing the local market to see if a full-time store would work in town.

Tabbossum Mumtaz, owner of the franchises in the Midland-Odessa area, along with his area manager Larry Rucles and other employees made the trip top Pecos as part of a continuing effort by the company to test outlying markets and see if a brick-and-mortar store would be economically feasible.

“We were over in Fort Stockton last week, and we’re looking to go to Andrews and some other areas were there are no Long John Silvers,” Mumtaz said shortly after noon on Friday, as a line of about 20 people waited to place their orders in front of the kitchen trailer.

Mumtaz said he acquired the Midland-Odessa franchises from Long John Silver’s parent company, YUM Brands, a year-and-a-half ago, and owns about 30 stores, ranging from Odessa to Shreveport, La., and into Oklahoma. The Friday trips to other towns are the first step towards any possible expansion.

The company has just finished remodeling its Odessa stores, and Mumtaz said any new stores would probably be of similar size. “We’re looking at a 2,000-2,500 square foot building, and a lot size to be anywhere up to three-quarters of an acre.”

He said four of the stories he currently runs are co-branded with A&W Root Beer, one of the many fast food brands owned by YUM. Other Long John Silvers around the country are co-branded with Kentucky Fried Chicken, whose regional owner closed his stand-alone Eddy Street store last April.

Prior to that, KFC’s area franchisee reportedly was looking for a site along I-20 for a branded store with Taco Bell, similar to one in Fort Stockton, to attract highway travelers along with local residents. Mumtaz said his group would likely have a similar location in mind.

“The way we are doing it, if we look at the demographic numbers in a small town, you’d look at visibility, and it helps a lot if it’s located towards the freeway,” he said As a fast-food business that specializes in fish, Mumtaz said the company has an advantage on sales in areas with high Catholic populations like Pecos, especially during periods like Lent. The current West Texas oil boom that has given a lot of younger workers in the area more disposable income also has helped improve store-to-store sales, and he said the parent company has also been trying out new menu items targeting that group.

“Right now the company is experimenting with bites. Lobster Bites and Fish Bites, to attract younger customers more,” he said. “That’s been a great help.

“Everybody likes fish, and we also have new products like jalapeño bites, which are a grab-and-go deal,” Mumtaz added.

Currently, Pecos has only three major fast food franchises in operation; Dairy Queen, Subway and Pizza Hut, which is also owned by YUM Brands. Aside from KFC, the city’s McDonald’s franchise of South Cedar Street was closed by its El Paso owner, along with one in Midland three years ago. Due to problems maintaining staffing.

The McDonald’s across from the Buck Jackson Rodeo Arena is scheduled to reopen soon as El Rodeo Restaurant, which will specialize in chicken, but along with the higher salaries, the oil boom has created staffing problems for fast food establishments and other businesses in Pecos that can’t pay salaries offered in the oilfield.

Mumtaz said he has met with Town of Pecos City Mayor Dick Alligood on how the city might help if a franchise was placed here. He said he hadn’t spoke to any other local officials, while Alligood said the Pecos Economic Development Corp could become involved, if any future land acquisition efforts were needed.

Council agrees to spend green, but not use it, on new website

Town of Pecos City Council members gave their approval to establishing a new city website that will contain information on city meetings, projects, fee schedules and rates, along with announcements of interest to the community.

As long as it isn’t green.

The council, which first discussed the website prior to Thanksgiving, approved an agreement with to set up and host the website, following a conference call during the council’s only scheduled meeting for December, held last Thursday at City Hall.

The council also agreed to formally submit an application to the Texas Water Development Board for funds to repair sewer lines and rebuild the city’s aging wastewater treatment plant, during their three-hour meeting.

Other area cities such as Fort Stockton and Monahans already have web sites, and city officials said Pecos needed to start its own, both for local residents and for persons from out-of-town seeking information about the city.

“There will be no funds from the general budget to pay for this. It’s been taken care of through other funds,” said Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood. He added that no new staff would have to be hired to administrate the website, which will be run out of the office of Pecos Main Street Program Director Tom Rivera.

“Right now we’re looking at bed tax funds, and we’ll ask each entity besides the General Fund to contribute,” Rivera said. Last month, he told the council that start-up cost for a site Pecos was looking at would be $4,900, with a $2,900 annual fee for 750 megabytes of archival storage.

He introduced Ashley Clayton with CivicPlus, who went over items on the site with the council during the conference call. Clayton had run through those items in November with officials from the city, the Pecos Chamber of Commerce and the West of the Pecos Museum. She told the council on Thursday that most of the fee would relate to bandwidth and housing the web pages.

She said local residents can get on a list to receive e-mail notifications of city meetings, job openings and other local events, and notices of upcoming council meetings and minutes of past meetings can be placed on the web page.

“We’ll develop 10 pages for the site, but we’ll train you on information,” said Clayton, during the presentation using the CivicPlus demo website.

“What colors do you have?” asked councilman Danny Rodriguez, noting that the demo web page’s main color was green. “Do you have any other colors?”

“We can do any color you want,” Clayton said; as others noted the city would probably want purple and gold to be the website’s main colors.

Rodriguez also asked if bill payments could be made through the website. Clayton said it could, but the cost would be an additional $900 up front, and an additional $50 a month on the $325 a month base fee to establish a secure website to accept payments.

Rodriguez later said he supported going with the full website option, as opposed to the partial site where other items could be purchased later.

“We really would like to go with a premiere company. This is 100 percent what they do,” said Torres. “They won’t be going out of business.”

“I really think it’s a good opportunity for the city to advertise, to promote,” he said. “There are a lot of things I’d like to see on there, and which are good public policy to promote.”

In other action, the council agreed to the sale of one of 15 foreclosed properties on their agenda, to the only local bidder on the list, and 12 of 14 properties being sought by a California man. Council members accepted a bid for $900 from Eugenio Bejarano for a home at 910 S. Orange St., the first of the 15 properties on the list.

They then discussed the other properties, all of which had bids from William Valov of Hacienda, Calif. Alligood said he had talked with Valov about his plans. “He explained the properties that have houses he wants to refurbish, and repair and rent,” Alligood said. Two other properties, a former beauty shop on West Third Street and a former restaurant on East Third Street, had already been tabled for approval by the Reeves County Hospital District. “If one entity does not approve, it’s put back on the list,” said city tax assessor/collection Lydia Prieto, and the council then opted to table any vote on those sites.

On the remaining 12 sites, “There are only a couple with houses on them. The rest are vacant lots and corner lots,” said councilman Michael Benavides, and council members then approved the sale of those sites.

Accounts payable and the monthly juvenile report also were approved, along with the second reading of an ordinance lowering the city’s building permit rates to be in line with other area cities. Following the vote, Alligood said the city had signed a deed agreement with Dr. Arbind Ghandi, who along with his brother Henry plan to build a Hampton Inn on the site, located on Interstate 20 near Reeves County Hospital.

“They signed the deed and handed the check over, so they’re in expedite mode. They want to get started as quickly as possible,” Alligood said.

Torres added that the other major project planned along the Interstate, the construction of 48 new apartments on the south side of I-20 at Country Club Drive, is expected to begin soon.

“Zimmerman Properties closed on the land today,” he told the council. “They hope to have a groundbreaking shortly.”

The company just completed construction of a similar housing complex in Fort Stockton. The second apartment complex in the planning stage, a 96-unit complex in the 700 and 800 block of West Washington Street, is still awaiting final approval of the plans by the Office of Rural Community Affairs for investor Ram Kunwar. Torres said they were waiting for Kunwar to return from California with additional information on financing fort the project, which has to be build in order to get the city out from under a nearly $400,000 grant it received from ORCA five years ago for infrastructure improvement at the site.

The TWDB grant is just the first step in the application process, Madrid told the council. “They will put us on the list to go through the process. Before we go through awarding of the loan we can see if the city can afford this,” he said.

The state has mandated the city do repairs to its wastewater treatment system, but Pecos will be assuming an annual $422,000 payment in 2011 from Reeves County for repaying a TWDB loan to develop the city’s new South Worsham water field.

Madrid told the council the better a score the city can get in the application process, the lower the loan repayment rate would be. “We could get a 0-1 percent loan, but that’s not assured.”

He said the city will know if they qualified by next September, and that additional funds for the project could come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural assistance program.

Delia McAnally, with the USDA’s Fort Stockton office, said the federal application process would be similar to the state’s, though sometimes the two have different rules. But she added, “You need to go out there and need to look at everything that is available to you.”

City to retain Contreras’ services after Jan. 1

Sam Contreras will be taking over as the new Reeves County Judge on Jan. 1. But he won’t completely be leaving his work with the Town of Pecos City until after then, following action taken on Thursday by the City Council.

Council members voted, following an executive session, to retain Contreras’ services past Dec. 31, when he’s scheduled to resign as city finance director and take over as Reeves County Judge. The item was one of several involving both city and contract personnel the council acted on, during their only scheduled meeting of the month.

The council met for about 30 minutes in executive session before approving a motion that the city retain Contreras’ services for a period of 90 days as interim finance director, and to close out the city’s current negotiations with the U.S. Marshal’s Service on man-day rates for prisoners at the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.

The city began advertising last month for a new city finance director to replace Contreras, who defeated Bobby Hanks in the Nov. 7 general election for Reeves County Judge. Contreras will report to City Manager Joseph Torres under the agreement on a use-as-needed basis.

Contreras, who will go on the Reeves County payroll as of Jan. 1, will also renounce his city health insurance as part of the terms of the 90-day contract.

Earlier in the meeting, and after a lengthy discussion, the council agreed to pay all city employees a $100 bonus this year for helping Pecos cut $96,000 this past year out of its costs for workman’ compensation and other safety related issues, while agreeing to set up guidelines for city workers on qualifying for future year-end bonuses, based on safety records and absence of missed working days due to illness or injury.

“What we want to do is encourage good behavior and good attendance rewards among our employees,” said Torres. Said the proposal for 2007 would be a $200 year-end bonus for perfect safety and perfect attendance, along with other incentives.

“We don’t want to continue to lose workers due to salary,” he said. “We do offer our workers good benefits, and this is just a recommendation for the council to do.”

In response to a question from council member Frank Sanchez, Torres noted the system might not be completely fair, if a worker missed time due to an injury that was not their fault. But he added, “We have got to have some management device,” while adding that option could be changed.

“Our focus is not to be punitive. Our focus is not to have it happen again,” he said. Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood said a committee could be set up to look into any accidents and determine responsibility, while Torres said he would like to have a member of the council on the committee that will determine the criteria for the new safety and attendance bonus rules.

On the 2006 year-end bonuses, Rodriguez at first suggested paying all employees a $200 bonus, though Alligood noted that would be equal to the maximum cash bonus the city was looking at under the 2007 safety plan.

Total cost for that plan would come to about $19,500 for the city’s 89 employees, and would include 7 percent extra towards retirement benefits. Contreras said the money could come from the city’s 2007 contingency fund, but added, “For me, it’s early in the year to do that.”

He added that the city does have three job positions unfilled right now, and salaries budgeted for those could be redirected to pay the year-end bonuses.

“We have a $250,00 contingency fund, but we also have a budget that’s financially strapped,” Alligood said.

“I understand what Danny wants to do,” said councilman Michael Benavides. “I do appreciate the ($96,000) savings, but I’m on the conservative side.”

“I understand what everybody is saying. But if you want to reward employees, reward them,” Rodriguez said. “We say good job, but other people (businesses) are paying them.”

In the end, the council voted for the $100 bonuses on a motion by Rodriguez, while for the city’s part-time workers, he recommended following the lead of Reeves County Hospital and giving half-bonuses to those workers.

The council agreed to appoint a committee of local citizens to help select the five persons or families to receive new homes, out of a $275,000 grant from the Texas Department of Housing-Community Affairs/Office of Rural Community Affairs grant. The THDCA/ORCA program is designed to provide new homes to the most needy members of the community. The homes are to be built on the site of their current residences, which will be demolished.

City crews will handle most of the work, which will serve as in-kind payments on the state grant.

City Public Works Director Edgardo Madrid handed out a criteria list used by Presidio for a similar project. “It doesn’t mean we have to use it. We can customize it for our own benefit,” he said.

Madrid told the council he would like to see people who work with the poorest in the community, such as Meals on Wheels volunteers, be considered for selection to the committee.

“I would like to recommend someone from DHS,” said councilman Frank Sanchez. “They have all the information right there, and I like your Meals on Wheels suggestion, because they also screen candidates.”

Council members eventually voted for a seven-person committee, to be overseen by Alligood and Torres, which will select those to receive the new homes.

Council members also agreed to hire Carlos Colina-Vargas to serve as service provider and manager for the TDHCA/ORCA grant. Colina-Vargas submitted the only proposal to the city, and Madrid said, “If we go through his proposal, he has plenty of experience, not only through the area, but with the city of Pecos.”

Madrid said Colina-Vargas’ bid of $25,000 came in about $5,000 above what the city had tentatively budgeted, but that the budget was based on estimates, and the final numbers can’t be set until the five recipients are selected.

“We can adjust the house size based on family needs,” he said, explaining that would affect the construction costs for each of the five homes.

Sanchez asked if city attorney Scott Johnson had looked over the grant proposal management terms. “I don’t want to get into the same situation we did with the other ORCA grant,” he said, referring to the 2001 grant for construction of 20 homes. Only one has been built, and the city is seeking to swap the remaining 19 homes for a 96-unit apartment complex in order to avoid having to repay the state agency the bulk of the $400,000 grant.

DWI accident leads to arrest, fire in vehicle

Speeding on a residential street was costly for a Pecos man Sunday night, who ended up in jail on DWI and two other charges while setting his vehicle on fire at the same time, after crashing it into a car near his house.

James Santiago, Esparza, 26, of 2113 Country Club Dr., was arrested after the incident, which occurred at 8 p.m. on Sunday in the 2100 block of Country Club Drive according to Pecos Police. Chief Clay McKinney said Esparza was reportedly northbound in a Chevrolet in the 2100 block, when he ran into the rear of a 1996 GMC pickup, which was parked in front of 2115 Country Club Dr.

The collision caused Esparza’s vehicle to catch fire, and police. Pecos EMS and Pecos Volunteer Fire Department workers were called to the scene.

“We also had a report that individual involved in the accident had a firearm with him, but the officer later determined that there was a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun that the owner was trying to take out of the vehicle to save it from being damaged in the fire.”

McKinney said police received calls about a man with a gun as a result of that, but Esparza was not charged with any gun violation as of Monday morning. However, he was arrested and placed in a police vehicle on a DWI charge.

“He made two verbal statements. The first time he said he was going 25 miles per hour, and in the second, he said he was going 45 miles per hour,” McKinney said.

The area of Country Club Drive involved is only two blocks long, beginning at Daggett Street and ending north of the Stafford Boulevard drainage canal. The accident occurred between Daggett and Yucca streets.

McKinney said officers first took Esparza to Reeves County Hospital, and then to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center after he refused treatment.

“He was also wanted for no liability insurance and speeding, and those charges were later added to the DWI charge,” McKinney said.

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