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Economic Development


Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Investors hope start-up numbers lucky for Plaza

It was a lucky day for the local investors of the Paradise Plaza, Friday morning, as community participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for their hotel, restaurant and entertainment center complex on the grounds of where the new facilities will be located.

Lead investor Leo Hung told the group that he had chosen the day, Aug. 8, 2008, for their ground breaking ceremony date because, “In the Chinese culture the number eight is a lucky number which means, prosperity and good fortune.”

“So today is the start of the Olympics and our groundbreaking on 08-08-08,” said Hung, during the groundbreaking ceremony. “However, I was afraid that none of you would show up if we pick eight in the evening or eight in the morning.”

During his speech, Hung thanked special guest, State Representative Pete Gallego, city and county officials and his best friends, Walter and Samantha Kwan of Houston, who were on hand for the special celebration.

“These are all very supportive guests coming to the Paradise Plaza ground breaking ceremony,” said Hung. “Also, thanks to all my staff and Nancy Martinez, who organized this fantastic ceremony.”

Hung began with a little history about himself.

“People often asked what brought me to Pecos,” said Hung. “Twenty-eight years ago, Walter and I were pharmacists at the St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston. He was the one who found a small pharmacy for sale in a rural city from our professional journal.

Hung said that Kwan was the one who convinced him to move to that rural city.

“You all know that the rural city is Pecos, thank you Walter for inspiring and supporting me the last 28 years,” said Hung.

?Hung is developing the $9 million complex along with two other local businessmen, Steve Valenzuela and Bobby Bhakta.

“Let us talk about Phase I: Steven Valenzuela, a local who has lived in Pecos for 16 years will develop the sports bar and grill. Bobby Bhakta, who was born and raised in Pecos, and I will develop the 65 units Country Inns and Suites Hotel. I will also develop the food court. The food court will have four fast food restaurants and have 450 seating capacity,” he said.

The concept of the food court is to serve the locals, travelers, as well as golf and school functions attendees, according to Hung.

“It is quite convenient for buses with hundreds of passengers to stop and yet be able to serve them with different varieties of food with one roof,” said Hung. “People will have the option of dining in, going through the drive-thru or dining out on the terrace looking at the golf course as their backyard,” he said. Hung said that this project will not only create jobs, it will provide additional amenities for locals and visitors.

“In cooperation with the county and city we will develop tourism, as a convention destination and home of exciting tournaments,” said Hung. “As county judge Sam Contreras once said, ‘we need an attraction.’ Yes, we will have an inexpensive resort if the major improvements at this golf course and sports complex are approved by the voters. Odessa and Midland residents may look at us as a weekend get-away destination,” he said.

Hung said that he was very delighted to have this opportunity and means to develop and reinvest back in our community. “Steven and Bobby will do that as well. I urge all others do the same with confidence. If you believe in it, it will happen,” said Hung.

Gallego told the group that Pecos will be known as the leader of opportunities.

“Local folks who are neighbors and friends, are showing that we are not powerless, we have it within ourselves to do this, because there are all sorts of opportunities,” said Gallego.

Gallego said that this was an opportunity and project that would not only benefit those who are currently residing in Pecos, but future generations of offspring.

“A simple man of humble beginnings did all that and that to me is a higher message to show,” said Gallego. “We doubted ourselves and he made us believe in ourselves again,” he said.

Gallego presented the investors with a flag that had been flown over the capital and said that he hoped they would display it proudly.

“This investment is not only for those of us here today, but for generations of our children to come,” he said.

Work on the first phase of the project is expected to take about 13 months to complete. The sports bar, hotel and food court will be located along Interstate 20, just to the west of the Town and Country food store on Palmer Street. A second hotel and entertainment center are planned for later, and would be build along Palmer Street and to the west of the Trans-Pecos Foods plant.

Stephens’ sex offender hearing rescheduled for mid-September

The federal court hearing for Randall Lee Stephens on a sex offender registry violation has been moved back to Sept. 16, at the request of his court-appointed attorney, following a brief hearing Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Pecos.

Attorney Scott Johnson was granted a continuance by U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Dwight Goains on the federal charge of failing to register as a sex offender. The charge, brought in federal court in June, allowed U.S. Marshals to return Stephens to Pecos from Alabama, where he was located a month after being named as a person of interest in the May 6 murders of the owners of D.J.’s Round-Up on West Third Street.

Johnson said his currently is in the discovery process, after being appointed as Stephens’ attorney last month, and wanted the hearing delayed so he could continue to work on the case. Johnson added that U.S. Attorney James J. Miller had no objections to the delay.

Goains then set a new hearing date of Sept. 16, with a deadline of Sept. 5 for Johnson and prosecutors to reach a plea bargain deal on the sex offender charge, which carries with it a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The charge stems from Stephens failing to file as a sex offender after returning to Pecos, following his release from state prison after serving 17 years for a 1989 burglary and sexual assault of a woman at her home in Pecos.

Pecos police have not yet presented their case against Stephens to 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds. Police and investigators for Reynolds are investgating Stephens in connection with the murders of Rick and A.J. Cherry, owners of D.J.’s Round-up on West Third Street.

The bodies of the Cherrys were found on the afternoon of May 7 by A.J. Cherry’s brother and sister. Preliminary autopsy results showed the couple died from multiple stab wounds, with the deaths believed to have occurred between 10 p.m. and midnight on May 6, which was also Stephens’ 50th birthday.

Stephens grew up in Pecos, but had spent most of the past 30 years in prison, including a 17-year term, which ended with his release from the El Paso halfway house last September. Police believe he stole Cherry’s 1995 Ford F-350 pickup, which was discovered the morning of May 11 by a U.S. Border Patrol agent abandoned on Interstate 25 between Truth or Consequences and Socorro, N.M., about 375 miles northwest of Pecos.

Police Chief Clay McKinney, along with Police Capt. Kelly Davis, 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds and one of his investigators, Gerry Villalobos, flew to Alabama on June 3 and talked with Stephens. “As a result of that interview, it corroborated many details of the investigation, which will lead us once we return to Pecos to seek capital murder charges of Randall Lee Stephens,” McKinney said on June 5, following his return to Pecos

Cities’ August tax checks fall, hospital’s totals continue rise

For the first time in over a year, the sales tax rebate check for the Town of Pecos City was down in August, though the total for Reeves County as a whole remained up, according to figures released on Thursday by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ office.

Rebate checks for Pecos, Balmorhea and Toyah from their 1 1/2-cent share of Texas’ 8 1/4-cent sales tax were all down this month, based on June sales, but the declines for both Pecos and Balmorhea were minor and were more than made up for by the increase of more than a third in the check Reeves County Hospital received from its 1/2-cent tax rebate.

Sales tax checks for Pecos began jumping sharply in April of 2007 and continued over the next 15 months. August’s check for $164,290 was a 1.13 percent drop from last year’s $166,169, but for the year as a whole, the city’s $1,286,382 in tax rebates is still up 39.64 percent from the $921,203 it had received through the first eight months of last year.

Balmorhea’s August check for $3,467 was a 1.37 percent drop from last year’s rebate check of $3,515, while for the year, the city has gotten $25,679 back from Austin a 24.4 percent increase from the $20,641 Balmorhea received last year. Toyah’s rebate decline was a little higher, at its $902 check was a 21.74 drop from last year’s $1,153 total. But the city’s year-to-date total of $6,694 is still 7.69 percent higher than last year’s $6,216.

For the hospital, its August rebate check brought in $115,249, which was 37.73 percent above last year’s $83,674. Overall in 2008, Reeves County Hospital has gotten back $748,856 as its share of the state’s sales tax, a 70.06 rise from the eight-month total of $440,332 in 2007.

Pecos’ rebate checks until this month were generally averaging higher increases than other Permian Basin cities. Across the area this month, most other towns continue to report double-digit increases in their tax rebate checks, compared to the same numbers reported by the comptroller’s office last August, though a few joined Pecos in seeing declines for the month.

Midland’s check from its 1 1/2-cent sales tax was up 27.73 percent from last year, and at $4.06 million again was the largest single check sent out for the area. Overall for 2008, the city has seen a 12.81 percent rise in its sales tax totals. Odessa’s 1 1/4-cent share of the state’s sales tax share brought in $2.53 million in August, an increase of 20.16 percent, while for the year, Odessa is up 10.69 percent.

For other cities collecting the 1 1/2-cent sales tax, Alpine received a $94,575 check, which was up 17.9 percent. Overall, Alpine is up 7.92 percent in tax rebates from 2007. Crane received a check for $55,639, an 4.09 percent decline, while the city is up 18.71 percent for the year. Lamesa got a $138,721 check back this month, which was up 18.45 percent, and its 2008 total is up 13.62 percent. Seminole received a check for $117,696, which was up 17.1453 percent from last August, while overall, its 2008 totals are up 9.06 percent.

Among cities collecting a one-cent sales tax Kermit received $56,379, which was an increase of 17.96 percent from last August. The city is up overall for 2008 by 14.09 percent. Wickett received a $9,275 check, down 12.35 percent this month, but the city is up 56.97 percent for the year; Wink received a check for $15,218, up 100.41 percent for the month, and the overall 2008 total is up by 102.39 percent; and Pyote, received an $1,896 check this month, an 86.68 percent jump from last August, and the city is up 35.69 percent for the year.

For area cities collecting a 1 3/4-cent sales tax, Andrews received a check for $355,098, a 22.17 percent increase for the month, while its six-month total is up 15.74 percent. Marfa got a check for $23,335, which was up 2.43 percent, and for the year the city is up 6.63 percent, and Van Horn got a check for $32,727, which was up 33.55 percent from a year ago. However, Van Horn is still down 3.96 percent for all of 2008.

For cities collecting the maximum two-cent sales tax, Fort Stockton received $319,841 this month, up 41.96 percent, while the city is up 39.04 percent overall this year. Big Spring received $680,541, a 33.82 percent rise for the month, while overall it’s up by 10.14 percent increase for the year. Monahans received a check for $162,508, which was up 19.96 percent from last August, while the city’s increase for 2008 is 17.31 percent. Grandfalls got a $3,375 check, up 40.99 percent for the month, and the city is up 13.93 percent for the year, while Presidio received $39,943 this month from Austin, a drop of 4.69 percent from last August, and the city is down 2.96 percent for all of 2008.

Statewide, Combs’ office sent out rebate checks totaling $393.2 million, compared with the $364.1 million rebated last year, an increase of just under 8 percent. Houston’s check for $48.2 million again was the largest single check and was up 8.38 percent from last year, while Dallas’ check was next, at just under $23.8 million, which increased 8.69 percent from last August.

Ranger, reporter recall agency’s area history

Texas Rangers were the “Law on the Last Frontier,” writes Sharon Spinks in a non-fiction book taken from the case files of the late Arthur Hill, her husband’s grandfather and a ranger stationed in Alpine during the first half of the 20th century.

Joaquin Jackson, introduced by Sharon Griffis as Alpine’s Texas Ranger and “the essence of what a Texas Ranger should be,” joined Spinks and Mike Cox on as panel at the “Way Out West Texas Book Festival” at Sul Ross State University Saturday.

Jackson has published two books of Ranger memoirs from his own case files, and Cox has published the first of two volumes of Ranger history. Both will be at the West of the Pecos Museum on Friday, Sept. 5, for a ceremony honoring Rangers and to sign copies of their books.

Spinks said that her book chronicles Big Bend history during a period for which the Texas Department of Public Safety records are non-existent.

Cox covered part of this history as a reporter for the San Angelo Standard-Times, and Hill was one of the Rangers he met in 1968 during a violent oilfield strike.

“I got there with an old Yashica D camera and discovered two rangers already on the scene. It was Arthur Hill and A.Y. Allee Jr. from Ozona.

“I said, it is supposed to be one riot, one ranger, and you have two just for this one little oilfield strike,” said Cox.

Allee replied, “Arthur is here for the riot. I am here to watch you,” Cox said.

Cox worked more closely with the Rangers as media relations director for the DPS, during which time he handled the 1997 standoff at Fort Davis involving the so-called Republic of Texas.

He also handled media relations for the Texas Department of Transportation and is now a syndicated columnist.

He tells of a Comanche raid in Linnville during their 1840s sweep of Texas, in which they stole all the books out of the library for use as body armor.

Holding up a thick book with two tiny holes in the front cover, Cox said he tested it to see if the armor really worked. Turning it over, he revealed gaping holes in the back cover, which seemed to refute the Indians’ logic.

Jackson said he didn’t actually write his two books, but told the stories to a novelist and a historian.

“I hadn’t planned on doing a book,” he said. However, after his photograph appeared on the cover of Texas Monthly in 1993 when 18 or 20 rangers retired, a literary agent asked him to do a book, and someone found a writer who would put it on paper for him.

“I would never have attempted to write a book by myself, because it would have read like an offense report,” he said.

The second volume followed because, “People said it ended too quick,” he said. “We are working on a major motion picture of “One Ranger,” and he favors Tom Selleck to play his part.

“If Tom Selleck plays Joaquin, I am playing myself,” quipped Jackson’s wife, Shirley.

“Tom is a good friend of mine. He’s a good man and actor,” Jackson said. “He is a great family man. There is no fraud to him.”

Jackson said he has enough material for a third book, “but I am getting a little long in the tooth.”

Cox said that his work with the DPS could have caused him to skew Ranger history, but “I made a commitment to myself to write straight down the middle.”

Taking a line from a Clint Eastwood movie on the Rangers, he said he wrote “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

?He coached Eastwood on Ranger history for his part as a captain, and Eastwood asked if he would like to be in the movie.

“I am in that movie for seven seconds,” said Cox. “Hollywood never called again.”

Cox spent some time in Pecos while working for the Standard-Times, so will not be a stranger when he returns for the museum ceremony and book signing. Museum director Debbie Thomas said the ceremony will honor Texas Rangers who are buried here, including R.S. Johnson, Joe Seay, Sully Ikard and Edd Hollebeke. John Wilson, a Pyote rancher, will be recognized as an honorary ranger.

Guns from Wilson’s vast collection will be on display, as will be badges collected by U.S. Marshal Steve Balog.

Curator Dorinda Millan will have a general Texas Ranger exhibit on display.

“We are working on the agenda,” said Thomas.

The ceremony begins at 9 a.m. in the courtyard, and the book signing follows.

City finances looking better in latest audit

Town of Pecos City received a clean – but late – audit report for the 2006-07 fiscal year, council members were told during a special meeting held Thursday at City Hall.

Fort Worth CPA Tracy Tartar delivered the report to the council, five months after members had hoped to see it, and just prior to the start of budget workshops for the 2008-09 fiscal year. They showed the city’s cash finances had improved over the 2005-06 fiscal year, but improvements still needed to be made to certain parts of the city’s budget and budgeting process.

“Your cash position is much improved,” Tartar told council members. “In the end, that’s about all you can ask from a governmental body.”

Tartar said that the city’s finances would have been in the black this year, if not for a $1.3 million deficit at the Pecos Criminal Justice Center. The CJC, which houses U.S. Marshal’s Service prisoners, operated at a loss for four years, after the U.S. Department of Labor mandated starting salaries there be increased to $31,170 per year while the Marshal’s Service refused to increase the man-day rate paid to Pecos under the original 2001 contract. The city has since received an increase in the raid paid for housing inmates at the 96-bed facility.

“Going from two years ago, with the cash situation, and with the per-diem up on the CJC, it’s going to make the numbers look a lot better,” Tartar said.

He also said that the city’s water and sewer fund transferred $600,000 out of its $726,770 net income to the General Fund during the 2006-07 fiscal year for its operations. Councilman Frank Sanchez asked if that percentage of funds being transferred was acceptable.

“The General Fund should be charging water and sewer administrative fees,” Tatar said, though he said $600,000 was about double what he would estimate those fees cost the water and sewer department.

He also said the city needs to increase its pension fund contributions, which were under-funded by $458,000 as of the end of the last budget year. However he added, “I don’t think that’s a significant number on your part of the plan.”

Tartar also said the city should take bad debts going back several years on the Emergency Medical Service’s budget off the books, since by law Medicare payments off those debts can’t be perused after four years.

“I thought overall it was a real good report,” said Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood, while noting that the audit originally had been due early this year. Tartar had missed several previous deadlines due in part to health problems suffered by his brother, with whom he partners with at the accounting firm. The delays caused problems for the city in seeking state grants and loans, due to the lack of an updated audit report.

“I’ve heard nothing but compliments from the staff working with you. If you could just be on-time, it would be a little better,” Alligood said.

Chuy’s owner dies from injuries suffered in accident

The owner of a Van Horn restaurant made famous by NFL football broadcaster John Madden died on Saturday of injuries suffered in a Wednesday night traffic accident in Pecos.

Jesus “Chuy” Uranga, who had founded and owned Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant in Van Horn for almost 50 years, died from head trauma suffered when the Nissan SUV he was in was struck by a truck-tractor about 10 p.m. Wednesday night on U.S. 285, at the Interstate 20 overpass on the south side of Pecos. Pecos police said a full report on the accident would not be available until Monday afternoon, but the SUV suffered heavy damage on the driver’s side door when it was struck by the tractor trailer, with the force of the accident knocking the Nissan into the parking lot of the Amigo’s Shell station on the northwest side of the intersection.

According to the El Paso Times, Uranga’s daughter, Barbara Ramirez said he died about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. He was 74.

Uranga opened his restaurant on U.S. 80 in Van Horn in the late 1950s. It gained national fame 30 years later thanks to Madden, the former Oakland Raiders’ head coach who had opted to travel by bus instead of flying to NFL games when he became a color commentator for CBS Sports.

Madden, who now does Sunday Night NFL games for NBC, began stopping into Chuy’s on his trips between Texas and his home in the Oakland area, and then began promoting the restaurant during his NFL broadcasts.

"Chuy was friends with John Madden. Madden liked the restaurant so much that my brother used to cook a special meal just for him, and the Madden ‘Haul of Fame’ is there," his brother, Armando Uranga, told the El Paso Times.

When both the NFL games and Madden moved from CBS to Fox in 1994, publicity about the lack of a Fox affiliate in the Van Horn area and the inability of Uranga to watch Madden or the Dallas Cowboys on Sundays helped speed the start-up of a UHF translator station that brought Fox Network programming to the Trans-Pecos and Davis Mountains area for the first time.

Family members plan to have his funeral sometime this week at the Van Horn High School auditorium. His daughter said the family plans to reopen the restaurant sometime after the funeral.

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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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