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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, August 22, 2008

Groundbreaking held for new home project

Groundbreaking was held Wednesday for the first six homes of what local officials hope will become a new subdivision of over 50 homes in the central section of Pecos.

Seminole homebuilder Antonio Briones is planning to construct six new homes in the 1200 block of Johnson Street, between Washington and Adams streets. The total is four more than originally announced last month, when the Town of Pecos City Council and Pecos Economic Development Corp. board of director reached a deal with Briones to build affordable homes on the site where the city had planned to build single-family low income housing.

Briones said the first homes will be built along Johnson Street, adjacent to the only home built under the original 2001 agreement to construction 20 homes with a $400,000 infrastructure grant through the Office of Rural Community Affairs. “The two (on Johnson Street) are going to be the first ones finished, but we’re going to do all six homes,” Briones said.

The failure to build the original 19 homes left the city owing $367,000 to ORCA and threatened to block Pecos from receiving any other state grants. The city reached a deal last year to repay the money, and has been trying to find a builder of either new homes or new apartments over the past four years.

The repayment deal also allowed Pecos to remove the maximum income requirements for families under the original ORCA deal, and Briones said the new homes will fall in the $115,000 to $150,000 price range.

“I’d like to get all this done right here by the end of December,” he said of the first six homes. “We’ll look to construct some more as the homes get sold.”

“This has been a long time coming,” said Mayor Dick Alligood, during remarks prior to the groundbreaking. “This housing site has for many years been a proverbial thorn in the side of the city.

“We need it for the prison, we need it for the school district, and we need it for the (TransPecos) food processing plant,” he added.

“It takes teamwork to do anything,” Briones told the audience. “Anyone who works by themselves is never going to get anything done.”

“Right now my vision is to see all this area built,” he added, referring to the surrounding lots in the Morris Addition that were not originally part of the ORCA housing grant.

He said the homes will be in the 1,200 to 1,500 square foot range. “The corner lots can take up to 1,800 square feet, but we’ll only built that if somebody asks for it.”

He added that they’ll also expand the driveway openings put in under the original ORCA grant to handle two-car garages instead of single vehicle ones that were envisioned under the original project design.

In a press release, PEDC executive director Robert Tobias said the lot sizes will be 50-by-125 feet, with the exception of corner lots that will be 63-by-125 feet. The floor plans will provide mostly three bedrooms and two baths.

The press release said Keller Williams Realty will be responsible for marketing the homes, while a sign at the site said that Tobias’ wife, Linda, who has been in the realty business in San Antonio, would be the company’s representing agent.

Information will be available on-site, through the Multiple Listing Service, the internet, and by calling (432) 940-6820 The price range offered by Salgado is higher than the average price in the past for new homes in Pecos, but still well below the average and media prices for homes currently going up in cities across the Permian Basin.

According to the Permian Basin Home Builders Association, the average home under construction right now in the region is selling for $169,700, while the median price for all homes is higher, at $185,000. Areas near Midland-Odessa have seen the greatest amount of new home construction, and the PBHBA said home builders from as far away as Lubbock are coming to towns like Andrews, which has seen the largest numbers of new homes built of the smaller cities in the Permian Basin since the current oil and natural gas drilling boom began four years ago.

The drilling boom also has created a severe labor shortage in the area, which has affected homebuilders as well as many other businesses. However, Briones said he has the workers lined up right now to begin the first six homes.

“I’m going to be looking for some more people, and right now, I’m going to start off with my own subs (sub-contractors),” he said.

Along with the single-family homes, the city and the PEDC also are still looking to secure a deal to construct apartments on the west side of town.

“The feasibility study is still going forward,” said Tobias. “The appraiser will be in town next week to see if the financial conditions in the market and support the project.”

Initial plans called for the construction of 100 apartments on a site along Stafford Boulevard between the Balmorhea Highway and Reeves County Hospital. Tobias also noted that the Reeves County Detention Center and the center’s operator, Geo Group, are trying to acquire the abandoned Walthall Street Trailer Park so that portable housing can be set up there to help relieve the severe shortage of guards and other workers at the prison.

Council approves new study of city’s water use, reserves

Town of Pecos City Council members approved a hydrology study of the city’s water supply at the South Worsham Water Field, following an executive session on Aug. 14 at City Hall.

Along with the water survey, council members also approved the sale of $6.87 million in bonds for construction of a new wastewater treatment facility on the east side of town.

City Manager Joseph Torres said the council agreed to pay Arcadis, a Midland-based hydrology engineering firm, $41,500 to study the city’s current water supply in the wake of much higher water usage caused by oil and natural gas drilling operations in the Pecos area.

“We want to know the effect on the field’s water reserves,” Torres said. The city developed the $8 million South Worsham Field after being told in 1994 that the Ward County and Worsham Field water supplies only had enough water to last Pecos through 2008. The new water field was originally projected to last for about 30 years.

Torres said along with water usage levels, the city also wanted to check on water quality levels of the Cenozoic Pecos Alluvium aquifer. The city went before the Texas Water Development Board three years ago to block a Houston-based company from using water from the adjacent Santa Rosa Aquifer to hollow out a salt dome in far eastern Reeves County for an underground natural gas storage facility.

“They were going to need 200 million barrel of water, but the Texas Railroad Commission ruled that they must get their water from the Capitan Reef Aquifer (located east of Coyanosa in Pecos County and containing non-drinkable water). We just want to make sure there’s no contamination to the Pecos Alluvium,” Torres said.

The closed-door session came at the end of the council’s four-hour regular meeting. One other item, involving the transfer of 80 acres of city land to Reeves County for expansion of the Reeves County Golf Course, was tabled following the executive session, but was to be taken up again on Thursday night, along with four other county-related items, in a special council meeting at City Hall.

Madrid said the city currently is working to get a couple of wells back in operation, both at the Reeves County Golf Course and at the South Worsham Water Field. However, Madrid said the bad wells at the water field wouldn’t affect the city’s water supply.

“We still have 25 more wells,” he told the council.

On the wastewater treatment plant, the city’s longtime bond consultant, Larry Skiles, said the bonds would be sold through the State of Texas, as part of the Texas Water Development Board’s zero percent loan to the city. “It’s a pure revenue bond. There’s no tax pledge behind it at all,” Skiles said.

The bond will be paid off over a 25-year period beginning in 2010, with annual payments of $270,000. Skiles said the city would be required to put one year’s payment in escrow, in case there is a future year in which Pecos has problems meeting the loan repayment schedule. He said that payment could be put in on a monthly basis over five years, until the annual payment total is reached.

In other action, the council approved a request by Police Chief Clay McKinney to see a grant for just over $1 million. He said the Border Star grant would help the city pay for overtime for personnel, and requires no matching funds from the city.

“We’re short an officer and a dispatcher right now, so we have to pull somebody in an play them overtime,” he said. “Plus it pays mileage for the police vehicle.”

McKinney also told the council that he was seeking to create the position of corporal within both the police department and the officers at the Pecos Criminal Justice Center, as part of a revised city promotion policy.

Council members approved the change, which McKinney said would affect 8-9 employees at the CJC and in the police department.

The council also agreed to pay Reeves County $30,000 for operations of the Emergency Management Department, starting with the 2008-09 budget year on Oct. 1. Alligood said the financial responsibility for the department has shifted back and forth over the years between the city and county. Councilman Frank Sanchez said the position was created by the city while he was mayor in 1985.

County Judge Sam Contreras said he and county commissioners thought that during recent negotiations over the county’s water lawsuit against the city, that a deal had been worked out for the county’s current budget year. “We thought we would get some money from the city, but apparently there was some miscommunication, “ he said.

However, since the county’s budget year runs through Dec. 31, city attorney Scott Johnson said the $30,000 payment could be made in the city’s 2008-09 budget year, which begins in October, and count towards the county’s 2008 budget.

“We could do an interlocal agreement after we do our budget,” Sanchez said, and the motion was then approved by the council. Council members tabled any action on new by-laws for the Pecos Main Street Program’s Board of Directors, but did approve a list of new members presented by the program’s executive director Martin Arreguy. Named to the board were Joe Keese, Peggy Walker, Venetta Seals, Kevin Duke, James Brownlee, Bill Oglesby, Linda Gholson, Debbie Thomas and councilman Danny Rodriguez.

Also approved was an interlocal agreement with the county and the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD for a new equipment room for the pee-wee football program, inside the old Pecos High School gym. “It’s within their budget, the school is doing all the work and the city’s not going to be out any money,” said Sanchez.

The council tabled a discussion of the Pecos Economic Development Corp. budget, because both Rodriguez, who is chairman of the PEDC board and executive director Robert Tobias were out of town last Thursday.

They approved a zoning change for the area along Interstate 20 where local businessman Leo Hung and his partners are building their $9 million Paradise Plaza project, and seeking a $5,500 grant for Reeves County from the Permian Basin Regional Planning Commission, with $4,500 targeted for new containers for the city’s cardboard recycling center.

Council members also requested that interim Reeves County Juvenile Probation Officer Camilla Blum meet with them at some date in the near future. Council members had made an earlier request, but Alligood said, “I haven’t heard anything from here.” Johnson said he would meet with Blum and ask her to schedule a meeting with the council.

Sanchez was named by the council to replace Rodriguez as the Pecos representative on the Midland International Airport Board, while Alligood gave the oath of office to Lila Rivera, as the city’s new Municipal Court Judge. Rivera, who served in the same position for 16 years in Fort Stockton, was chosen by the council to fill the job following the death of Amanario Ramon in June.

County treasurer keeps clothing budget low

Linda Clark is known at the Reeves County courthouse for her distinctive wardrobe, but she will tell you that little of her salary as treasurer goes to pay for clothes.

That’s because she buys from consignment shops, thrift stores and the 75-percent-off rack at Needleworks.

“My mother sends me a box of clothes every month from her thrift shop,” said Clark, who is the Reeves County Treasurer. “When a little old lady dies, she will buy her clothes for 25 cents per item.”

Clark said she has also bought from consignment shops in Midland, where “they really have good stuff. I couldn’t afford to pay big prices.”

Wearing a jeweled suit from Needleworks, Clark said that she doesn’t go to Midland anymore, but spends her money at home. “Peggy Walker (Needleworks owner) and I go back a long way,” Clark said. “She is from Rotan and I was raised in Roby, so we have known each other all our lives, and we both wound up in Pecos.”

Linda met John Clark when they were students at Cisco Junior College, where she was a Wrangler Belle and he was a track star. As a business major, Linda learned about computers on the big mainframe machines that required keypunch cards. “You had to program your own board to get it to work,” she said.

After graduation, John and Linda moved to Pecos, and she helped him operate the Clark family ranch north of Pecos.

Coming from a farming background, Linda had ridden a horse for pleasure, but she didn’t care much for the day-long rides that rubbed blisters on her legs.

“We rode from dawn to dark,” she said, checking cattle and fences, cleaning out water tanks, repairing windmills and other tasks cowboys do.

“When they would have a roundup, John would have 20-30 cowboys and I had to feed them,” she said. “My father-in-law told me it didn’t matter what I cooked, but to have plenty of it.”

She cooked roasts, beans, potatoes, cornbread and casseroles in big pots that she could carry in the bed of the pickup and served from the tailgate long before tailgate parties became popular with football fans.

Turning back to her business side, Clark worked eight years for Red Bluff Water Power Control District as a tax collector.

“Ethel Allgood was my boss. She taught me office skills. I appreciate her very much,” Clark said.

County treasurer Nina Abila then hired her, and she was appointed to the treasurer’s job when Abila died four years later. She is in her 15th year as treasurer and has no plans to retire.

Pointing to a sign on her office wall that says, “Behind every successful rancher is a wife who works in town,” Clark said she can’t afford to retire.

Her work leaves little time for hobbies, but Clark served on the rodeo committee for 23 years, on the Community Council of Reeves County for many years, and coached soccer and T-ball when her sons were young.

Shawn, the oldest, has just been named director for Odessa Community College and is moving from Dallas to Midland with his wife.

B.J. is a “hotshot” technician for GE Wind in Sweetwater and flies all over the country to repair wind machines that the local technicians can’t fix. He has been married two years.

Neither has children, but the Clarks claim as grandchildren the two offspring of William Chandler, whom they raised. He is manager for a wildlife hunting reserve at Hico.

Clark’s pet project is “Christmas for Kids,” which accepts donations to provide warm clothes for children who might not otherwise have a merry Christmas.

Her big regret is missing out on the Wrangler Belles’ trip to New York to perform their dance routines in the Macy Parade. “I graduated in 1971, and they were invited to perform in 1972,” she said. “I was real disappointed.”

Clark said she worked hard as a Belle, practicing two hours every morning and three hours in the evening.

“We wore a plastic belt made out of venetian blinds,” she said. “It was two inches shorter than our waist size (to make the waist look smaller). We would have blisters or red marks by the time we got through with our routine.”

The Belles were as important as the football team, and “You are going to work for that scholarship,” she said.

She is still the Belle of the courthouse.

Water lawsuit threatens plans for city, county

Four items involving the donation or transfer of land and property from the Town of Pecos City to Reeves County, scheduled to be the subject of a special meeting by the council on Thursday evening, could be put on hold due to the ongoing dispute between the city and county over a lawsuit dating back to an increase in the city’s water rates in 1999.

Council members were scheduled to go into executive session to discuss the transfer of just over 80 acres of land to the county, for the construction of seven new holes for the Reeves County Golf Course. The project is part of a proposed bond issue the county is looking to put on the Nov. 2 election ballot.

Other items included the donation of the former F.W. Woolworth building at Third and Oak streets by the city to the county, which would then be torn down and used as the site of a new Reeves County Library. The other items are the donation of Bessie Haynes Park on the east side of Pecos to the county for new recreational facilities, and the donation of land to the county at Maxey Park, where the county currently maintains four baseball, softball and T-ball fields.

However, in a letter to the public, Town of Pecos City Mayor Dick Alligood said the ongoing legal action by the county against the city threatens to stall cooperation on those requests and other issues between the two governing bodies, and said he would prefer the city sell the county the golf course land instead of donating it to the county, as long as the current litigation continues. “Since Dec. 1999, the City of Pecos has been involved in a legal battle with the County of Reeves over water rates proposed and charged,” Alligood wrote in the letter on Thursday. “This litigation has cost the taxpayers of Pecos a total of $59,354.29 paid to attorneys and court cost. This is only the amount that the city has paid as we do not know what the County has paid out. The problem with this is that not only the $59,354.29 of your city taxes, but also the amount paid by the County came from your taxes and could have been used for City and County improvements.

“The City and County are back in court again on an appeal filed by the County due to two previously lost cases. Although the City of Pecos is not named as the primary defendant we are included also in the case,” Alligood said.

“When I ran for the position of Mayor of Pecos I spoke to a lot of people about why I was running for the office and the number one item was to get the City and County to work together for the betterment of all. Shortly after I was elected to office the City and County were in court in Austin, Texas over this issue for trial. The day of the trial the State Court rules in favor of the State of Texas and the City of Pecos. As the City and County were not in litigation the County Judge (Sam Contreras) and I discussed having meetings to possibly put this issue to rest. With this in mind the County Judge and I set up meetings in the evenings with us and one Commissioner and one Councilperson to discuss items to be considered to stop the litigation and have the City and County work together.

“All of the Commissioners and Councilmen were rotated to be included in the talks and a list of 22 items from street repair to park programs for the city and county were discussed. After several meetings with the City and County officials, the City was notified that were going back into court on an appeal by the County. When asked about this, Judge Contreras advised that the Commissioners were approached by the Law Firm representing them and told that if the County would allow them to file an appeal they would not charge the County. Upon discussing this, the Commissioners agree to file the appeal and go back to court. “The City Council and I want to see improvements and expansion of our golf course for the residents of Pecos and Reeves County as well as a number of items. However I personally do not want to see our money spent on court battles. When the County asked the City to donate City owned land for several projects, they were asked if they would drop the suit and the answer was no. I am going to ask the Council to sell the property to the County for fair market value and put the money in a legal fund to pay the fees. I do feel if the County were to drop the suit and sit down with the City we could work this out without the court fees.”

“This in no way will interfere with the building of the Paradise Plaza Project and the County can continue to expand the golf course,” Alligood added. He concluded his letter by saying, “Your input is needed and now is the time that the City and County need to be working together to move Pecos forward. Please contact your Commissioner and Councilmen and let them know our desires. There are no winners only losers and they are you.”

The original lawsuit stems from a dispute between the city and county over water rates charged by the city for the Reeves County Detention Center. An agreement was reached on that dispute in 2002 that had the county paying the first 10 years of the city’s 20-year note owed to the Texas Water Development Board for construction of the $8 million South Worsham Water Field. However, the dispute flared up in 2005 when the city sharply increased its water rates, to pay for new water and sewer infrastructure and to build up funds for when the city assumes the South Worsham bond payments in 2011.

Board views revised KG, Austin plans

Construction progress at the different Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD campuses, including revised plans for Austin Elementary and Pecos Kindergarten, were discussed by school board members during their meeting last week at the P-B-T Technology Center.

Work is already underway on two of the four main construction projects, as part of the $30 million bond issue approved by voters in May of 2007. Board members were told construction crews are pouring foundation concrete, installing underground plumbing and roofing at Crockett Middle School, while at Bessie Haynes, construction workers are having a building pad installed and installing underground plumbing.

The progress is consistent with the construction schedule, according to Monte Hunter’s (architect with Hunter Corral Associates) report.

Two other smaller projects, involving roofing at both Pecos High School and Austin Elementary School has been substantially completed and a punch list correction is proceeding.

The two main projects still to come involve the demolition of two wings at Austin and construction of a new wing further to the north, and the construction of a new recreation area for Pecos Kindergarten. Hunter showed board members the updated schematic plans, which are pending review by the district staff.

Under the new plan for Austin Elementary, the cafeteria and kitchen area will be the only part of the original building retained. The two oldest wings near Veterans Boulevard will be demolished and a new wing built closer to Normandy Street, and to the north of the wing added onto Austin in 1983.

Under the plan, there will be 10 classrooms per grade level (eight grade level rooms, plus two bilingual rooms) and special program room assignments. The new plan will locate the music room in the current library location and two first grade rooms in west end of existing wing. First and second grade computer labs will go in the west end of existing wing.

The plan also indicated that more space will be needed for custodian storage, and the school may use existing portable buildings.

Hunter said he will e-mail updated schematic plan with room assignments to the district.

The kindergarten plan revision moves the new indoor recreation area into the main building, near the 10th and Willow streets intersection. The original plan called for construction of a stand-alone building on school property on the west side of Willow Street.

Also being developing is schematic for a new Pecos High School field house, with concession/restrooms incorporated for the tennis courts and softball field.

At the Pecos High School Swimming Pool, workers are in the process of rebuilding the section of wall torn down to repair damage caused by a sinkhole beneath the 25-year-old building. The work is scheduled to be completed on Friday, and the swimming team, which has been working out for the past three weeks at Maxey Park, is scheduled to re-occupy the pool after interior masonry is complete.

Other work to be completed includes painting lines on the repaved track at Pecos High School and the installation of a track at Crockett. The Crockett Tennis Courts site work began on Aug. 18 and the contractor indicates the project is due to be completed by mid-October. The Crockett track also began on Aug. 18, but no completion date has been provided by the contractor.

In other action, board members approved new assignments, including: Bennie Bilyeu, fourth grade teacher, at Bessie Haynes; Penny Bilyeu, Special Education Teacher, Bessie Haynes and Louise Moore, 6th grade reading, Zavala Elementary.

County jobless rate unchanged, job totals fall

Reeves County’s unemployment rate held at 6.8 percent in July, according to the latest figures from the Texas Workforce Commission. But the number of workers and the number of jobs in the county dropped from June’s totals.

The TWC said the county lost 50 workers and 47 jobs from the previous month, falling from 4.296 workers to 4,246, and from 4,006 jobs to 3,959. The new report also said the county has gained only one job and 25 workers from July of a year ago, when local unemployment stood at 6.1 percent.

Most other counties in the Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos area also reported jobless rates in July that were unchanged or only slightly different from June.

Midland County’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.1 percent in July. Midland added 491 workers and 488 jobs last month, the TWC said. Neighboring Ector County’s unemployment rose from 3.6 percent to 3.7 percent last month. The county added 380 workers from June and 340 jobs.

Andrews County’s rate went from 3.2 percent in June to 3.3 percent in July. The number of workers declined by 71 and the job total fell by 75 for the month. Brewster County’s rate rose from 3.6 to 3.8 percent, as the county’s workforce plunged by 263 workers while the job total dropped by 265 from June.

Crane County’s rate dropped in July from 4.2 percent to 4.1 percent, with a drop of five workers and three jobs. Culberson County saw its rate hold at 2.9 percent, with an loss of 16 workers and 15 jobs. Dawson County’s jobless rate rose from 6.0 to 6.2 percent, with the number of workers growing by 17 while the number of jobs was up by only three.

Howard County’s unemployment rate went from 4.6 percent to 4.8 percent in July. The county lost 27 workers and 49 jobs. Pecos County’s rate was unchanged at 5.1 percent last month, as the county’s workforce was up by 29 while the job total increased by 26. Presidio County saw its jobless rate go from 11.6 percent to 12.8 percent, as the county lost 52 jobs while the workforce was down by 14 from a month ago.

In Ward County, unemployment was up from 4.1 to 4.2 percent in Julu, with the number of workers increasing by 27 while the job total rose by 21. Winkler County’s unemployment rate rose from 3.8 to 3.9 percent, adding 44 workers from June and 39 jobs.

Loving County saw its unemployment rate drop back to May’s 9.3 percent from 10 percent iun June. The nation’s least-populated county added back the three workers and three jobs it lost last month, and now has 43 people in its workforce and 39 employed.

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