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Weekly Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Higher valuations could cause rollback elections

Staff Writer

Reeves County, the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD and Reeves County Hospital saw their valuations numbers rise again last week, as Reeves County Chief Appraiser Carol King Markham certified the final 2004 appraisal totals for the area’s taxing entities.

Higher oil and gas valuations already had given the county, school district and hospital higher estimated valuations back in May, when Markham projected the 2004 totals compared with 2003’s supplemental certified numbers. But the final figures showed valuations in those three taxing entitles were up by nearly 20 percent from the final numbers a year ago.

While the news sounds good, it may force the school district to call their second tax rollback election in four years, while the hospital and the financially-strapped county could also face rollback votes this fall.

Meanwhile, the certified appraisal totals for all of the county’s other taxing entities except for the Town of Pecos City were up from the estimated numbers. Compared with 2003’s final totals, Pecos’ tax base is slightly higher, while only the Reeves County Water Improvement District No. 2 was down from their certified totals from last year. Markham sent out the new numbers at the end of last week to the county’s eight taxing entitles, which will now use them to set their budgets and tax rates for the upcoming year. “We have a new law so they can get longer extensions for rendering,” Markham said of the upward revisions in the mineral valuations. “When we did the estimates, we didn’t have the numbers.”

The county’s certified appraisal total for 2004 was $502,930,500, according to Markham. That’s up from last year’s total of $428,296,300 and up from the estimated total back in May of $470,832,320. The valuation numbers are the same for the Reeves County Hospital District, and represent a rise of nearly $75 million from last year.

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, which does not include the southern part of Reeves County as part of its tax base, but does include western Ward County, saw its valuations also rise by just under $75 million. The district went from $436,444,350 last year to $510,604,220 this year. The total is also $32 million above Markham’s estimated numbers from May. The increases came despite drops in the estimated real estate valuations, after the Reeves County Appraisal Review Board heard appeals. Real estate values were lowered by $420,850 for the county and hospital district and by $490,820 for the P-B-T ISD, but even with those revisions, real estate valuations in the school district are still $3 million higher than in 2003, while the county and hospital saw their real estate valuations rise by $3.5 million.

Based on current tax rates, the higher valuations will bring the school district an additional $1.125 million in taxes, while the county will see their tax collections increase by about $425,000 and the hospital will see an additional $278,000, if tax rates remain unchanged.

The jump in valuations will be the subject of a special meeting of the P-B-T ISD board on Thursday, and acting superintendent Wayne Mitchell said under state law, “We’ll either have to drop the tax rate or have a rollback election.”

The problem with the rollback election, he said, is the state would only allow incremental increases back to the $1.50 left in future years, even if valuations drop back down to earlier levels. “It’s killing us,” added Mitchell, who will turn the problem over to new P-B-T superintendent Ray Matthews, who takes over the job on Monday.

Four years ago, P-B-T ISD had an even larger jump in its valuations, forcing a rollback vote. However, voters opted against lowering the tax rate from the $1.50 rate, with the school district putting the extra $2 million in revenues into upgrading facilities at several campus buildings.

At the hospital, interim administrator Bill Conder said board members were just getting their first look at the new numbers on Tuesday, during their monthly meeting. “We’ll know more about it next month,” he said, referring to the possibility of a rollback election.

Reeves County’s financial problems related to the Reeves County Detention Center has left the county short of cash in its general fund. An increase in valuations would give the county a slight boost financially, and county audito Lynn Owens briefed commissioners on their options for avoiding a rollback vote during their regular meeting on Monday. “I just wanted to give them a brief estimate,” said Owens. “I was just giving them a few examples, such as if they use the effective tax rate plus three percent or five percent.”

Owens said that if they didn’t go over three percent, they could avoid a rollback election. “If they go to the eight percent, they would have to have a rollback,” said Owens. “I don’t think they will go the eight percent, so there wouldn’t be a rollback.”

Meanwhile, the valuation numbers present the Town of Pecos City with different problems.

Markham already had projected a drop of over $680,000 in mineral valuations this year for Pecos, and the revised numbers following the review board hearings cut an additional $308,470 off that figure.

“All they have is utilities. They don’t have any oil and gas,” Markham said of the city’s mineral valuations. She added that most of the utilities took advantage of the new extensions on rendering valuations.

The review board also knocked $370,770 off the city’s estimated real estate valuations, but Markham said earlier this month that reappraisals of homes in Pecos, along with new state rules, pushed the original total up by $2.5 million from 2003’s numbers.

“We only reappraised the more expensive houses. The double-A, triple-A and special; the top three kinds of homes,” she said.

Overall, the city had total valuations of $113,678,490, which was up $1.2 million from last year’s $112,494,520 figure.

While mineral valuations fell for Pecos following the review board hearings, Toyah, Balmorhea, the Balmorhea ISD and the Reeves County Water Improvement District No. 2 all saw their totals raised from the May estimates.

Toyah, which originally was projected with a loss of nearly $500,000 in valuations, instead saw a rise of $595,340 for 2004. Real estate valuations also were increased by $3,870, giving the city total valuations of $1,790,840. That’s up from last year’s $1,636,770.

Balmorhea, which had a project $258,000 mineral valuation loss, ended up with a $420,970 gain from the May estimate. It also added another $12,690 in real estate values onto the projected $105,800 rise, giving the city total valuations of $3,684,990, up from last year’s $3,403,750.

Balmorhea ISD’s mineral valuations were revised upward by $4,472,030 last week, wiping out a projected $2,830,320 loss. The $428,230 real estate valuation rise estimate from May also was revised upward by $12,690, giving the school district total valuations of $25,034,180, up about 10 percent from last year’s final figure of $22,951,550.

Real estate valuations were unchanged for Reeves County WID 2 from the May estimates, while mineral valuations were raised by $754,150. However, that failed to offset an estimated $1.9 million drop in valuations from May.

The water district’s real estate valuations overall were up $21,180, but the overall $3,430,380 is still down by over $1 million from last year’s $4,561,390.

Markham said part of the real estate valuation rise was due to people buying land sight unseen over Internet auction sites like e-bay.

“We had to reappraise those prices way upward, and later we’ll probably have to reappraise them back down again,” if the new owners give up paying taxes on the land, she said.

Latest rains help city surpass annual average

From Staff and Wire Reports

Rains that were part of a rare July cold front arrived in the area late Friday night and continued on through the weekend and into the first half of this week, but clearing skies are forecast in West Texas by this weekend.

While none of the individual showers around Pecos were as severe as those that hit Reeves County in April, the storms dumped about three inches of rain over the weekend in nearby Barstow and around two inches overall since Friday in downtown Pecos, according to KIUN radio.

The rain brought the total for the first seven months of the year to 11.03 inches, just above the city’s projected annual rainfall total by the National Weather Service of 10.99 inches. It’s the second time in three years Pecos’ rain for the year has exceeded that mark, but it took rains late in 2002 to surpass the 11-inch mark and came after a decade-long drought that saw Pecos pick up barely four inches of rain for the entire year in 1999. The rains have caused delays in the annual cantaloupe harvest in the Trans-Pecos area. “We’re about three or four days behind because of the rain,” said Clay Taylor with Pecos Cantaloupe Co. “When it rains, we get behind shipping them out.”

Taylor said he expected this year’s harvest to be wrapped up by the end of the week. Also held up by the rain was work on installing the artificial turf surface at Eagle stadium. Work was scheduled to have begun on Monday, after the rock and gravel base was leveled out last week and tested for drainage.

“”We’re a couple of days behind, but we still expect it to be done on time,” said Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD acting superintendent Wayne Mitchell. He said weather permitting, work on installing the turf should start before the end of the week and be finished before Pecos’ scheduled home football scrimmage on Aug. 19.

Pecos still has a long way to go before matching its highest annual rainfall total ever, of 22.56 inches set in 1986. The city had a series of above-average rainfall years in the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, ending with the city’s single-wettest day on record, a 4.38 inch rainstorm on May 22, 1992.

This past weekend was the second of the year in which heavy rains caused problems in the Trans-Pecos. Storms the opening weekend of April caused a levee to break just northwest of Toyah, sending floodwaters from San Martine Draw through the community. Flooding from San Martine and Salt Draw later the same day would cause the collapse of the Interstate 20 eastbound bridge at Salt Draw, shutting the highway for 11 days and forcing emergency replacement of both bridges over the normally dry draw. Flooding was even more severe that same weekend in Carlsbad, N.M., which again was hit by heavy rains from this past weekend’s storm. The flooding forced the closure of one highway just north of town, while to the south of Pecos in Terrell County, flooding shut down one state highway and a Ranch-to-Market road between Sheffield and both Dryden and Sanderson.

Reeves County was one of 24 West Texas counties in which flash flood watches were posted. In Terrell County, flood waters washed out part of a bridge and dumped a mound of gravel on a FM 2400, which connects Sheffield and Sanderson.

A group of gas plant employees were stranded by the high water after 4.5 inches of rain fell. About 7 inches of rain fell on other parts of Terrell and Pecos counties on Sunday, causing the flooding, said a Terrell County Sheriff's Department dispatcher.

The dispatcher said one end of the Dry Creek bridge on Texas 349 between Dryden and Sheffield washed out. That bridge remained closed as of Wednesday, while FM 2400 has reopened, and traffic between Sheffield and Dryden is being detoured through Sanderson. Several residents were stranded in West Texas. They included some employees of the Terrell Gas Plant operated by OxyPermian about 60 miles northeast of Sanderson near the bridge washout. Terrell County Sheriff Clint McDonald said all the roads to the plant were impassable. He said the workers were not in danger. He did not know how many were at the plant.

That included the Big Bend area where the Rio Grande surged to 3 1/2 feet over flood stage on Monday at Johnson's Ranch in the central part of the park. A campground at Big Bend National Park was closed due to the rising Rio Grande, and the Cottonwood campground in the western part of the Big Bend park was also closed, said Jessica Erickson, telecommunications equipment operator.

Alamo Creek flooded, with high water running over Texas 118 inside the park. Between Terlingua and Study Butte, just outside the park boundary, Long Draw and Terlingua Creek flowed over Texas 170.

In New Mexico, the worst problems over the weekend were reported between Carlsbad and Artesia. A trucker was stuck for more than an hour on top of his trailer in waters about 5 feet deep, and an Army helicopter from Fort Bliss, Texas, plucked him from his precarious perch shortly before 6 p.m.

``This one is an oil-field tractor-trailer with a single driver,'' Eddy County emergency director Joel Arnwine said.

Arnwine said the trucker, trying to get to an oilfield area, took an alternate route along County Road 406, called Waterhole Road even when dry, when he found his primary route barricaded. The county road was not barricaded at the time, but Arnwine said it got barricaded quickly after the trucker got stuck.

Another man got stuck earlier in his pickup truck at a low water crossing near Sitting Bull Falls off N.M. 137, Arnwine said.

The N.M. 137 intersection leading into the Guadalupe Mountains off U.S. 285 was barricaded, but U.S. 285 remained open.

Queen Fire Department personnel rescued the man and took him to their station where local doctors were examining him, Arnwine said. Because of concerns over hypothermia, local authorities requested a helicopter to airlift the man to a hospital for further examination, he said.

A third motorist was pulled out of high water on the U.S. 285 truck bypass north of here. ``The bottom line is this is nothing more than a good rain that causes some problems for us,'' Arnwine said. ``It's nothing we can't deal with.''

More than 2 inches of rain fell overnight Saturday and before dawn Sunday in the Guadalupe Mountains, running down nearby canyons in southwestern Eddy County and causing the flooding on rural roads, National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Lindley said.

Radar estimates also showed that about 4 inches of rain fell in far southern Lea County near Jal during overnight and early morning hours Sunday.

RCH retirement plan changes presented to board

Staff Writer

Reeves County Hospital officials were briefed on a new employee retirement funding plan, and were asked to help the hospital’s two new doctors in setting up their office operations by hospital board member Leo Hung, during a discussion Tuesday night as part of the hospital board’s regular monthly meeting.

The board covered routine business during their hour-long session Tuesday in the hospital classroom, including a discussion with Roxanne Bita, community representative with the Texas County and District Retirement Center. The group is a self-funded agency set up by the Texas Legislature to manage retirement funds for government entities across the state, and has handled the hospital’s retirement plan since 1991.

Bita presented the board with an option for a variable rate retirement plan, which would replace the fixed rate plan the district currently uses. Under that plan, both the hospital and its employees contribute 6 percent towards the retirement fund, but Bita said due to the turnover among hospital workers, the RCH retirement account currently is over-funded by $1.3 million.

“When an employer is over-funded the only way you can get rid of it is to pay a higher benefit,” Bita said.

She said the variable rate fund involved a 20-year contribution period, and workers could decide to put anywhere from between 4 to 7 percent of their salaries into the fund. “Some of your employees have express an interest in putting 7 percent in instead of 6 percent,” said Bita, who handed out a chart showing the cost for the hospital of contributing to a 7 percent plan.

She said using the current matching funds plan, the hospital’s contribution could drop from 6 percent to 0.26 percent and still meet its retirement commitment. Bita said the hospital could contribute $1.25 for ever $1 by its workers, and the contribution could still fall to 2.56 percent, while if the hospital funds the plan at a rate of $1.75 for every $1 by workers its contribution would still drop from 6 percent to 5.88 percent.

“It’s still below what you’re putting in, but the payout is a lot greater,” she added. Bita said that all workers in the hospital would have to contribute at the same rate if a variable plan is adopted, and the rate could be adjusted annually. RCH interim administrator Bill Conder voiced his support for the 7 percent rate, but said he wasn’t sure if the lower-wage employees at the hospital would want to add an addition 1 percent of their salary to the retirement plan.

“It’s going to be tight for them,” Conder said, and the hospital’s human resources director Nadine Smith said she would do an employee survey over the next month to see if there was support for raising the rate to 7 percent.

On the offices for the new doctors, Ziad Abdo and K.L.M.S.T. Moorthi, Hung said the two needed help setting up their offices, specifically in the area of computer software and telecommunications.

Hung said a salesman had offered Dr. Abdo a medical software plan that would be free for the first two years, “But after two years it would bee $500-$600 a month. That’s a lot of money.”

He said the contact would have cost $45,000 to $50,000 over its lifetime, and that the contract would be paid for by the hospital under the terms of the recruitment agreement. Hung and RCH Chief of Staff Dr. W.J. Bang said the system they were using would work for both new doctors, and the hospital’s interim chief financial officer Frank Seals said he had copies of the contracts.

The discussion came during presentation of the monthly financial reports. Earlier, Hung asked about the costs of the June bills for the hospital. Seals said most of the costs were associated with the start-up of the hospital’s new kidney dialysis unit, which Dr. Moorthi will supervise.

“Just in June we had $39,000 in expenses we didn’t have last year,” Seals said. “For the year-to-date, we’re up $54,000.”

He said interest expenses on the construction project were $139,000, but that total will be divided monthly in the future, “so it won’t be that big a surprise.”

Conder said a grand opening of the dialysis unit has been scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 12 from 3 to 6 p.m.. “It’s going to be simple, but nice,” he said. The public is invited to attend, and Smith said invitations would be sent out to people who have expressed an interest in actually using the dialysis center.

She added that even before the grand opening, “the first patients should be seen on either the 6th or the 9th.”

Conder said the hospital is also working to get both new doctors their provider numbers for insurance payment purposes.

In other action, the board approved changes to the hospital’s by-laws for its medical staff, as presented by Dr. Bang; were presented copies of the new 2004 property valuations and the planning calendar for 2004 taxes; approved Lydia Prieto to calculate the effective and tax rollback rates for 2004; added Seals’ name to the hospital’s banking and TexPool resolutions, and approved property sales at 410 E. Third St., 1321 S. Oak St. and 2305 Lindsay Road.

Lunch fundraisers scheduled Friday

Two fundraising events have been scheduled for Friday in Pecos.

A barbecue plate sale will be held from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., Friday at Santa Rosa Hall to help with medical expenses for Mike Machuca.

Plates will be $5 and consist of barbecue brisket, sausage and all the trimmings. Deliveries on three or more plates will be made.

To order on Friday, call the hall at 445-2302.

Also on Friday, a hamburger fundraiser will be held at 11 a.m., outside the Reeves County Detention Center I Administration Building.

Proceeds will benefit Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Borgman with medical and funeral expenses due to the unfortunate and unexpected death of their newborn child.

The plate sale will be $3.50 and include a hamburger, chips and drink. The event is sponsored by the RCDC Employee Club.

PHS orientations set for next week

Orientation and registration for students attending Pecos High School in the fall of 2004 will be held next week in the PHS auditorium.

Monday’s event is for freshmen. At 9 a.m., students with last names beginning with A-N and at 2 p.m., students with last names beginning with M-Z. Sophomores will go on Tuesday at 9 a.m., students with last names, A-N and at 2 p.m., M-Z.

Juniors beginning with A-N will go at 9 a.m. on Wednesday and at 2 p.m. for M-Z, while seniors will go at those times on Thursday. On Friday, all new students and students who have not registered.

Students must bring enrollment form, parent compact form, migrant survey form and student residency form to registration. All forms must be completed and signed before they can receive a schedule.

City to start meter replacements

Starting on Wednesday, Aug. 4, the City of Pecos will begin work to replace and upgrade all of the water meters in the city. Replacement of the meters will occur between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Work will be done by workers wearing, either orange vests or blue shirts, marked with the logo “JCI/PVI Meter Team.” Trucks and golf carts marked with the same logo will be used during meter swap outs.

Meter replacement is anticipated to take approximately 30 minutes.

Commercial meter customers will be notified of water shutoffs in advance.

Anyone having special needs for water should notify the City Warehouse at 432-445-2932.

P-B-T board to discuss budget,
tax rate during special meeting

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board members will meet for a special meeting, at 6 p.m., Thursday, to discuss several items, including the new 2004 budget and tax appraisal rolls. Board members will consider and take possible action to amend tax rate adoption planning calendar; discuss and take possible action on certified appraisal values at PBT-ISD; certification of anticipated collection rate by tax collector and calculation of rollback tax rate.

The group will discuss and take possible action on student handbooks and Student Code of Conduct and listen to a report on 2004-2005 wage and salary scale.

Board members will meet in closed session as authorized by the Texas Open Meetings Cat, Texas Government Code, Section 551.101 et. Seq: a. Section 551.074 (1) to deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment duties, discipline or dismissal of a public officer or employee.

The group will consider and take possible action on professional personnel: appointments, retirements, resignations, reassignments, change of contract.

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