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Archive 2004

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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Commish’s discuss cemetery fees, prison vacation

Staff Writer

Cemetery fees, document storage solutions and county worker vacations were the main topics of discussion at 2004’s last regular meeting of the Reeves County Commissioner’s Court.

Commissioners began the meeting Monday with a public hearing regarding possible changes in fees and restrictions at the county-owned Greenwood Cemetery. No citizens were on hand to comment on possible changes but the court did discuss a few possibilities.

Commissioner Precinct 4 Felipe Arredondo said that the fees needed to be raised from the current $50 to $100 to help pay for maintenance.

County Clerk Diane Florez explained that currently the county charges $50 for a space at the cemetery and that there is also an $8 filing fee for the deed to the plot.

Under Arredondo’s plan the cost would be $100 for the land but the filing fee would remain the same.

Arredondo also said that the county needed to look at implementing some deed restrictions regarding the burial plots to help reduce maintenance costs.

“The way the maintenance has to be done it takes a lot of handwork,” Arredondo said. The primary restriction discussed was requiring all future headstones to be flush with the ground so that the cemetery could be mowed with a riding lawn mower.

County Auditor Lynn Owens told commissioners that he suspected that the county could apply deed restrictions to any deeds to plots sold in the future but could not apply them to lots already sold but not yet occupied.

No further action was taken on the matter.

“Intent of today’s hearing was to give the community a chance to comment on the discussion started previously,” County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo said.

A representative of Xerox was on hand to present the county with a proposed lease of a new copy/fax/scanner for the County Clerk’s office.

The proposed lease called for 60 monthly payments of $1,064 for the machine.

County Clerk Diane Florez told the court that she was looking into several options to move the clerk’s office to a paperless office. She said that the proposed machine would allow her to begin the process of scanning all of the county records into electronic format but that for the near future the clerk’s office would maintain a dual set of records - one hard copy and one electronic copy.

“Eventually we want to move to a paperless system but I have not found a system that works for all of the records,” Florez said.

Florez also said that moving the old records to electronic form would still help her office even if they maintained the hardcopy records as well since often she must fill records requests that require many man hours of standing over a copy machine copying each page manually.

“Once these are scanned in we can simply hit “print” and save those hours,” she said. The court tabled the issue until more research could be done on the type of computer system needed to store and access the documents could be done.

The court also voted to approve a plan presented by Interim Warden James Black to allow Detention Center employees to carry over their 2004 vacation days into 2005. Black said that manpower needs as RCDC III was opened prevented many employees from using their vacation in 2004.

“Opening a new facility is the hardest thing you can do in this business,” Black said. “I think everyone was focused on getting III open and then we got to the end of the year and scheduling just wouldn’t allow everyone to use up their vacation before the end of the year.”

Black presented the court with a plan where RCDC employees will schedule their 2005 vacation in January, with senior employees picking days first.

“By 2006 everyone will have had the opportunity to take their vacation time,” he said. “I have a hard time seeing employees who earned their vacation not get to take it - this plan will make sure that all of our employees get a chance to take their vacation.”

The court approved the plan unanimously.

Man dies, women injured in Christmas Eve accident

Staff Writer

One person was killed and three others injured Christmas Eve in a pickup rollover near FM 1216 north of Pecos.

Jonathan Matta, 22, died as a result of the accident, in which the Chevrolet Z-71 pickup he was driving rolled over about 15 miles north of Pecos. Three women in the pickup with Matta were also injured, with two reportedly being flown to Medical Center Hospital in Odessa as the result of their injuries.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, weather was not a factor in the accident, which was reported at 9:50 p.m. on Friday, and occurred on a section of gravel road just to the north of the paved section of FM 1216, which runs alongside the Pecos River north of town. State maintenance and the paved section of that road ends about halfway between Pecos and Mentone.

Matta reportedly was driving on the gravel section when he lost control of the pick-up, causing it to skid sideways and into an open pasture, where it overturned twice. Matta and two of his passengers were ejected from the pickup, and Matta was pronounced dead at the scene by Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Lamberto T. Herrera.

The three passengers were identified as Melanie Nicole Franco, 20, of Pecos; Vanity Trujillo, 19, of Odessa; and Sandra Franco Ramirez, 35, of Odessa. None of the passengers in the pickup were wearing seat belts, according to the report filed by Department of Public Safety troopers Billy J. Zachary and Christopher Ryan of Monahans.

Ramirez suffered head injuries, a collapsed lung and lacerations, according to the DPS report. She was taken to Reeves County Hospital before being transferred to Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. A spokesperson there confirmed she remained in the Intensive Care Unit as of Monday morning, but no condition report was released.

No report at all was available on Franco, who suffered head trauma and a broken leg in the rollover, and reportedly also was transferred to Odessa from Pecos. The third person, Trujillo, was treated at Reeves County Hospital for minor contusions, according to the DPS report. Matta was a corrections officer and the son of Reeves County Precinct 2 Constable Jerry Matta. Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday at Santa Rosa Catholic Church. The fatal accident was one of a number of crashes investigated on Friday by DPS troopers, though most of the others occurred during the morning hours, when overnight snow had caused sections of highway in the Pecos area to ice up, especially along Interstate 20 west of Toyah and I-20 west of Balmorhea.

Troopers investigated a number of accidents in Reeves, Jeff Davis and Culberson counties that were caused by slick road surfaces, along with an accident on Friday involving a truck carrying avocadoes on I-20 near mile marker 52 in Ward County. However, afternoon sunshine melted off most of the ice on the roads, though temperatures in the area didn’t make it back above the freezing mark until Christmas Day.

First Choice disputes missing city bid deadline

Staff Writer

A Houston-based company was given the contract to provide electricity for the Town of Pecos City for the next year, council members decided during their Dec. 20 meeting at City Hall.

The council voted to have Tara Energy out of Houston replace First Choice Power as the city’s power supplier, after members were told that First Choice failed to submit a bid in time to be considered at Monday’s meeting. However, an official with the company denied they failed to make the deadline, saying the bid was hand-delivered to City Hall three days before the council’s meeting.

“We had six bidders, but what happened with First Choice Power, we didn’t receive a bid, so we can’t go with them,” City Finance Director Sam Contreras told the council during their Dec. 20 meeting. However, Jeff Schiefelbein, who was handling the bidding for First Choice out of its Fort Worth headquarters, said a women representing the company delivered the bid to the city on Dec. 17.

“This was hand-delivered on Friday. She personally walked it to them,” he said on Wednesday, two days after the decision was made to change energy providers. However, Contreras told council members that , “A lady came Friday and said the bid was coming, but when we opened the bids, it wasn’t there.”

First Choice is the power supplier spun off from Texas-New Mexico Power Co., when electricity rates and sales areas were deregulated by the Texas Legislature five years ago. Because it has been the local provider and a local employer, officials with several governmental agencies have been reluctant to chance providers in recent years, though the council was told prior to their vote that Reeves County has switched their electricity provider, while the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD retained First Choice as its power provider in its most recent contract. Schiefelbein said that First Choice was told by city officials that bids for the new contract had to be submitted through a third party consulting firm, Axiom, that was retained by the Town of Pecos City to help negotiate a new electricity contract.

“When we talked with city officials about (a new contract) we were told only to bid with Axiom,” he said, adding that the final bid was brought to City Hall on Dec. 17. “They never mentioned to come back with a bid on Monday.”

“We were supposed to have bids in on the 17th, and they had to be there by the 20th. We did that and the bids were opened on Monday,” Schiefelbein said. “I’m honestly confused about what happened.”

None of the council members said they had heard of Tara Energy before the Dec. 20 meeting, though Contreras said officials with Axiom assured the city they were a credible company. He also said several other larger electric providers did not opt to bid on the city’s power contract, “because we’re too small for them.”

Council member and former Texas-New Mexico Power Co. employee Frank Sanchez asked if there were any hidden charges in the Tara proposal.

“There was nothing mentioned by the consultant,” Contreras said, while City Attorney Scott Johnson told the council that, “Any hidden costs as far as the ones Frank mentioned I’m not aware of, and if there are, we’re not going to pay them.”

“What Scott tells me is we have to go with the lowest bidder,” Contreras told the council. He said Tara’s bid would save the city $140,000 on paper from their current deal, “But it’s not going to be as much as $140,000.” He said electric pumps for the new South Worsham water field would raise the power costs for the city in 2005.

Contreras said the city had 98 power meters of which 30 were subject to “ratcheting” charges, which is why the exact savings with the new contract couldn’t be determined. Tara Energy’s bid was for a two-year contract, though the council ended up approving a one-year deal because they were not familiar with the company.

“I wouldn’t want to go with more than a one-year (bid) whoever we go with,” Sanchez said.

“That’s what I’m thinking,” said Johnson. “Go with a one-year (contract) and then we can renegotiate.”

The council then voted, with Sanchez abstaining, by a 3-0 margin to accept the Tara bid, at a rate of .069 cents a kilowatt hour. “That’s not going to change, but the ratchet might, based on the cost of fuel.”

Council tables water report, PEDC action

Staff Writer

Town of Pecos City Council members tabled several items for action in early 2005, during their final regular meeting of 2004, held on Dec. 20 at City Hall.

Among the items tabled was a water rate study for the city. City Manager Joseph Torres said the consultant involved with the project was not yet ready to present information to the council.

“We haven’t gotten it ready, but we have started,” Torres said. “The consultant was here all last week gathering data, and when it’s ready we will present it to the council.” Torres said they hoped the information would be ready to give to the council by mid-January.

Also tabled was action on naming a new member to the Pecos Economic Development Corp. Interim President Mike Burkholder said he wanted to delay naming a replacement for Frank X. Spencer, whose term expires this Friday. He also wanted to go back and reappoint members Joe Keese and Leo Hung who were named to the board earlier this year.

“All three of those terms would then expire at the end of 2007, and then we could reappoint them and they could serve until 2010,” he said, though under state law, Burkholder added Keese and Hung would still have to resign before the end of 2010, due to rules that allow economic development corporation board members to only serve six years at a time on their boards.

Mayor Dot Stafford was absent from the meeting, and as a result, Mayor Pro-Tem Gerald Tellez said he did not have any names provided by the mayor for nominations to the Pecos Zoning Board or the Pecos Municipal Airport Board. Both those items were also tabled for a later meeting.

Council members approved taking initial action on a request to sell land next to the airport to M&W Hot Oil, which is part of Winkles Trucking on Highway 17, just west of the airport. The 3.07-acre tract would be used to park company trucks, and for a water tank and truck wash. However, due to its closeness to the airport, City Attorney Scott Johnson said any sale would require approval of the Federal Aviation Administration. “The city is bound by agreement that any (airport) land that is sold by the city has to be approved for release by the FAA,” said airport manager Isabel Blanchard. She added that any money gained from a land sale had to go into the city’s funds for the Pecos Municipal Airport.

Blanchard also urged a new survey of the former Pecos Army Airfield land be done to satisfy federal officials, the Johnson said there weren’t funds in the current budget to do that in 2005.

“If the FAA wants us to go back and do a title, we’ll do it,” he added.

Johnson said no action on the M&W sale could be taken at this time, since the property first has to be legally defined and then advertised for public bidding. “I doubt anyone else would bid on it, but you never know,” he added.

Council members did approve the purchase of four properties during the meeting, including one in the downtown area and the former Ben’s Spanish Inn on West Third Street.

Dr. Juliet L. Tien of Encino, Calif., bid $350 for the buildings at 218-220 S. Oak St. Council members Angelica Valenzuela said Tien had already purchased two other properties in Pecos, including the Roper’s Motel.

Tien’s bid said the buildings would be used either for a health food store or a Chinese vegetarian restaurant.

The bid for Ben’s also came from out-of-state. Russ Letlow of Thompson, Utah, submitted a bid of $2,750 for the building, in the 800 block of West Third Street. In his bid, Letlow said he planned to put a leather goods store and saddle factory inside the building, which has been vacant for the past decade.

“I’m surprised no one else bid,” said councilman Frank Sanchez before members approved Letlow’s offer.

Another bid, for property at 515-519 E. Second St., cane from Patsy Mendoza and was for $150. Mendoza plans residential use for the property. The final bid, for $750, was on property at 3000 Stanton St., and came from Diana Tarin, who plans to use the site as her son’s residence.

Council members also discussed payments of an employee service award bonus to longtime employees. The awards would be for service at five-year intervals and would be $50 for every five years.

“For 20 years, that’s $200. That’s not much,” Johnson said.

Contreras told the board the city had discussed such a plan in the past, but final action was never taken. Council members tabled the item until the city administration could come up with a plan for the payments.

Council members did approve holiday compensation payments for city workers. The payments were to be $100 for full-time employees, $75 for part-time employees who have worked six months or more and $50 for part-timers with less than six months on the job.

Also approved was the creation of a Pecos Citizens Court, after council members heard from Pecos Police Department Community Affairs Officer Mike Balog about the project. Balog said the court would be involved in programs such as Neighborhood Watch, Child ID and Disaster Team preparedness. He said the progam would both make the city eligible for additional grant funds and save the city money though the use of program volunteers.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, the city’s utilities director, Edgardo Madrid, told the council that the city’s alley clean-up program was going to begin its second phase.

“We’ve already finished the north side and the east side of 285 (Cedar Street). In the second phase we’re going to deliver fliers to each residence and notify them what they need to be doing,” he said, referring to items that can be put in alleyways by residents for disposal.

The council also talked about possible regulations on the new mini-scooters that have been a big Christmas sales item. The scooters can achieve speeds of up to 30 mph, but because of the small size of their engines, they are not regulated as motor vehicles. “I don’t like it, but unless the council passes an ordinance there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Pecos Police Cpt. Kelly Davis. “In the middle of the night, kids riding in the middle of the street with no lights scares me that we’re going to have an accident.”

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