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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

PHA told county moving on alley paving projects

Steps have been taken to pave alleys at the Pecos Housing Authority Projects located on the East side of town.

The Pecos Housing Authority Board met Thursday evening to discuss this project, along with other agenda items.

Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo assigned Russ Salcido and the Road and Bridges Department, to initiate the project of paving the alleys at those apartment buildings.

“We have parking in the alleys now, when before we didn’t,” said PHA Director Nellie Gomez.

Gomez said that all the parking was located in the front of the buildings, but that some of the parking spots had been moved to the alleys to allow for more tenant’s vehicles. “When it rains, the alleys get really bad,” said Gomez. “They can’t get in and that’s where some of the tenants do all their parking.”

She said that the timing for the project had to be right or the project would not be successful.

“I spoke to Russ and he told me that right now was not a good time,” said Gomez. “It’s been raining so much lately, the paving wouldn’t work.”

She added that the project might be initiated in the three weeks, depending on the weather.

“We’ll just have to wait for the weather to warm up,” she said.

Gomez said that all the other items on the agenda were approved as presented and that most were routine items.

“Our audit was approved, by resolution, we did take directive action on audit findings for the 2003 audit,” said Gomez.

All of the Capital Funds Projects are on hold on this time. “Our landscaping project is an ongoing project,” said Gomez. “We’ll be pruning trees and cleaning up alleys,” she said. The group is also planning a training session in February in Las Vegas, Nev. “We’ll have at least four commissioners (board members) and three staff personnel attend this training,” said Gomez. “So there will be about six of us attending.”

In the Farm Labor Housing portion of the meeting, Gomez said, “We’re still waiting for Rural Development individuals to help us make a decision on what to do with this project.”

County, city eye use of prisoners in area clean-up

The use of Reeves County Detention Center inmates to help with clean-up efforts in the Town of Pecos City was the subject of discussion by county commissioners, as part of an interlocal agreement the group went over during Monday morning’s regular Commissioners Court meeting.

Commissioners met in the third floor courtroom to discuss several items including the interlocal agreement, which calls for the use of state inmates currently serving their time in the Reeves County Detention Center III to clean up areas of the city and county.

“I had some concerns with this agreement and some of the wording on here,” said Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo.

Galindo said that he met with the city and with RCDC III Warden Martin McDaniel to address these issues.

Warden McDaniel was on hand at the regular meeting and said that he had talked to city officials about using some of the “trusties” to clean up areas in Pecos and the county. The item also was discussed on Thursday, during the Pecos City Council’s regular meeting. “The agreement is to use these non-violent inmates to help clean up and for other projects in the community,” said McDaniel.

McDaniel said that these inmates have to go through extra scrutiny.

“I will require that while these individuals are working they be accompanied by a Pecos Police Officer, Sheriff’s Department Deputy or some other law enforcement officer,” said McDaniel. “An officer will have to be present at all times, when they work,” he said.

McDaniel said that the problem was that the law enforcement offices were short on staff and didn’t know if that was going to be possible. “Since then I have talked to the chief of police and the sheriff, who have assured me that there will be an officer present at all times,” said McDaniel.

Police Chief Clay McKinney told the city council on Thursday that the inmates would be from RCDC III, and would be among those being held in Pecos under a contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections. “This has been about a two month process, and we’re about ready to wrap it up, “ he said.

Galindo said that he asked that an officer be present, along with a patrol car with a radio. “That way, in case anything does happen, if the inmate tries to escape, he can be pursued and the officer can call for help right away,” said Galindo.

McKinney said on Thursday that a trailer with the city logo would be in the area where the inmate are working when they are inside the city limits, and that the public would be informed beforehand about the inmate work crews.

McDaniel said that the inmates would be working one week with the city and one week with the county.

“No more than six inmates will be working on city projects at one time. “They’ll be working in alleys and empty lots in the city,” said McDaniel. “The county is more rural, so we’ll appoint more inmates to work there.”

“We’ll get more work done this way, as long as they don’t do any work on private property,” he said.

McKinney assured council members during their meeting last Thursday that, while there are a number of high-risk inmates among the Arizona group, “Any inmate sent to work with us will be a low-risk inmate.”

McDaniel said that the inmates could work at the city park, alleys and along the highways.

Following this discussion, commissioners decided to delay final approval of the plan until some changes could be made in the proposal. Council members approved the plan during their meeting last Thursday.

“I’d like to see some changes in the wording and get this right,” Galindo told commissioners..

Precinct 3 Commissioner Herman Tarin thanked the warden for his hard work and helpfulness.

“Every time I came here I always heard of different projects that needed to be worked on,” aid McDaniel. “I thought this would be a good way to work on some of these projects, we have the free labor here,” he said.

“Hopefully it will be good for all of us,” he said.

In other action, commissioners approved an agreement between the Reeves County Juvenile Probation Department and Rope Works for the construction of a Ropes/Challenge Course to be built on county property.

Reeves County Juvenile Probation Director Louise Moore told the group that they would like the course build by the Martinez Field.

She explained what the course was used for and said that Reeves County had been using the one in Ector County.

“This helps build self-esteem, team work and helps youngsters find ways to challenge teams,” said Moore.

“The man in charge in Ector County said that he would no longer be there and were we interested in building a course of our own,” said Moore.

Moore said that the department has the funds for the course, but needed the county’s permission to build on that property.

“We had thought about building it by our facility, but decided that by Martinez Field there was more room,” said Moore. “We would also invite all the other counties to use it and I think they would feel more comfortable if it weren’t by a prison,” she said.

Moore said that other groups, such as the Boy Scouts or other training groups could use it as well.

“We might have to ask Road and Bridge to do some work, but they bring their own crew, so that might not be a problem,” she said.

“What is there to say, that other kids won’t get in there and hurt themselves,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Norman Hill.

The area would be fenced in and appropriate signs would be posted to keep out individuals that shouldn’t be there, according to Moore.

“They will have to go through special training to be a facilitator,” said Moore.

Paper to take Thanksgiving holiday break

The Pecos Enterprise will be joining other local businesses in taking the latter part of this week off for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Friday’s paper, which is normally put together and printed on Thursday, will not be published due to the holiday. Regular twice-weekly publication will resume with next Tuesday’s paper, and the Pecos Free Press will be published on its normal schedule this coming Sunday, Nov. 28.

Most local businesses also will be taking off Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday. That includes all federal, state and city offices, along with both local banks and most other local businesses. Convenience stores will be open during the day, and local grocery stores will also be open Thanksgiving morning.

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD schools will hold their final day of classes before the holiday on Tuesday, and will be off until next Monday, Nov. 29.

The Pecos Christian Home will be holding their annual Thanksgiving Dinner beginning at 10 a.m. on Thursday at the Reeves County Civic Center. The Christian Home will also be distributing dinners to people normally served by the Meals on Wheels Program, which will not be in operation on Thursday. Volunteers are still needed by 9 a.m. on Thursday to help with the meal deliveries.

Main St. improvement abatement s studied

Town of Pecos City Council members agreed to look at a tax abatement plan for the downtown historical area, as part of the city’s new Main Street program.

The abatement was an addition to the agenda for Thursday’s regular session of the city council, and while the idea was agreed to in principal, terms of the abatement are still to be worked out. It was approved following a presentation of the plan by Main Street program director Tom Rivera, and after a clarification to the council on what the abatement would involve.

The abatement would only be on improvements made to buildings in the downtown area that are 30 or more years old, and not to the existing value of the structures. Rivera said the abatement is needed because so many of the vacant buildings downtown are in need of improvements before they can be reopened.

“What’s holding some of these investors back is they come in and buy a building and invest $50,000-$60,000 and before they get it up they come in and get it appraised at a higher rate,” Rivera said.

Rivera proposed a 10-year abatement for improvements to downtown buildings, while Main Street board president Debbie Thomas said another option would be a five-year abatement, with taxes to gradually increase over the next few years after that until the building owners were paying at the regular valuation rate.

“I don’t think it would hurt to go to the next step,” said city attorney Scott Johnson, and council members were told that under a similar plan in Denison, north of Dallas, property owners who renege on their commitments on downtown buildings as the Main Street Program can face tax charges to make up for the abetment costs.

“I think it’s a no-lose situation for us,” said councilman Frank Sanchez, and the council agreed to look further into the downtown abetment proposal.

The council also agreed during their meeting to change the city’s retirement rules to meet federal guidelines. The change eliminates the mandatory retirement age of 70, which has been brought to the council’s attention last month when worker Conrad Saldana, who has worked for the city for the past 32 years, sought to continue on his job. Saldana reached the retirement age of 70 in 2003, but was not asked to retire until a records check earlier this year.

“If they’re able and willing to work,more power to them,” said Johnson, who was asked to make the change in the city rules, with qualifications on employees’ ability to continue working.

“This gives the city manager more control. If they can’t work, that’s another story,” Johnson added.

The council approved bids for three pieces of property in the city. They accepted a bid of $150 from Evangeline Abila for property at 409 S. Pine St., a bid of $500 from Rahn Hart of Fort Davis for property at 908 N. Elm St., and a bid of $300 by Kent Stewart of Cuero for property at 611-613 S. Peach St.

City draws up new EMS funding plan

Pecos City Council members approved one medical-related issue and are hoping another will be worked out over the next few weeks, after proposals on a new health insurance contract for city workers and an new agreement on ambulance service between the city and Reeves County Hospital were presented to council members during their meeting on Thursday at City Hall.

Council members approved a recommendation for the new health insurance contract by City Finance Director Sam Contreras, which will change the city’s health provider to RH Administrators, which is also currently the health provider for the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD and Winkles Trucking in Pecos. The council also was briefed on the proposal the city will present to the hospital for funding the ambulance service, which has been a source of contention for the past several years.

City manager Joseph Torres said the new proposal was presented after talks earlier on Thursday with the hospital’s Chief Financial Officer Frank Seals. “For about 2 1/2 hours this afternoon Sam and Mark (Rushing, city accountant) met with Frank Seals. They sat in this back room and came out with this agreement,” he said.

The contract was scheduled to be discussed by hospital board members at their monthly meeting, which was scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Reeves County Hospital classroom.

The city and hospital district have been operating the ambulance service without a signed contract for the past two years. City officials have protested that the offer presented by the hospital district in July to the city was limited to a $40,000 base payment with a $5,000 cap for cost overruns, would still leave the city with about three-quarters of the actual cost of the service. During budget hearings in September, the council was told the service is budgeted at $294,287 for the 2005 fiscal year. About $112,,000 of that is for EMS salaries.

The plan offered by the city would have the hospital district contributing a base of $60,000 to operate the service, and then splitting any profit or loss the service incurs on another $60,000. That would put the annual cost for the hospital district at between $30,000 and $90,000, with the latter the more likely figure, based on recent annual costs. “I feel like we’ve come up with an equitable agreement, and feel we should take this offer to the hospital board,” Torres said.

“Their administration has not had time to review this,” Rushing said. “We walked through it with Sam and Joseph so Frank could see where the numbers are coming from.” The deficit of the ambulance service was a major part of the city’s problems in crafting a 2005 budget during their September hearings, and Contreras said they were told by Seals that “They’re at a huge loss right now … they’re in the same situation as every agency.” Contreras said the city would await word from the hospital district board on their reaction to the new proposal. The hospital district’s next meeting

Contreras said the health insurance decision was made after city officials and councilman Danny Rodriguez listed to proposals from five difference companies on Nov. 2 for a new health plan to replace the current one that expires on Nov. 30. The cost of the new plan would be in the range of $565,000, depending on what claims are filed during the upcoming year.

The council was told at their last meeting that two of the plans were beyond the city’s financial ability to provide, and the new proposal would have to keep the self-funding mechanism, in which the first $25,000 of any payment would be funded directly by the city.

Rick Holder, owner of RH Administrators, was at the meeting, and talked with the council on how their system would save the city money on medical claims against the plan.

“We have a corporate system database, and every day each claim is sent to a team of specialists,” he said. The 111 specialists are able to go over charges and determine whether or not the bills are excessive and then negotiate lower payments if they are, Holder said.

“It has been very instrumental in stopping billing errors,” he said. “Now we have a tool to call their hand.”

He said in the past doctors and other health providers might balk at explaining their reasons for approving treatment or for charges billed to companies or government agencies, and the insurance firms had no way to determine if their actions were justified. “We have some people they have to answer to now,” Holder told the council.

He said there are 10 health providers using the system across the United States, and that it has saved those companies $68 million in costs over the past three years. “This is something we think is very special. I know it has helped Winkles out a lot,” he said. Contreras said a similar savings effort through EBA, the city’s current health provider, was only begin last year. EBA has been the city’s health provider for the past decade, and Contreras said, “They’re a little bit behind in the technology.”

However, while the council approved changing health service providers, they balked at a proposal by Contreras to boost the premiums for spouses and families of city workers. He asked the council to increase the cost for spouses from $125 to $135, and for families from $125 to $145.

“The city can keep incurring additional costs, or it can begin moving towards placing the cost on employees,” he said. The proposal would give the city about an additional $19,000, which would go into the reserve fund to prepare for future increases in premium costs, he said.

Holder said insurance premium increases have averaged 8-14 percent annually in recent years, while prescription drug costs have risen an average of 18.24 percent. “Those numbers are hard to ignore,” Contreras said. He added that currently, city workers put $66,000 into the health plan, while the city’s contribution goes to a maximum of $499,000.

Councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela said the health insurance increases would offset the 3 percent raises given to city workers in the 2005 budget, while councilman Frank Sanchez said, “I like the plan, but I’m not for any increase for employees.” The council ended up approving the plan and maintaining the current employee contribution levels.

“Compared to other communities, we’re doing real well in that area,” Rodriguez said, while Holder added, “I do the city of Fort Stockton, and their employees pay a lot more than you do, and some of them go without it.”

First Choice collecting goods for charity

First Choice Power offices are collecting canned food and new or gently used coats and blankets for local charities.

Your donations to the Warm Hearts, Helping Hands campaign will help those in need have a more cheerful holiday season.

Please give generously and bring your contributions by the First Choice Power office at 424 S. Cypress Street, Pecos, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

For more information, call 432-445-4501.

Acceleration credit sign-ups end Tuesday

Credit for acceleration for grades 1-5 and Credit for Examination for grades 6-8 are being held at the different Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD campuses, with registration scheduled now through Tuesday, Nov. 23.

Students in grades 1-5 need to meet some requirements and score 90 percent or above on a criterion referenced test for the grade level to be skipped in each of the following areas: language arts, math, science, and social studies.

In grades 6-8 students must score 90 percent or above on a criterion referenced exam for acceleration for the applicable course.

Registration for the exams is now taking place at the different campuses and Thursday is the deadline to register and students can do so at the counselor’s office at the student’s designated school.

Test dates are Dec. 14-16.

Mexico sends Beltrans back to face charges

Three of four brothers who have been in the custody of Mexican law enforcement officials for the past three years were returned to the United States last week, to stand trial on charges of cocaine smuggling.

Hernaldo, aka, "Naldo" Beltran Perea and Raul Beltran Perea and Jesus "Chuy" M. Beltran were turned over to U.S. officials in Del Rio last week, according to Assistant United States Attorney Mark Rumbert. The three faces charges of conspiracy with intent to possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine.

Hernaldo, aka, "Naldo" Beltran Perea and Raul Beltran Perea are citizens of Mexico, while Jesus "Chuy" M. Beltran is a U.S. citizen. But all have lived in the Pecos and Balmorhea areas in that past. The three, along with Rodolfo “Rudy” Beltran, were arrested on New Year’s Eve of 2001 by police in Juarez, Mexico, following an extensive drug investigation by Mexican police.

The brothers allegedly masterminded a cocaine smuggling ring in El Paso and Juarez for the past 10 years, U.S. officials said in January of 2002, the week after their arrest. Although their extradition took nearly three years to complete, Rumbert said there were no problems in getting the Beltrans extradited to stand trial.

“Actually, it happened pretty quickly. It took only three years and the Mexican government was especially co-operative, particularly the Attorney General’s office,” he said.

The arrests came as the result of charges filed on April 19, 2000, in U.S. District Court, in Midland that were brought against the Beltrans and several others.

The 2000 indictment charged Hernaldo Perea Beltran with one count of conspiracy to distribute narcotics. Court papers indicate that the defendant conspired with others to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and import and distribute marijuana.

Raul Beltran, was charged with two counts for conspiracy to distribute narcotics. The indictment said he conspired with others to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and import and distribute marijuana.

Jesus Beltran has three counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics. His indictment also alleges he conspired with others to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and import and distribute marijuana.

The other brother, who was not part of last week’s hand-over, Rodolfo Beltran, is charged with four counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics.

The four were charged in unsealed indictments that were unsealed on Jan. 11, 2001. A fugitive search began on May 19, 2000 for the Beltans and others who were named in the indictments at that time, including Consepcion Martinez, Noel Quiroz Ramos, Horland Garcia, Ruben Garcia and Randy Lopez.

Several of those named were arrested in December of 2000, while the El Paso Times reported, the brothers were arrested during a family holiday party at Ajua, a popular restaurant frequented by many El Pasoans and other tourists.

Officials said that the organization smuggled drugs through El Paso and that they were then distributed to cities in Texas, Kansas, California and other states.

"The organization was headed by Hernaldo and Raul Beltran, who organized the smuggling and distribution and sale of 50 to 100 kilograms of cocaine per week, while Jesus and Rodolfo (Beltran) recruited drivers and collected the payments," according to a statement issued by the Mexican federal attorney general's office at the time of their arrest.

The suspects were taken to Mexico City, where they were held until their extradition to the United States.

Rumbert said he expected the case against the Beltran brothers to go forward in U.S. District Court in Midland “Somwhere after the first of the year.” He added that prosecutours “will have to wait and see,” if one or more of the brothers is willing to accept any plea agreement to avoid trial.

Officials happy with results of flea market, auction sale

Cars, desks, computers and more were auctioned off Saturday at the Reeves County Civic Center, with over 400 people attending the Pecos Peddlers Flea Market and Auction

The event took advantage of a break in the recent rains, with booths operating on the grounds between the Reeves County Civic Center and the Buck Jackson Rodeo Arena, while the auction took place inside the building.

“We had 445 people come through the gates,” said organizer Debbie Thomas. She was happy with the event, though Saturday’s number was down from the previous time the event was held.

“We still think it was a success, the vendors were happy and everything at the auction sold,” said Thomas.

Thomas said that they had about 15 booths.

“Reeves County Hospital had a lot of items that were auctioned off,” said Thomas. Other participants included both TransPecos and West Texas National Banks. This is the third year they’ve had the November flea market, and Thomas said that each year they have had the event at least 20 booths are occupied by vendors.

“It was a little bit smaller this time, but it was still a success,” said Thomas.

Items that were auctioned off included desks, chairs, hospital beds, and miscellaneous items.

“We had several cars from the bank, a tractor, a party boat and a fishing boat,” said Thomas.

Thomas said that the group definitely plans on having the event again.

“There’s always some other activities that coincide with ours, but we have a good group that always shows up,” she said.

Thomas said that hopefully next time, they will have more participants.

“We want to invited anyone that wants to participate next time to contact us,” said Thomas.

Suspect behind teen smugglers given 25 years

A Presidio resident was sentenced to 25 years in prison last week, after several individuals testified against him in a drug smuggling case heard over the summer in Pecos.

United States Attorney Johnny Sutton announced that 32-year-old Jose Luis Orona-Castillo, of Presidio, a mid level facilitator for the Crispin Humberto Borunda-Cardenas drug smuggling organization out of Ojinaga, Mexico, was sentenced to three hundred months imprisonment by Senior U.S. District Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth of El Paso. At trial, the government showed that from November 2003 to April 2004, Orona was responsible for setting up and scouting the routes used to transport large loads of marijuana. In one particular load Orona had a juvenile drive a Suburban loaded with over approximately 2,700 kilograms (5,940 pounds) of marijuana. However, the juvenile crashed the Suburban on FM 170, the “River Road” just northeast of Presidio, on Dec. 6, 2003.

The defendant would recruit drivers and then show them the route to take the marijuana in order to get it past the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints on Highway 67, 118, and 385 in Presidio and Brewster counties. At trial, the government showed that the total amount of marijuana that was distributed by Orona-Castillo was slightly under 3,000 kilograms (6,600 pounds) during this time period.

The case was tried before U.S. District Judge Robert Junell on Aug. 18-19 and the defendant was convicted on all five counts of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and the use of a juvenile to transport marijuana. The recruited drivers who were defendants in the case all testified in the case against Orona-Castillo.

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, (Alpine), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (Presidio and Alpine), U.S. Border Patrol of the Marfa Sector, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Presidio County Sheriff’s Office and the Marfa Police Department.

Assistant United States Attorney James J. Miller, Jr. prosecuted this case on behalf of the government.

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