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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, October 5, 2007

P-B-T gets state grant to improve street safety

Curbs, gutters and sidewalks to make students’ walk to school easier and safer are part of a project that was made possible through a grant of almost $750,000 that Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD received this week.

The Texas Transportation Commission approved approximately $24.7 million in projects for the Safe Routes to Schools program, including a $747,084 grant for two Pecos schools.

Statewide, 244 projects in more than 66 communities were approved.

“Austin Elementary and Crockett Middle School applied for the grant together,” said Cindy Duke, former Austin Elementary School Principal, who is now one of the Lead Teachers in the district.

That was part of the criteria, that two schools, one elementary and one junior high, within-a two-mile radius, had to apply together, according to Duke. “So, Austin Elementary and Crockett Junior High applied together and we received the grant,” said Duke.

The project will consist of gutters, curbs and sidewalks that will go from Eddy Street, and along Veterans Boulevard west of Austin and Crockett. It will also include the area on Texas Street west of Crockett all the way to Washington.

“On Texas Street they will have a bicycle lane,” said Duke. “The curbs, gutters and sidewalks will be on the east side of Texas.

Duke said the project would also include widening the narrow section of Washington Street between Texas and Iowa streets. “It’s going to be widened to be the same width as the other parts of that street,” she said.

“From the high school to Missouri Street, sidewalks, curbs and gutters will be added, all the way around Austin Elementary,” she said.

Duke said that in addition, new signs and crosswalks from Eddy and Veterans and west to Austin would be added.

“It will identify the crosswalks around the schools,” said Duke.

Safe Routes for Schools is a national program that distributes designated state and federal funds to enhance safety in and around school areas.

“Safety is our most important obligation to the public,” said C.J. Zuniga, the TxDOT engineer who oversees construction and maintenance in Reeves County. “And children – as pedestrians and passengers – are our priority.”

Safe Routes projects include sidewalks, pedestrian and bicycle crossing improvements, on-street bicycle facilities, off-street bicycle and pedestrian facilities, bicycling parking facilities, and more. Non-infrastructure projects, such as education and awareness programs, will also be funded as part of the program. TxDOT issued a call for projects last winter and encouraged cities and school districts to work together in submitting project applications. TxDOT public information officer Glen Larum said P-B-T ISD could also apply for future grants for other safety-related projects.

Zuniga, John Salcido and Gary Rumbaugh – in the Pecos TxDOT office – worked with school and city officials to design the proposed improvements here.

Feds approve CJC contract payment hike

A major portion of the dispute between the Town of Pecos City and t he U.S. Marshal’s Service has been resolved, with the government agreeing to a 23 percent increase in its payments for housing inmates at the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.

Town of Pecos City Council agreed to the new contract on Wednesday, during a special meeting of the council at City Hall. City Manager Joseph Torres said he received the new contract on Monday, which increases the rate the Marshal’s Service pays for each inmate from $45.60 to $56 per day. “With this increase we will realize an additional $350,000 in income,” Torres said.

The city and the federal government have been at odds for three years over the original contract between Pecos and the Marshal’s Service. The agency helped the city fund construction of the CJC under a 10-year agreement, in order to have a site near U.S. District Court in Pecos to house inmates awaiting trial or sentencing.

But 18 months after the facility opened in 2002, the U.S. Department of Labor ordered Pecos to increase salaries for jailers at the prison to the mandated federal rate for the area of just over $31.000. That forced the city to raise other law enforcement officer salaries and left Pecos operating the CJC at a deficit for the past three years when the Marshal’s Service refused to alter the contract following the Department of Labor’s ruling.

Prior to receiving the new contract, the city had a projected a deficit of just under $533,000 for the just-started 2007-08 fiscal year. The new agreement covers about 60 percent of that deficit.

“We’ll look at other revenue streams to bring it to zero,” Torres said.

Along with the $56 man-day rate, the new contract also sets the guard-hour rate for transporting inmates at $21.34, with mileage at the standard federal rate of 48 cents per mile. Torres said the agreement was in line with those other cities and counties have with the Marshal’s Service.

“Clay (McKinney, Pecos Police Chief) and I have been looking at these numbers for the past month or so, when we got down to the contract with the Marshal’s Service,” he said. “With $56 for two years, we can make this agreement work.”

McKinney told councilman Michael Benavides the mileage and guard reimbursements were only for transportation to and from the CJC and federal courthouses or medical facility, and did not include trips to transfer inmates from other facilities to the CJC. He added that while the city still has to pay those costs, they could make it up through having a higher number of inmates at the local jail.

“If we are going to pick up inmates, that means our income is going up,” he said.

Torres said the city planned to hold a workshop to see how the various costs involved with the contract will affect the overall deal, which is for two years, retroactive to Oct. 1. And council members agreed that more information was needed on the numbers before any discussion of expanding the CJC begins.

Study club holds first meeting of the club year

The Modern Study Club of Pecos met on Wednesday, Sept. 12, in the parlor of the First Christian Church for their first meeting of the 2007-2008 club year with President Margie Williamson, presiding. The thought-quote for the gathering was – “Friends working together for success are bound to success.”

During opening ceremonies the collect was led by Nan Cate and the pledges to Allegiance to the United States of America and Texas flags were led by Joyce Morton.

Catherine Travland, secretary, read the minutes of the previous meeting, and they were approved as read. There was no treasurer’s report due to the absence treasurer Betty Lee.

Margie Williamson, scholarship chairman, reported that all the information needed on Sylvia Davis’ enrollment in college had been sent to Alma Van Sickle Scholarship District Chairman Bobbe Mitchell, but that she had not received an acknowledgment from Mrs. Mitchell.

Yearbook chairman Joyce Morton gave a report on the 2007-2008 yearbooks.

Members were reminded of the fundraiser bake sale scheduled at Trans Pecos Bank.

During correspondence a letter was read from Charlotte Harrell, Western District Raising Chairman, asking all clubs to bring baked goods to the Western District Fall Board Meeting at Coahoma on Oct. 7, for the “Country Store Bake Sale,” and also encouraging attendance at the meeting.

Also, a thank you note was read from president Ray for her “going away gathering,” card and gift. Joyce Morton had written a poem for Mrs. Ray which was presented at the party also.

Lena Harpham was elected vice-president. That office became vacant with Margie Williamson moving to the presidency due the resignation of Juracy Ray. Mrs. Ray and her husband, L.M., have moved to the Denton area to make their home.

Roll call was answered by giving a response to the statement: “My dream for our club is…” The bi-monthly projects for this meeting for all members to participate in club programs and a donation to “Operation Smile” of $1 for each friend.

Catherine Travland served delicious refreshments to those ion attendance. Members enjoyed visiting about their vacations, family reunions and other fun activities during their summer break from club.

Interim appointments made by new board for 4B PEDC

Interim appointments were made to the new 4B Pecos Economic Development Corp., during an organizational meeting held on Wednesday at the TransPecos Bank building.

But the group held off acting on some nominations and a full discussion of the new budget, pending additional information, while agreeing to retain Mike Burkholder as PEDC executive director on an interim basis. They also allowed him to finish up negotiations begun under the 4A PEDC rules, and discussed how to review ongoing projects without releasing confidential information to the public.

City voters approved conversion of the PEDC from 4A to 4B status in May. Under state law, the 4B corporation is allowed to spend funds on a wider variety of projects, while the PEDC board was expanded from five to seven members. Two of the seven, Jimmy Dutchover and Leo Hung, were reappointed from the old board, and Dutchover made the motion to select City Manager Joseph Torres as interim chairman of the new board.

The board then agreed to retain Burkholder in the position he’s held for the past three years. “If somebody called today, who would they do business with?” Hung said. “We need to appoint somebody.”

“Mike still has some business to do,” said Torres, while noting that the 4B cannot officially begin operations under the articles of incorporation are returned from the Texas Comptroller’s office.

There was no set time limit on the interim appointment, but the board did discuss holding a second meeting later this month and monthly meetings after that. Town of Pecos City Mayor Dick Alligood, who along with councilman Danny Rodriguez is the other new appointee from the city to the board, said the PEDC needed to maintain continuity during the change from a 4A to a 4B corporation.

“Everything is interim right now,” Alligood said. “We can’t afford not to have an executive director to maintain continuity and answer phones.”

“There are a lot of things going on with the EDC that some of our new members wouldn’t be aware of,” he said. That brought a complaint by Rodriguez about a lack of information released to the council by the PEDC in the past.

“All members of that board should have the information,” he said. “The public has spoken in the way we want that.” Burkholder said information he gave the council last week on current PEDC projects during an executive session may have been in violation of confidentiality agreements with potential new businesses for the area. “In fact, whoever has this (executive director) job is going to have a problem if they have to reveal everything to the public,” he said.

“The problem is, if you have individuals moving to town who wants to buy land or set up here, they don’t want it to be publicly known,” he said.

Board members later told Burkholder to post future meeting notices with the inclusion of an option to hold an executive session, so that any confidential information could legally be discussed in private. Torres said that item, along with the articles of incorporation, would be reviewed by city attorney Scott Johnson.

An initial motion by Dutchover was to name Burkholder to a 30-day interim term, but board member and West Texas National Bank President Paul Hinojos said, “Don’t put a definite date. Put it until you have all the by-laws in order.”

“To me, putting Mike in for only 30 days sounds as if we don’t have any confidence in him,” said TransPecos Bank President Bill Oglesby, the other new member of the board.

The board ended up agreeing to the interim post, which would give Burkholder time to conclude 4A business while the board attends an Oct. 19 seminar in San Antonio by the comptroller’s office on EDC operations.

On the budget, Burkholder presented the board with the proposed 4A figures, which included a return of the executive director’s salary to the $60,000 level of two years ago. The 4A PEDC board cut Burkholder’s salary to $42,000 for 2006, while raising it back to $52,000 last year.

“The reason is, if you’re going to go to try and hire another executive director, you’re going to have to pay him more,” Burkholder said. “I don’t know of any other town paying at this level.”

The budget has $96,000 for business recruitment and retention, and Burkholder said the 4A PEDC ended its fiscal year on Sunday with $39,000 in the bank. He added that the 4B corporation was due a $40,000 payment from the Texas Transportation Institute and Applied Research Associated for rental on the test track east of Pecos, and increased sales tax revenues should continue through next year, though the double-digit increases of the past three years may not continue.

The board ended up approving an interim budget for the PEDC based on current operations, until a new budget for the 4B corporation can be drawn up later this year.

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