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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, October 19, 2007

Council agrees to ORCA grant repayment plan

After five years of trying to fulfill the guidelines of a $400,000 federal grant for low-income housing, the Town of Pecos City has given up on the project, and will repay the remaining funds to the Office of Rural Community Affairs.

Meeting in special session on Monday, city council members agreed to a five-year repayment schedule for the remaining $367,343 of the $400,000 loan, which the city obtained in 2002 to begin construction of 20 single-family homes on lots in the 700 and 800 blocks of West Washington Street. City Manager Joseph Torres said by agreeing to the repayment, it would both free up new ORCA grant funds needed by Pecos and allow the city to bid out the land, without the low-income housing restrictions mandated by the ORCA agreement.

“We’re trying to get out from under the low-income housing rules. It’s been a dilemma for us,” Torres said.

The council agreed to a five-year repayment timetable with the funds to be repayed increasing each year through 2011. That came after Mayor Dick Alligood told council members ORCA Executive Director Charles Stone rejected the 10-year repayment plan the city originally had sought.

“They want to see the payout within five years. That makes it extremely steep when we have to take over that water payment,” Alligood said, referring to the $400,000 annual repayment Pecos will assume from Reeves County in 2011 for a state loan used to develop the South Worsham Water Field.

Council members discussed the possibility of appealing the ruling, but Alligood said the city needed to send ORCA a five-year payment schedule.

“We did not have this budgeted for the current year,” Torres said. He said that the funds would probably come from the city’s water and sewer fund, adding that, “The additional water and sewer funds we’ve been getting should adequately cover it.”

“The fifth year is the key. If we go with five years, we can budget it,” he said, adding that ad valorem taxes from new developments, including the possible construction of single-family or multi-family housing before 2011 on the Washington Street site could help repay the ORCA loan.

City attorney Scott Johnson recommended the city go with a payment schedule that would start with $25,000 this year, and increase by $25,000 a year through the 2010-2011 budget, with a $117,000 payment in the 2011-2012 budget. “The idea is to get it down. We don’t want to have $250,000 in the last year,” he said.

Alligood recommended that since the city did not fund the $25,000 in the current fiscal year budget that began on Oct. 1, only $15,000 should be paid out the first year ,with $30,000 and $80,000 payments put in the budgets for 2008-09 and 2009-2010.

The decision to abandon the plans for low-income housing was made after the city entered into an agreement last year with California developer Ram Kunwar to build up to 96 apartments on the site originally planned for the remaining 19 homes. However, Kunwar was unable to get funding, based on fears over loan repayment problems low-income tenants might encounter, and discussions with another developer also were unsuccessful.

“We were waiting for a developer to come in and say ‘I’ve got the apartments’, but it never happened,” Torres said.

He said the $367,000 repayment would free up $700,000 in ORCA grants the city needs for its water and sewer infrastructure projects. “We’re waiting for a letter from ORCA on the repayment and release of the 2007 grant funds,” Torres said Tuesday morning.

Under the original agreement, the city was to have begun repaying the loans in 2005, three years after Pecos received the money, which went towards street construction and infrastructure improvements in the two-block area. But after the street and utility work was completed, and one home on the site was built in the fall of 2003 at Washington and Johnson streets, no other homes have been built since then.

Those seeking funding had to qualify for one of two loan options, either a first-time home buyers grant, which would pay for $10,500 the cost of construction, or a 1 percent loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A number of families have sought those loans, but Torres said none were able to qualify, due in part to the low average income listed for Reeves County and the increasing cost of building materials.

“For a $60,000 to $90,000 home, people who could qualify for the (low-income) mortgage couldn’t qualify for the loan. That’s what the issue is,” he said. “The housing cost went up from $60 a square foot to $90 a square foot, and we just didn’t have the people who could get those loans.”

A number of local employers have been unable to fill positions due to a housing shortage in the Pecos area. But the higher salaries many of those jobs came with made workers ineligible to qualify for the low-income ORCA housing, which required buyers to have income levels of under $18,000 per year.

Any housing built on the site using private funding and without the restrictions would allow for people with higher income levels to qualify, if they can get loans. “Now we can bid it out,” Torres said. “We can bid the 19-lots and see what happens, and there will be no ORCA restrictions.”

City says lot paved to add warehouse parking

Town of Pecos city officials said on Tuesday work being done on the parking area of a Walthall Street storage business was part of an agreement to allow city workers to park on the site, and not inside the city’s adjacent warehouse area.

City crews were at Longhorn Storage, in the 100 block of West Walthall Street, applying asphalt to the area on the east side of the building. The use of city equipment applying asphalt on private property prompted one complaint to the Enterprise.

“We’re using the private lot as a parking area, and we are working with the storage area owns,” said city public works director Edgardo Madrid. He said the work was to create a temporary parking site next to the warehouse, until a full-time parking space could be found.

“We don’t let city employees park their private vehicles inside the yard,” said city manager Joseph Torres. “It’s a safety issue. Only city vehicles are allowed to be parked inside city property.”

Martin Arreguy, who is in charge of the city’s street department said “We’ve had several incidents t hat prompted this,” he said, citing a water truck that hit a vehicle in the warehouse area and a driver who ran into the storage building while trying to get around other cars in the area.

He said the agreement was worked out with Bill Oden, owner of Longhorn Storage. “This is to our benefit, not his,” Arreguy said. “All we’re doing is creating more space for our employees.”

Torres said the city is looking at a couple of privately-owned sites near the yard that could be bought and used for parking in the future.

Eagle Band performing Saturday at UIL area marching competition

Pecos Eagle Band members have been working diligently to prepare themselves for this weekend’s event.

The Mighty Eagle Band will march at 3:30 p.m., Saturday at Ratliff Stadium, located off North Grandview and Yukon in Odessa.

“I would like to extend a personal invitation to you all to attend this contest and support our students,” said Pecos Barstow-Toyah ISD Personnel Director Rey Villareal.

“A lot of time and effort has been put into the preparation for this contest. It would be befitting if you all, and others from Pecos would attend,” said Villareal. “I hope to see you all there,” he said."

Schools plan Thanksgiving family lunches

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD Food Services Supervisor Louis Villalobos said that things are going well with their new automated service and more things are planned for the rest of the year, including next month’s parent-student meals for Thanksgiving.

“Thanksgiving is just around the corner and we are preparing for the Thanksgiving meal,” said Villalobos. “So that our staff can better prepare and serve the students and their guests, we have a few rules for everyone,” he said.

No carry-outs will be allowed. If parents have children who are not attending school yet, they may purchase a meal for the child at the serving line, according to Villalobos.

Also, no student is to be signed out of one school to go and eat at another school. For parents with students from Kindergarten through sixth grade, tickets will be sold by the cafeteria cashiers at $3.25 per plate. Tickets must be purchased at the same school cafeteria that the student attends. Tickets are non-refundable. The Thanksgiving lunch will be held on Nov. 7 and parents are invited to attend.

For parents with students from seventh grade through 12th grade, arrangements need to be made in advance to eat with your student.

Parents or guardians may call the cafeteria staff or come in person, to make the arrangements.

“Parents with students in these grade levels please come and enjoy the meal,” said Villalobos. “Middle School and High School staff would really like to see you!,” he said.

Tickets for employees are $2.50 per plate.

“The food for the meal must be ordered one week in advance and we sure wouldn’t want to run out of food,” said Villalobos. “Therefore, so that we have enough for everyone, and if possible, we ask that all purchases and arrangements be made by Oct. 26,” he said.

However, the staff will order a little extra just in case you can’t make it on time, according to Villalobos.

“We all hope you enjoy the meal and have a wonderful Thanksgiving,” said Villalobos.

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