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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Beetle to help control growth of salt cedar trees

A beetle introduced into the Trans-Pecos region to help control the growth of salt cedar trees won’t interfere with plans to burn salt cedars killed off by herbicides along the Pecos River, according to an official with the Texas Cooperative Extension Service.

Officials with the agency have expanded a program tested in the Texas Panhandle and the Big Spring area into the Trans-Pecos region. Officials have introduced a beetle native to the eastern Mediterranean into West Texas and other areas of the western United States to try and kill off the trees.

However, the introduction threatened to cause problems for the plans to burn off the trees on the banks of the Pecos that were killed off between 1999 and 2005 under a test program using the herbicide Arsenal. Red Bluff Water Power Control District board members were told during their July meeting that TCES officials were worried that setting fire to the trees would also kill off the beetles, preventing them from containing any future regrowth of the trees.

But Mark Muegue with the TECS’ Fort Stockton office, who is supervising the introduction of the beetle north of Pecos, said officials with the various agencies involved have worked out their differences.

“I just talked with Bill Davis of the Texas Forest Service, and they are only going to burn what has been sprayed, so it’s not going to be an issue. We’re all working together,” Muegue said.

The bug is designed to target trees both on the river and on tributaries leading to the Pecos. Muegue said while most of the river from Red Bluff Lake to Girvin were included in the spraying program, not all areas were sprayed with Arsenal.

“There had to be permission from the landowners to do so. Not all landowners were on board with the project, so there are some small areas that have not been sprayed,” Muegue said.

The salt cedar is non-native to West Texas. It comes from the eastern Mediterranean, and areas to the east in Iran and Afghanistan, and was introduced into the region 100 years ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a way to control soil erosion along western rivers.

The beetle being used by the TCES was located in Crete by Jack DeLoach, an entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who has brought beetles back from Asia and Europe over the past 20 years for tests to see if they can effectively kill the trees. Some of those beetles have succeeded in other areas of the west, but have not adapted to the West Texas climate the way the Crete beetle has.

“The beetle feeds on the leaves of the salt cedar, and only the salt cedar,” Muegue said, adding that the insect has done a good job of reducing the salt cedar population in the test area near Big Spring, where the Crete beetle was introduced in 2004.

“We started with a 20-acre test zone in Big Spring, and I don’t know how much they’ve defoliated, but it will be much more than 20 acres, so this little beetle has been doing a pretty good job for us.”

Appraisal rolls show overall increases from last year

The 2007 real estate and mineral appraisal rolls were certified on Friday by the Reeves County Tax Appraisal District Review Board, and while the increase in mineral valuations were revised downward from the preliminary figures issued this spring, all local taxing entities still show increases in their overall valuations from a year ago.

Board members approved the certified appraisal rolls, which show a $96.6 million increase in valuations for the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board, increases of $67.4 million for Reeves County and the Reeves County Hospital District, and a $12.6 million increase in valuations for the Town of Pecos City.

The majority of the increase for the school district, county and hospital were due to increases in mineral valuations, due to both rising oil and natural gas prices and the increase in exploration for natural gas within the county and western Ward County, which provides part of the valuations for P-B-T ISD.

The totals were certified following hearings before the Reeves County Appraisal Review Board last month

The certified valuations are to be sent out to the local taxing entities, which will use them to set both their budgets and tax rates for the 2008 fiscal year, which begins in October. Budget workshops for those groups will be held during August and September, before final approval of the budgets and tax rates for 2008

The school district’s total valuations for 2007 were put at $813.8 million, down from the initial estimate of $832 million. P-B-T ISD saw a $81.5 million rise in its mineral valuations, and a $15 million increase in real estate valuations, according to the figures from Reeves County Chief Appraiser Carol Markham.

The initial figures release this spring showed an increase of just under $100 million in mineral valuations, $18 million more than the certified total, but the increase in real estate valuations was revised upward by about $580,000 from the preliminary totals.

Valuations for Reeves County and the hospital district were put at $731.5 million, about $2.7 million less than the preliminary totals. Both taxing entities saw a $53.3 million increase in mineral valuations and a $14 million rise in real estate valuations. The certified mineral totals are down by about $3.3 million from May, but real estate numbers were revised upward by almost $700,000.

Most of the real estate increase was within the Pecos city limits, and Markham said in May that the valuations were increased by about 10 percent to reflect the increase in home sales prices.

She said that the state mandates that local tax appraisal districts keep their valuations in line with the prices that homes are valued at in the open market. “The school districts lose state funding if we don’t get the valuations up,” Markham said.

Pecos’ total valuations for 2007 were put at $124.9 million, $500,000 million below the May totals. The city saw its real estate valuations increase by $10.3 million in the final totals and its mineral valuations go up by $2.3 million. The real estate totals were revised upward by $32,000, while the mineral valuations dropped $550,000 from May.

Among the other taxing entities in Reeves County, Balmorhea ISD saw an increase of $2.1 million from last year in its valuations, according to the final certified totals, while the city of Balmorhea was up by $223,820. Total valuations in Balmorhea’s school district were put at $32.8 million, while the city’s valuations were put at $4.4 million

Mineral valuations for Balmorhea ISD were actually revised upward by $35,000 from the preliminary totals, to $1.8 million while real estate valuations were revised downward by just over $35,000. The Appraisal District adjusted rural real estate valuations in Reeves County upward last year.

The city of Balmorhea’s mineral valuations were one of only two to show declines from 2006. They fell by $71,240, a number revised upward from May’s $13,100 total. Real estate valuations in the city were up from last year by $295,060, which was $10,000 below the preliminary estimate.

Toyah’s total valuations were put at $2.1 million, up $64,850 from last year. The preliminary valuations had Toyah gaining about that in mineral valuations, but following the review hearings that was changed to a $22,900 decline. Toyah’s overall increase was due to an $87,750 increase in its real estate valuations, though that figure was also revised downward from May’s preliminary total of $94,400.

The county’s other taxing entity the Reeves County Water Improvement District No. 2, has $5.8 million in valuations, up $2.8 million from a year ago. All but $7,670 of that was mineral valuation increases, though the district’s totals are down by just over $1 million from the preliminary number released in May.

PBT-ISD board hires construction manager and new principal

A construction manager at risk was approved for renovations and additions, a company was hired for roofing improvements and a new principal appointed at an elementary school, during the regular Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD Board meeting held Thursday evening in the Technology Center.

The group discussed several items including the construction manager’s position.

Board members had agreed to hire a construction manager who would be in charge of the construction of the $30 million in construction and renovations of the several campuses in Pecos.

Thursday’s school board meeting was scheduled to discuss several items relating to the campus changes planned for the 2007-08 school year, including the temporary need for an additional school principal.

Following passage of the $30 million bond issue in May, sixth grade will moved out of Bessie Haynes Elementary and will be housed at Zavala Middle School, while construction gets underway at the different campuses, including a new sixth grade wing at Crockett Middle School.

The sixth graders will move into Crockett when the construction at that campus is completed. Other construction scheduled includes the demolition and reconstruction of the front two wings at Austin Elementary, which houses the district’s first through third grade students.

Monte Hunter, architect with Hunter Corral Associates, was on hand to discuss the issue with the board members.“We only got one proposal back, but it’s because everyone is tied up right now,” said Hunter.

Hunter said that Lee Lewis Construction is currently doing Andrews and the other companies are busy elsewhere.A request for proposal was sent to several companies that have provided construction management services in West Texas: Campbell Construction, Midland; Cooper Construction, Odessa; Lee Lewis Construction, Lubbock; MidTex of Midland; NC Sturgeon, Midland and Templeton Construction, San Angelo.

“MidTex of Midland was the only company that submitted a proposal,” said Hunter. “In polling the other companies, they indicated they are operating at full capacity,” he said.

Hunter said that MidTex has experience with projects of similar scope and size that are being considered by PBT ISD. “While they have experience with construction management, they do not have experience with construction management at risk for a school bond program,” said Hunter.

Hunter said that it is important to note that project costs have doubled in the last 5-7 years. For instance, a project that cost $2.9 million in 1999 would most likely be worth around $6 million today.“We are not aware of a contractor with a perfect record in these areas,” said Hunter. “Considering MidTex’s record as a whole we rate them as above average,” he said.

Most references were favorable in these areas, one district expressed concern about timely performance and timely correction of defective work, according to Hunter.

“But they have done some work for Pecos and it has always been favorable,” said Hunter.

MidTex was involved in the 2001 high school renovations, CATE Building, softball field, and the Crockett Middle School wall repair in Pecos, according to Hunter.

“MidTex is proposing the same project management team that was on the Pecos High School renovation project,” said Hunter.

In summary, MidTex’s individual project experience indicates they have completed projects similar to those in the PBT-ISD bond program. The district is familiar with their capabilities based on past projects.

“Their performance has been above average and their proposed fee is in the range of recent school bond programs,” said Hunter.

The board approved hiring MidTex as construction manager at risk and suggested that things start moving along on the construction.

Hunter told the group that initially they had proposed starting construction at the kindergarten and Austin Elementary.“I think we’ll start with Crockett and Bessie Haynes first and proceed from there, unless the board directs us otherwise,” said Hunter.

“We can discuss that and see how we will proceed and which direction we will take and start on some of these projects,” said PBT-ISD Superintendent Manny Espino.

The group approved hiring Mid-West Roofing to do roofing repairs on some of the projects.

Other action taken included hiring a new principal for Austin Elementary School, after principal Cindy Duke, accepted a new position in the district.

Board members approved hiring Velma Nunez-Torres to replace Duke, who had been principal of Austin for many years.Torres has an MA degree from UTPB; certification in mid-management administrator PK-12, educational diagnostician PK-12, elementary sociology 1-8, elementary self-contained 1-8 and bilingual/ESL. She is currently employed with Region 18 ESC.

New hires were Rick Garcia, as 6th grade teacher at Zavala Middle School and Rodolfo Martinez, Spanish teacher, Pecos High School.

A resignation came from William Goff, band director, Pecos High School.

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