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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sunday storms spawn tornado near Toyahvale

Reeves County went through its third tornado warning of the spring on Sunday, as part of a series of thunderstorms that moved through West Texas all day.

A tornado warning was issued about 12:40 p.m. for southwestern Reeves County, after a funnel cloud was reported on the ground near Toyahvale. The tornado was spawned by the same storm that earlier in the morning was blamed for two tornadoes that touched down in Davis Mountains State Park, west of Fort Davis, according to the National Weather Service.

The rare tornado spottings in Jeff Davis County came about an hour prior to the warning issued for Reeves County. Residents in the southern part of the county, including Toyahvale, Balmorhea, Brogado, Saragosa and Verhalen, were urged to take cover, and EMS crews were sent out from Pecos in case any injuries were reported.

However, there were no injuries or damage reported from the tornado, and the system weakened before it passed across Interstate 20 between Toyah and Pecos.

Pecos received its heaviest rain from a storm that hit the city shortly after 5 p.m. It dropped .26 inch of rain at Pecos Municipal Airport, to go along with the .06 inch reported from showers earlier on Sunday.

Other areas to the south and east of Pecos reported much heavier rainfall totals. A flash flood warning was issued for the area between Bakersfield and Iraan in Pecos County, where the National Weather Service estimated between 8 and 10 inches of rain fell in some areas near the Pecos River.

Further to the west in Pecos County, Fort Stockton reported just over 1 1/2 inches of rain fell on Sunday.

The storm was blamed for road flooding across the area, including the cities of Big Spring, Odessa and Midland, said Pat Vesper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Midland.

In Wink, the NWS said .89 inch of rain fell from the line of storms, while 2.13 inches of rain was reported at the NWS weather station at Midland International Airport.

Reeves County was under two tornado warnings back in March, when funnel clouds were reported northwest of Pecos on March 23, and two days later, when a twister was reported on the ground eight miles southwest of Pecos. Neither of those storms caused any major damage or injury.

“Relay for Life” participants raise $49,000

Things went well this weekend for participants of the Annual Relay for Life, who raised over $49,000 towards their goal of $60,000.

“We had a total of $49,732, which didn’t meet our goal of $60,000,” said organizer for the local event Karen Hornberger, who added.

they still have until August to collect more funds and put them towards their ultimate goal.

“We still have other fundraisers that are planned and more donations that will be coming in and they can all go towards our goal,” said Hornberger. “We have until the end of August and it can all go towards the total,” she said.

Relay for Life set the $60,000 goal after last year’s event raised $60,000, a jump of over $25,000 from the previous year.

Hornberger said that one particular camp swept up most of the prizes at the annual event. Trans Pecos Banks camp had the Best Camp, the Best Stick Hero and raised the most amount of money by a camp, collecting $10,000.

American Home Health had the Best Car, which was used to transport individuals at the relay and the adult who raised the most money was Tencha Lopez.

Once again the youth who raised the most money, Bradley Shaw, a title he has held for the past few years. Shaw raised $772.

“This year we had 10 teams participate and we had a great turnout,” said Hornberger. “We had a lot of kids out there and they had a great time,” she said.

Hornberger said that they are still getting paperwork together and collecting money.

The Super Team Award this year went to Reeves County Hospital and there was a tie for the Most Spirited Team, between Wal-Mart and the Reeves County Detention Center.

Historical designation sought for courthouse to fund repairs

Seeking a historical declaration for the 72-year-old Reeves County Courthouse was discussed during the regular Reeves County Commissioners Court meeting last week, as part of an effort to raise funds to repair the courthouse’s leaky roof.

During their April 23 meeting in the third floor courtroom, County Judge Sam Contreras told commissioners that he had attended a Texas Historic Committee seminar recently to gather information on funding for the local courthouse.

Contreras said that they had received a proposal to fix the roof in the amount of $250,260. The historic designation could help offset some of that cost to the county.

“We need to do a master plan by July and turn that in first,” said Contreras. He said they are trying to push legislation that will put a time frame and then put an in-kind match. “If they had done it back then, they are trying to pass legislation that you can’t use that as part of the match,” said Contreras.

“You can go back and they’re talking about going back 30 months,” said Contreras. “What they did tell us to do, was to do the necessary repairs and then the restoration later,” said Contreras. “Do the roof repairs, but not the complete restoration.”

The Texas Historic Commission grant if awarded would be a an 85 percent allocation with a 15 percent match.

Contreras said that they did not fund construction the first time and that the master plan had to be turned in by the due date of July.

“Depending on whether we repair the roof or not, we might not get credit for that,” said Contreras.

He said that he had put the item on the agenda, so that they could take the first step and work on a master plan to present to the Historical Commission.

“On the restoration, do you know to what extend it would be?” asked county auditor Lynn Owens. “Because if we do it, we’ll have to relocate offices in the meantime and it won’t grant us more space.”

Owens said that he had seen when other courthouses were renovated and that those offices had had to be relocated while the restoration was going on.

“We’ll have to have an annex, while they’re restoring that part of the courthouse,” said Owens.

“There have been some magazines that show other courthouses that have been restored and yes, they do have to move,” he said.

Contreras said that that was something that they would need to look into.

“We are running out of space already, so we’ll have to find a space somewhere close by,” said Contreras.

Contreras said that they might be able to use the building located on Highway 17 that belong to the county.

“How about across the street? Who owns it and can we lease it or something,” said commissioner precinct 1 Roy Alvarado.

“I think John Dorr used to own it, but I don’t know about now,” said Owens.

“The Historical Commission gave me a list of firms that do this type of work and that will be the first thing to do is the master plan, hire an architect,” said Contreras.

He said that even if the county gets preliminary approval, construction wouldn’t be funded right away.

“So we’ve got probably two years to plan for that,” he said. “That will give us time to decide what to do as far as moving people out of the courthouse.”

The commissioner’s court plans another meeting this Wednesday at 10 a.m., to discuss other items including: awarding a bid for the replacement of the roof at the Reeves County Jail; award bid No. 07-5 for 15 passenger transportation vans for the Reeves County Inmate Transportation Department and a request to modify Piney Bowes Mailing Machine Lease Contract at RCDC I/II.

Strong start to early voting for council, school elections

Early voting got off to a fast start Monday morning at the Pecos Community Center, with 67 individuals casting their ballots early for next month’s city, school and hospital elections.

The election is scheduled for May 12 and individuals will have an opportunity to vote for new school board and city council members.

Voters in the May 12 school election will also be deciding on approval of the $30 million bond issue approved by the current board last week for campus reconstruction, expansion and other improvements. City voters will also be deciding the 4B sales tax amendment, which would allow for wider use of the current tax funds directed towards economic development.

“It’s been going really well,” said early voting coordinator Debbie Thomas. “We’ve had a steady group and have had two ballots by mail.”

Thomas said that they would be open until 8 p.m., today and would be open until 8 p.m., again next Tuesday, May 8. Early voting will continue in-between now and May 8, and individuals can cast their votes early on those other days from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Community Center, in the 500 block of South Oak Street.

“We just want to remind them that we will be open late today and again next Tuesday, May 8,” said Thomas.

In the Town of Pecos City Council race, challenger Joanna Lindemann will face incumbents Gerald Tellez, Danny Rodriguez and Frank Sanchez on May 12.

In the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD school election, eight candidates overall will be running for the four seats on the school board. One is seeking an unexpired two-year term, while seven others are seeking the three available three-year terms.

Incumbents Lila Cerna, Bubba Williams and Crissy Martinez are being challenged by Gome Olibas, Bill Oglesby, Jay Haney and Al Gomez.

John Grant who had previously signed up to run for a place on the board, turned in a letter to the superintendent to rescind his application. However, his name will still appear on the ballot since, the letter was not turned in by the March 20 deadline.

In the race for the two-year unexpired term, Randy Graham is running for the position left vacant late last year, when Amy Miller moved to Lubbock.

Manuel Munoz Jr. had also filed to run for that position, but turned in a letter to rescind his application and opted not to run. His name will also appear on the ballot, since his letter was also turned in late.

School officials have been holding a series of meetings in the area over the past two weeks to explain plans for use of funds from the $30 million bond issue, if approved by voters. In the 4B sales tax referendum on the city ballot, Pecos Main Street coordinator Tom Rivera said a Town Hall meeting to explain the issue will be held on Monday, May 7, at 6 p.m. at the Pecos Community Center, 508 S. Oak St.

Loving County residents happy with isolation

Associated Press Writer

MENTONE - On paper, life in Loving County is idyllic.

There's no poverty, little or no crime, everyone makes more money than the average American and the daily commute is shorter than the national average.

"The last (criminal) trial was in the '80s," Sheriff Billy Hopper said after taking a few minutes to dredge up the memory.

But if you live in Loving County and need a gallon of milk, or are hoping to use a credit card to gas up the car, it's a 23-mile trek to Pecos. If you need anything more elaborate, Carlsbad, N.M. is 75 miles away.

Folks who live in the nation's least populated county - the 2000 Census shows just 67 residents, though locals insist their head count shows it closer to 80 - say it's worth it. "It's just away from all of the flippin' people," Hopper said recently as he sat in his one-room sheriff's office inside the county courthouse. "I can walk out of my house at night and I can tell you what's happening within a mile of here."

Loving County sprawls over 673 square miles - about the same size as Houston with its 2 million people. But outside a 10-mile radius of Mentone, all a visitor will find is brown prairie.

Mentone, the county seat, is dotted with just a handful of buildings, about 120 miles southeast of Midland. It sits just below the New Mexico line off a two-lane highway trafficked mostly by oil field workers.

The town was once bustling with a few restaurants and a hotel, but the population has been on the decline for more than 60 years.

"A lot of people left during the war," Hopper said. "The roads got better and you didn't have to live here."

Before World War II, it made sense for oil field workers to live in Mentone so the drive over unpaved roads would be shorter than from the larger towns like Pecos. Today there are about 30 miles of paved roads, including the rugged two-lane state highway connecting Mentone to a string of other small towns to the east and to a two-lane U.S. highway on the western edge of the county.

Lacking a major highway or Interstate freeway, Mentone isn't really on the way to anywhere except the lucrative oil fields.

Most blame the steady population drop on the lack of jobs. For those who have stayed, about the only career options are in ranching or the oil industry. And most oil field workers are contractors who don't live in the county.

With the people went some services, including the county's school. Hopper was the last high school student to attend classes locally.

"In the fall of 1951, there were eight of us," Hopper recalled recently. "But by Christmas time" he was alone. He finished his studies in Pecos and now the few school-age kids in town commute about 30 miles each way to neighboring Wink.

Mentone is now home to only the gas station and the Boot Track Cafe, which is open just half the day.

Hopper left, too, for a time. He joined the Air Force in 1959 - he was the only eligible draftee in the county had and didn't want to be an Army soldier - and later took a job as an oil contractor and worked all over the world.

He came back in the 1980s and has no plans to leave.

"I've lived in London, I've lived in Singapore, I've lived in New Orleans, Houston, Madrid and Johannesburg but seldom did I know three people down the road," Hopper said.

"There is nothing more lonely than living in a town with 4 million or 5 million people and not knowing anyone."

In Loving County, not only does everyone know everyone - and their business - most folks are related. And in a crisis, everyone helps.

"When my home burned down in 1979 it took me four hours to open all the gifts," said Barbara Creager, a native New Zealander who has lived in the area since the early 1970s. And when local resident Opal Cook died earlier this month at age 76, everyone made plans to attend her funeral in Pecos - including the county offices, which closed for the occasion.

"We all come together as a family," said Brenda Wildman, 56.

Wildman lives in Waco right now, but often visits Loving County and still owns property there.

Jaime Acker Jones, a 43-year-old oil field contractor who lives just down the highway from Mentone's primary four-corner intersection, said people live in the remote community because it's not crowded or overrun with gangs or drug problems.

"If you're raising kids, it's great," Jones said. "They stay out of trouble here."

City warned against Oking water rate cut

A consulting group has recommended no changes to the Town of Pecos City’s water and sewer rate schedules for at least two years, until officials can get a better idea of the annual income from the current rates or new customers boost water and sewer income to the city.

City council members heard a long-awaited report from Nelissa Fullerton of Water Resources Ltd., analyzing the impact of the city’s sharp increase in water and sewer rates in January of 2006.

“Our recommendation is to continue with the rate study plan for now,” she told council members during their regular meeting on Thursday at City Hall. “To go in and change the rates based on 2006 is risky.”

Fullerton, whose company also did the study that led Pecos to adopt its current rate system, presented council members with a series of tables showing the original estimates of water and sewer rate income for the 2006 fiscal year, which ended in September, and the actual amount the city collected last year.

She said estimated annual income from water use was $2.16 million, while the actual amount for the nine-month period between the start of the new rates and the end of the 2006 budget year was $2.14 million. That’s about 25 percent above monthly projections, which Fullerton said was due to last year’s dry weather, while sewer rate collections, projected at $1.96 million, came in at $1.59 million, which were closer to what would have been expected for a nine-month period.

“Because 2006 was a very dry year, you sold more water,” Fullerton said. The installation of new water meters may also have increase the amount of water usage monitored, as compared with the older meters, she added.

Fullerton said while Reeves County had cut the water use on county buildings by about a third last year, usage of water at the Reeves County Detention Center increased from 9.7 million to 11.2 million gallons, due to the increase in inmates being held at the facility. She said overall water usage other than that did decline in 2006, but is expected to go back up, as customers get used to the new rates.

On the negative side, Fullerton said the main increase in the budget in 2006 over projections was electricity costs, which came in at $382,000, an increase of $157,000 over what had been expected last year.

Another negative was a $1.35 million transfer from the city’s water and sewer fund to the general fund, about $150,000 above projections.

“Given the circumstances, I would back off that a little,” she said. Fullerton also suggested the city either amend the budget to reduce the transfer, or pass a resolution to recommit those extra funds to the city’s utility fund, due to the need to use that money for state-mandated improvements to Pecos’ sewer and wastewater treatment systems. “As we discussed back in 2005, it is so important and imparative that you continue capital improvements,” Fullerton told the council.

The state has ordered improvements be made to the city’s wastewater treatment facility, and council members were told any cuts in the current rates could end up causing the city to pay higer interest rates when bonds are issued for construction of the new wastewater treatment facility.

“To go back in 2007 and reduce these rates does give the message we’re not committed to this plan,” Fullerton said.

“Our infrastructure is in bad shape, and we’ve got some catching up to do,” said Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood, while city public works director Edgardo Madrid said work is going to start soon on replacing sewers on the north and east sides of the city, to be followed by bids for construction of the new wastewater treatment plant.

He added that the city could get some financial help on that from the Texas Water Development Board, while Fullerton said the city could add some new income sources in over the next year or two.

“There could be new sources on income. The prison is taking more water, and you could have some new hotels and apartments that may increase use,” she said. “But those eggs haven’t hatched yet.”

She said by 2009, the city will have better numbers on water and sewer rate usage, and the fate of those proposed construction projects will be better known.

“We’re going to see some relief when we see some relief for the city,” Alligood said of the new projects. “If not, we’re not going to see improvements in the city sewers and streets.”

Council balks at term limits for Pecos FD

A proposal to term limit officers with the Pecos Volunteer Fire Department was tabled by city council members on Thursday, after objections from Fire Chief Freddy Dominguez and other members of the department.

The council tabled an ordinance that would have limited elected officers of the department to two terms, unless otherwise allowed by the council, after hearing from Contreras during their regular meeting at City Hall.

Council members also were given an update by Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood on the city’s current new housing construction, and approved the sale of all but one property for tax purposes, as part of their regular meeting.

Alligood said the city planned to increase the amount of funding to send fire department members for training, which in turn would qualify more members for elected offices within the department. “We’re saying ‘let’s get them trained, get them qualified, and then they can run for positions’,” he said.

However, Contreras told the council they had concerns about limiting the terms of officers within the department.

“The way the membership is set up now, the members elect the chief. If there’s a problem the fire department needs to address, the members address them,” he said. “If the members want to let the chief stay in office you should let them.”

Councilman Michael Benavidez mentioned a bill before the Texas House that would require chiefs on volunteer fire departments to be fully certified, but Contreras said he doubted that bill would pass.

“The people with the (state fire) commission don’t believe it will happen with volunteer fire departments. They have enough issues with paid fire departments to get involved with volunteer fire departments,” he said.

“I think qualifications have to be set forward for the fire chief,” said councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela. “Then if that person wants to run for two or three terms, I don’t have a problem with that.”

“We do need to set forward some qualifications you do need to be fire chief,” she added, while Alligood said the city would insist on another change in the ordinance, which would call for drug testing of fire department members.

“We are going to step up and take responsibility for protection of our citizens,” he said, noting the city’s potential liability if an accident between a fire truck and a private vehicle did occur.

Contreras said he wanted to discuss the ordinance with his members, and they met with Alligood on Thursday, following the council’s meeting and the tabling of the term limit changes.

On the housing, Alligood said applications are being taken for the first unit of the 48-apartment housing complex next to the Pecos Valley Country Club on which ground was broken back in January. “They will have about 16 units available for occupancy around the 16th of July, and they should open units every month after that.”

Alligood said there is no progress right now on the proposed 96-unit apartment complex in the 800 block of West Washington Street, but that there are prospects for construction of new single-family homes in the near future.

“We’ve had inquiries from two different companies looking at building in Pecos,” he said on Monday. “We’re working with them to decide where to build.

He said the companies are out of Dallas and Austin and have done other projects in West Texas. “We had one in on Thursday and showed property to him, and discussed it with the other one on Tuesday,” Alligood said.

The council also approved seeking bids on oil and gas exploration leases on city-owned land in the Worsham Water Field area southeast of town, approved the tax sale bids on all properties except for 513 W. Third St. City Manager Joseph Torres said that property, which is planned for commercial use, would first be submitted to the Pecos Economic Development Corp. for study, prior to any final approval.

Council members were told that the U.S. Marshal’s Service office for the Western District of Texas has been given the Form 243 by the Town of Pecos City, which is a request for the federal agency to increase its per-day payments to the city for housing Marshal’s Service inmates at the Pecos Criminal Justice Center. The city and the federal agency signed a 10-year agreement in 2001 to house the inmates for a set fee, but the city began losing money on the contract when another federal agency, the U.S. Department of Labor, ordered Pecos in 2004 to increase the starting salaries paid to jailers at the facility.

Debbie Thomas, a local members of the Texas Pecos Trail Council, told city council members that the historical group’s first annual meeting would be held in Pecos at the end of the July, just prior to the Pecos Cantaloupe Festival.

“It’s going to be July 26 for our festivities, with the meeting the next morning,” Thomas said. “We’ve got plans for a dance, a barbeque and a silent auction.”

The Pecos Trails Council is made up of members from 22 West Texas counties, and Thomas expected about 100 people to attend. “It also kicks off the Cantaloupe Festival, so it’s a good opportunity to keep people in town for several days,” she said.

Vasquez completes the CHC examination

The Healthcare Compliance Certification Board (HCCB) announced that Frank Vasquez has successfully completed the Certified in Healthcare Compliance Examination, thus earning the “CHC” designation.

The CHC examination was released in June, 2000. Since that date, over 500 individuals have earned this professional credential.

Healthcare compliance is a relatively new industry born out of the government’s crackdown on Medicare fraud. Compliance professionals come from a variety of backgrounds including coding, medical records, nursing, medical practice, law and government.

Regardless of the background, compliance professionals are tasked with assuring that health care providers follow federal, state and local regulations that govern the delivery of healthcare.

HCCB President Debbie Troklus stated, “The United States government constantly updates the laws and regulations surrounding Medicare to ensure proper billing and to eliminate fraud. These new regulations demand professionals who both understand the new regulations and how to implement programs to ensure compliance within their companies.”

Founded by the Health Care Compliance Association in 1998, the Healthcare Compliance Certification Board exists to develop criteria for the determination of competence in the practice of healthcare compliance at a variety of levels and to recognize individuals meeting these criteria.

RCH Administrator Al LaRochelle stated, “With just over 500 people across the entire United States having earned this professional credential, RCH is proud to have Frank serving as our compliance officer and he is to be commended for attaining this designation.”

Frank Vasquez is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and has been employed by Reeves County Hospital District for 29 years serving as the hospital’s compliance officer for the past five years. He and his wife, Marina, are lifelong residents of Pecos.

Renz's class study William Shakespeare

Mrs. Diana Renz's Pre-AP English I class has been studying William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and wrapped up their studies with a series of highlly imaginative projects. Students explored everything from Renaissance dress design to filmmaking and many subjects in between.

One of the most challenging--not to mention tasty--projects was completed by Aaron Lujan, who created a three-course Italian feast.

The continental cuisine included a scrumptious risotto dish garnished with asparagus, followed by an entree of shrimp fettuccini Alfredo, and topped off by a delicious mousse cake--certainly not the usual school fare.

Other students displayed their various talents as well. Amanda Renteria modeled a Renaissance-styled gown which was designed and sewn by Mariah Marquez, with Amanda's assistance.

Alex Dominguez and Edgar Madrid created The Verona Tribune, which included a sports section and want ads.

The class was treated to "Dear Abella"--a Shakespearean version of the famous advice column, and not one, but two films updating the Bard.

One film took the famous sword fighting scene into the Star Wars future, and the other placed the young lovers' balcony scene into the far-out 1960s.

"The projects were enjoyed by all and allowed the students to showcase their considerable talents," Renz said.

Couple earns Masters degree from UTPB

Omar and Amy M. Salgado will receive a Masters of Art Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin on Saturday, May 5. Omar is the son of Rene and Lorenza Salgado of Pecos and Amy is the daughter of Benny and Becky Chabarria, also of Pecos.

Omar and Amy graduated from Pecos High School May 2000, received an Associate Degree from Odessa College May 2001 and a Bachelor’s Degree from UTPB in December 2002.

The are both employed with the Ector County Independent School District in Odessa.

Willis nominated for Who’s Who in college

Pecos native, GeNelle Willis, was nominated for the 2007 edition of Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.

Willis is a senior majoring in music. She was one of 36 students from Howard Payne University who received the honor. Who’s Who nominees are college juniors or seniors who have been noted for their scholarship ability, participation and leadership in academic and extracurricular activities, citizenship and service to Howard Payne, and potential for future achievement. Nominations are submitted by the university’s faculty and staff, and then reviewed for eligibility.

Students from more than 2,000 universities and colleges within the United States, the District of Columbia and several foreign nations will be honored in the annual directory.

Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges have honored outstanding students since it was first published in 1934.

Reeves Co. 4-H shooting sports competes at district VI contest

The Reeves County 4-H Shooting Team competed at the District VI Shooting Competition April 14, in Crane. The contest consisted of over sixty shooters and 14 teams from over 10 counties in the district.

Results are as follows: Jr. Individuals, Cody Vernon 10th, Phillip Workman 13th, Chris Lease 14th, and Rey Anthony Muniz placing 18 th. Intermediate individual, John Nunez 18th, and Michael Nunez placing 19th.

Jr. Team took home 3rd place winnings consisted of Chris Lease, Cody Vernon, Phillip Workman, and Rey Anthony Muniz. Cumulative score of 296. Great Job kids!

Intermediate Team also taking home 3rd place honors included John Nunez, Justin Workman, Michael Nunez, and Richard Woods. Total score of 182 4-H Shooting Sports teaches youth.

“We applaud and are indebted to those volunteers who coach and help teach such outstanding youth,” said Reeves County Extension Service Director Tommy Dominguez. Volunteer Leaders include Rey Muniz, Helen Vernon, and Jaime Arredondo.

“In addition, 4-Hers would like to thank the Reeves County Sheriff’s Dept. and Sheriff Andy Gomez for the use of their van,” said Dominguez.

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