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Economic Development


Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, May 11, 2007

Deputies arrest PHS student on marijuana, cocaine charges

A Pecos High School student was arrested on Tuesday as the result of a narcotics search warrant, and is now facing several drug-related charges in connection with both the use of and selling marijuana and cocaine.

On May 8, at about 11 p.m., the Reeves County Sheriff’s Deputies, with the assistance of the Pecos Police Department, executed a narcotics search warrant at the home of 18-year-old Pecos High School student Elias Urias Ornelas, at 1001 S. Locust St.

Deputies said as a result of the search, Ornelas was arrested for the possession of more than four grams, but less than 20 grams of cocaine in a Drug Free Zone, a Second Degree Felony and possession of more than four ounces, but less than five pounds of marijuana in a Drug Free Zone, a Third Degree Felony.

According to the report, Ornelas had the narcotics packaged and ready for sale.

The charges were enhanced because the illegal activity was being conduced in a Drug Free Zone, which within 1,000 feet from the Pecos Head Start and Bessie Haynes Elementary campuses.

Along with the narcotics, a .38 Caliber Colt Revolver, loaded with .38 Special rounds was also located in the residence, next to the narcotics.

Ornelas was transported to the Reeves County Jail, following his arrest, where he was formally charged before being released on bond.

Supporters, foes debate PEDC spending changes

Competing views on a proposed conversion of the Pecos Economic Development Corp. from a 4A to a 4B corporation were voiced on Monday, during a Town Hall meeting on the measure, which is on Saturday’s Town of Pecos City election ballot.

Supporters and opponents of the change to a 4B corporation, which would expand the number of projects on which Pecos’ economic development funds could be spent, argued their positions during the two-hour meeting at the Pecos Community Center.

The meeting featured presentations by Robert Johnson with the Texas Historical Commission’s Main Street Program on the advantage of a 4B economic development corporation for tourism, and Russell Callahan, with Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ office, who discussed the differences between a 4A and 4B corporation.

Johnson was the strongest voice in support of the conversion, which also received backing from Town of Pecos City Mayor Dick Alligood and Pecos Main Street Coordinator Tom Rivera during the meeting. They argued the 4B corporation would allow for both quality of life improvements and for sales tax funds to be used by existing local business to expand their operations.

Among those in attendance who are opposed to the change were PEDC president Mike Burkholder and board chairman Joe Keese, who argued the corporation needs all its current funding to compete with cities like Andrews and Monahans to attract new businesses to Pecos

“Unless you know the rationale of how these things work, you may not be really sure of why we need to do this,” said Johnson, who had made a similar presentation last fall to the Pecos City Council.

He cited the uses of 4B corporations by other cities in the Main Street program to increase tourism, citing improved quality of life benefits as ways to also attract new businesses and residents to those communities.

“If you’re in a city under 20,000, you can give direct incentives to retail businesses,” Johnson said of the 4B option, while the current 4A rules the PEDC operates under prohibits funds going towards existing retail businesses, which he said provide the bulk of the jobs in the national economy.

Callahan explained that the 4A corporations were created in 1979 by the state to help boost economic development, while the 4B were formed later, and today make up about two-thirds of the 624 economic development corporations in Texas.

He listed the types of businesses that can be recruited under the 4A rules, versus those operating the 4B rules. The 4As include both production and distribution centers. “Most 4A cities have only found themselves generating factory-type jobs,” Callahan said.

“Factory, or jobs that are providing lower wages in the manufacturing scale.”

He said 4B corporations can use their funds to attract retail businesses, such as grocery or hardware stores, to a community, or could spend the money to improve public parks to make their community more attractive. But that led to questions being raise on whether or not Pecos can afford to spend economic development funds on those types of projects before attracting new businesses that would bring more workers to town.

“How can we possibly do some of these 4B projects, when we don’t have anybody to pay taxes?” asked Charlotte Slack. “If we don’t have any jobs, we aren’t going to have any people. It seems to me like we’re not at a place in our history that we need to quit trying to bring primary employers to Pecos.”

“Downtown revitalization and community development is job creation right there,” Johnson said. “You say we’ve had this going for years and years, and I’d be afraid to switch. What high-skilled jobs have been created? What things have been done? He said if a 4A corporation is working, a city should keep it, while adding, “If it’s not showing a return on investment, it’s time to consider something else.”

“One of the bigger things I have, talking about 4B, is in the past when one of our local businesses has asked ‘I’m thinking about expanding and building on to my business and maybe create a couple of more jobs. Is there any way this money you get can be used?’,” said Alligood. “And we’ve literally had to say ‘no, it can’t’. We cannot help you.”

He said businesses that collect the sales tax deserve a chance to take advantage of it through access to the ECD funds. “The people that got us here, we’ve got to take care of them.” “The point here is this is a very poor town,” said Keese, who is also an executive with TransPecos Banks and TransPecos Foods. “We have melted down with the loss of employers over the last 10 years.”

“We need consumers. We don’t need somebody to open a store up,” he said, adding that most new retail stores won’t have the high-earning workers in town to support their operations.

“We need consumers, and we need a higher grade of consumers. We need a higher grade of homeowner. I’ll build houses for anybody who can show me the credit capability and income,” he said. “The comment was made the retailers pay the sales tax. The consumer pays the sales tax; the retailer is a handy-dandy collector.”

Keese agreed with Alligood that Pecos is losing retail sales money to Midland-Odessa, but said fixing up downtown wouldn’t address the city’s main problem. “My fear with 4B is all these other things are going to wipe out the 4A money. My message to the city council is the truck is broken down in the ditch and we’re thinking about putting paint on it.”

“If we get the investment, we get the employees, and if we get people coming back to this town for a good job, then they will generate tax revenues, that tax revenue will fill our coffers and we’ll get accomplished what we need to accomplish,” he said.

“4B isn’t only about retail. Retail is one of the things it can help, but it’s also about community development,” said Johnson. “I’m seeing a connection between community development and job creation,” he said, citing Dallas’ loss to Chicago of Boeing’s relocation from Seattle as an example of quality of life playing a factor in business recruitment .

“I’m not saying they’re the only people we should be helping, but for so many years we’ve been ignoring our downtowns, we’ve been ignoring our municipal buildings. We’ve been letting our downtowns atrophy, and they’re on their own, they just kind of whither on the vine,” he said.

Callahan did add that some infrastructure work, like building roads or utility lines to new production facilities, could be done under a 4A corporation. But he said aside from the wider number of projects, a 4B corporation has more outside oversight controls, including mandating 60-day notice of public hearings on approval of project decisions, along with the option of a public referendum on specific projects, if 10 percent of the city’s voters sign a petition to put it on the election ballot in May or November on the proposal.

Callahan said some cities have both 4A and 4B economic development corporations, though the amount of funds the PEDC current receives from their 1/4-cent share of the city’s sales tax, about $165,000 last year, wouldn’t allow Pecos to adequately finance both types of corporations.

He said the city could redirect part of its current sales tax designated for property tax relief to economic development to increase that fund, but added while that might cost homeowners only an additional $1 or so a week in taxes, he knew of no city in Texas that had made such a move.

“In general, it’s kind of the question of 4A is a useful tool for some communities, and all I’m arguing for is return on investment,” Johnson said. “Is it working for you, and that’s not for me to answer. That’s for you to answer.”

City’s May sales tax rebate check shows 33 percent increase

The Town of Pecos City’s sales tax rebate check for May was up by a third from last year’s total, according to figures released on Wednesday by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ office.

Pecos, which saw its April rebate check surpass the $100,000 mark for the first time in a non-Christmas holiday sales period, jumped by 33.03 percent this month, climbing to $128,813. The check is the city’s 1 1/2-cent share of the state’s 8 1/4-cent sales tax, and is based on sales made during the month of March. One-sixth of the total, or $21,436, goes to the Pecos Economic Development Corp. for its operations.

The increase puts the city a month ahead of its pace from a year ago, when Pecos received just under $1 million in sales tax rebates for all of 2006. Through the first five months of 2007, the city has gotten back $500,081, a 21.51 percent rise from the $411,539 the city had gotten from the comptroller’s office for the January-May period of 2006.

The numbers were also up sharply for Balmorhea and Toyah, both of which have seen even larger year-to-date increases in their tax rebate checks than Pecos has this year.

Balmorhea’s May check on their 1 1/2-cent sales tax brought in $2,065 this month, a 28.25 percent increase over last year’s $1,610 check. Overall, the city has gotten $12,671 back this year, up 93.26 percent from the five-month total of $6557 in 2006.

Toyah’s check this month was $1,281, a 111.63 percent increase over last May’s check for $605. Overall, Toyah has gotten $3,347 back this year, up 46.72 percent from last year’s $2,281 total.

Reeves County Hospital, which saw some declines in their rebate check in the first months of 2007, had their second straight month of double-digit increases. The hospital’s 1/2-cent sales tax brought it a May rebate check of $55,647, which was 21.73 percent higher than last year’s $45,710 total. For the year, the hospital is up 5.96 percent, going from $218,788 to $231,844.

Pecos’ tax rebates have grown by 50 percent in the past three years, and the continuing oil and gas drilling boom was also reflected across the region, as cities in the Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos generally saw double-digit increases from a year ago.

Midland had the region’s single largest check, for $3.42 million on its 1 1/2-cent sales tax, which was up 19.39 percent from a year ago. Midland’s 2007 rebates are up just under 12 percent from a year ago. Odessa’s 1 1/4-cent sales tax brought the city $2.19 million for the month, an 8.87 percent rise from last May’s total. While the city failed to have a double-digit rise for the month, its 2007 rebates remain more than 15 percent above last year’s totals.

For other cities collecting the 1 1/2-cent sales tax, Alpine received a $103,503 check this month and was up 2.85 percent; Crane received a check for $53,982 and was up by 17.02 percent from last year; Lamesa got $128,121 back this month, which was up 7.92 percent; while Seminole received a check for $95,788, which was up 20.38 percent.

Among cities collecting a one-cent sales tax Kermit received $46,796 in their check, up 13.84 percent; Wickett received a $9,906 check, up 39.89 percent, Wink received a check for $7,049, up 49.97 percent, and Pyote, received an $849 check this month, up 44.33 percent from a year ago.

For area cities collecting a 1 3/4-cent sales tax, Andrews received a check for $295,112, a 15.74 percent increase. Marfa got a check for $24,328, which was up by 2.03 percent; while Van Horn got a check for $34,084, which was up 2.14 percent from last year.

For cities collecting the maximum two-cent sales tax, Big Spring received $650,771, an increase of 37.33 percent; Fort Stockton received $214,359, up 31.10 percent; Monahans received a check for $119,367, which was up 1.45 percent from last May; Grandfalls got a $2,830 check, up 20.53 percent; and Presidio received $54,890, up 38.49 percent.

Statewide, Combs’ office sent out rebate checks totaling $372.6 million, up 8.2 percent from $344.4 million last May. Houston had the single largest check, for $42.9 million, which was up 4.54 percent from last May. Dallas’ check was next, at $22.7 million, which was up 5.02 percent from their rebate check a year ago.

School, city elections set for Saturday

A total of 1,100 people cast ballots early for the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD and Town of Pecos City Council elections as of Thursday, with the possibility of additional mail-in votes arriving prior to Saturday’s election.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at the Pecos Community Center for the city council and school board elections. City voters will also be deciding on the 4A-4B conversion option for the Pecos Economic Development Corp. while P-B-T ISD voters will decide on a proposed $30 million bond issue for school construction and remodeling. A total of 978 individuals cast their ballots early by personal appearance before Tuesday’s deadline, while 132 ballots by mail have been received so far.

“We had 253 people come in and vote on the last day, but last year we had 278 on the last day of early voting,” said elections coordinator Debbie Thomas. “It went really well, we were pleased,” she said.

Along with the Pecos Community Center, voters will also be casting ballots at Toyah City Hall, the Barstow Community Center and at the Saragosa Multi-Purpose Center for Saturday’s P-B-T ISD election.

Also voting on Saturday will be Balmorhea ISD residents, in their school board election. Balmorhea had a total of nine people vote early in the school board race, where three candidates, Armando Mondragon, Paul Matta and Paul Ward, are seeking the two positions up for election on the on the Balmorhea ISD Board.

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.

Gome Olibas, Bill Oglesby, Jay Haney and Al Gomez are challenging incumbents Lila Cerna, Bubba Williams and Crissy Martinez.

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.

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

There are no elections this year for the Toyah, Balmorhea or Barstow city councils, or for the Reeves County Hospital District board.

Willie Garcia, Ermelinda Garcia and Sandra Terry are the three unopposed candidates in the Toyah election. In Balmorhea, Ike Ward, Raul B. Rodriguez and Eddie Roman are the three incumbents unopposed for re-election, while in Barstow incumbents Olga Abila, Dora Villanueva, Abrahm Flores and Ted Porras all were up for election and were unopposed, while filling a one-year unexpired term will be Linda Martinez. In the Reeves County Hospital district election, incumbents Linda Gholson and Pablo Carrasco are unopposed in their bids for re-election.

Along with the board election, P-B-T ISD is also seeking approval from voters to issue $30 million in bonds, which will be used for new construction and renovations, with most of the money going towards replacement of two of the three main sections of Austin Elementary, and the construction of new classrooms at Crockett Junior High, which will be used by sixth grade students currently attending Bessie Haynes Elementary.

City voters will decide on changing the Pecos Economic Development Corp from a 4A to a 4B corporation. The change would widen the number of projects on which the 1/4-cent city sales tax designed for economic development can be used to include tourism-related projects within certain sections of the city.

Along with the early voting in the city and school elections, a total of 301 people voted early at the courthouse in another election, involving adjustment to the school property tax amendment agreed to by voters last year.

The proposed change would directly affect senior citizen and disabled homeowners, and while the amendment election has not drawn as big a turnout in early voting as the city and school races and proposition votes, officials said voting has been going well at the Reeves County Courthouse lobby with Tuesday being the final day to cast ballots before Election Day on Saturday.

County Clerk Dianne O. Florez said that 291 individuals had cast their ballots by personal appearance and that they had received 10 by mail for the election, which modifies rules on property taxes owed by seniors age 65 and above and the disabled.

Current state law says those homeowners are eligible to receive a ceiling on the amount of school property taxes they will owe on their residence homestead, based on the amount they owed the year they qualified for the ceiling. However, when the Texas Legislature passed a school property tax reform plan last summer, those elderly and disabled Texans whose school property taxes were already frozen did not receive a corresponding reduction in their school property taxes.

The amendment would fix that problem, allowing the elderly and disabled s to receive a proportional reduction in ad valorem taxes, by creating an allowance for such a reduction in the Texas Constitution and a statutory change in law.

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