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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, January 26, 2007

State Senator Uresti to be guest speaker at banquet

Reeves County’s new State Senator, Carlos Uresti, will be the guest speaker at the Pecos Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Awards Banquet, which has been set for Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Reeves County Civic Center.

It will be the first visit to Pecos for Uresti since formally winning election as 19th District State Senator in the November general election. Uresti, who had been serving as a representative in the Texas Legislature from the San Antonio area, won the Democratic primary last March over incumbent Frank Madla, who had represented Reeves County since 1994. He also won a special election to serve out the remaining term last year of Madla, who resigned from the Senate following July’s special session, and was killed in a fire at his San Antonio home in late November.

The annual banquet is being held about a month later than last year. Along with hearing from Uresti, the banquet will also feature the announcement of the Chamber’s Citizen of the Year and other annual awards given out to local residents, for their work in the community during the past year.

Tickets for the banquet will be available now through Feb. 22 at the Chamber of Commerce office at 111 S. Cedar St. For more information on the banquet, call 445-2406.

Latest round of snow shuts schools, highways

Pecos experienced some big city rush hour traffic problems Tuesday morning, while students and teachers in area schools experienced a day off, after overnight snowfall dropped between three and five inches of snow in the Trans-Pecos and Davis Mountains areas.

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah and Balmorhea ISD schools both canceled classes on Tuesday due to the bad weather, and children took advantage of the wet snow to build a number of snowmen in front of houses around town.

The snow and icy roads forced the Texas Department of Transportation to close Interstate 20 west of Pecos, along with I-10 from Fort Stockton to Sierra Blanca. The highway was closed about 5 a.m., forcing cars and trucks off of I-20 and onto U.S. 285 in Pecos. Trucks parked at first along the I-20 service road near the Flying J truck stop, before barricades were set up on the service road, forcing cars and trucks to detour into town.

Trucks ended up parked in the parking lots at the Reeves County Civic Center and at the West of the Pecos Rodeo Grounds, while others parked in the right lane in both directions along U.S. 285 between 14th Street and I-20. Drivers who tried to go through town to get back on the Interstate on the west side of Pecos were also met with barricades, and had to wait until after 11:30 a.m. before TxDOT crews were able to clear off the highway to reopen it to traffic.

Red Cross volunteers were set up in the Reeves County Civic Center to serve coffee, scrambled eggs and tamales to stranded drivers, while Pecos Police were called in to direct traffic along U.S. 285 back onto I-10 after the highway reopened.

“We’ve had some come and go to eat, use the rest room or relax a bit,” said Reeves County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricky Herrera. “I’d say we probably had about 100 to 120 people.”

While I-10 and I-20 were shut down, the DPS office in Pecos reported only a few minor accidents in the Davis Mountains area of the two highways due to icing, while troopers also checked the roads or stranded motorists. Most of those incidents were on I-10 in Culberson County, while three accidents were reported due to snow and ice Tuesday morning in Ward County, and only two in Reeves County.

The most severe accident occurred to the south of I-10, on Highway 17 in Jeff Davis County about 4 p.m. on Tuesday, where a Chevrolet Suburban driven by Pecos resident Bob Walker left the highway and overturned 13 miles south of Balmorhea. Walker’s wife, Peggy, suffered injuries in the rollover and was transported by Balmorhea EMS to Reeves County Hospital, before being taken to Medical Center Hospital in Odessa with rib injuries. The wet snow in town quickly turned to slush and water, especially on the most heavily traveled streets, and most streets were clear of snow by late Tuesday morning. Interstate lanes were also cleared, but the main problems were 40 miles to the west at the I-10/I-20 junction, where the elevation rises almost 2,000 feet and below freezing temperatures caused severe icing conditions.

Department of Public Safety troopers escorted vehicles through the zones at low speeds where ice was a problem, and Glen Larum, public information officer for the TxDOT’s Odessa District, said early afternoon backups were reported at the split in far western Reeves County.

“On IH-10 westbound, traffic is backed up for about three miles at the IH-10/IH-20 merge, moving slowly as it merges with IH-20 traffic at the IH-10-20 split,” Larum said. “On IH-20 westbound, traffic is backed up for about nine miles and is moving slowly as it merges with IH-10 traffic at the IH-10/20 split.”

The closure of the Interstate west of Pecos was the first since 2004, when flooding at Salt Draw near Toyah washed out the I-20 eastbound lanes. The latest round of storms and freezing rain also have caused problems in that area, forcing TxDOT to shut the right lane of I-20 between FM 869 and Salt Draw due to severe pothole problems.

However, the closure of I-10 at Fort Stockton was the second time in a week ice had shut down that Interstate in West Texas. The first shut down affected the road between Fort Stockton and San Antonio and lasted two days and was the result of the second in a series of storms that have passed through West Texas over the last two weeks.

Forecasts called for a chance of early morning snow and then rain on Friday in the Pecos area, but the National Weather Service said skies would finally clear off after that, with clear or partly cloudy weather and highs in the 50s and 60s from Saturday through Wednesday.

School eying new projects, bond election

Construction and upgrades for the different campuses,. Including the possible return of sixth grade classes to Zavala Middle School and a bond election this spring, were the topic of discussion at the regular Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD Board meeting held Monday at the Technology Center.

Monte Hunter, with Hunter Corral, presented a facility assessment report.

“This are some of the same items we have been discussing, but a few have changed and some of the numbers have changed,” said Hunter. Hunter told the group that they have been discussing setting up a workshop to talk about all the upgrades.

“Very few districts do everything,” said Hunter.

Hunter said that the board would have to decide which projects to start on first. “The numbers jumped because there were some changes,” he said.

Hunter said that the Pecos High School band hall wasn’t in the report the last time or replacing the field house.

“That’s one of the big changes in here,” he said.

Hunter said that they have been discussing adding on to Crockett or Bessie Haynes, in order to find more room for sixth grade students. Sixth graders were moved over to Bessie Haynes from Zavala two years ago, when that campus was closed. The building is currently being used only for Pecos Head Start classes, which occupy one wing of the building.

“We’ve discussed re-opening Zavala or moving them and grouping them with the junior high students,” said Hunter.

“That’s the biggest tiedown, leaving them at Bessie Haynes or putting them with the other students and having sixth through eighth grade together,” said Hunter.

Another option was to put them at the Lamar campus, which housed sixth grade until it was shut down five years ago, and the students moved to Zavala due to declining enrollment in P-B-T schools. Zavala’s newest area on the west side of the building currently houses the district’s alternative education program.

“How many classrooms do you use at Lamar?” said board member David Flores.

Lamar AEP Director Jimmy Dutchover said that they are currently using seven of the classrooms at the campus.

“This summary hits the big items and sets the cost at about $21 million,” said Hunter. “Some of this won’t happen for three years.” PBT-ISD Superintendent Manny Espino said that when they had the staff meetings, they asked what the need for the campuses were.

“If there’s something you don’t see in this report, you can bring it to our attention and the board can look at it,” said Espino. “You can put it on the table.”

He said that he also needed to talk to the district’s food supervisor about what each cafeteria might need.

“I need to get with Mr. Villalobos to see what the cafeterias need and how we are with the equipment,” said Espino.

He said that they would then pick and choose what they wanted to do first.

“We need to schedule a walk-through and see what each campus needs. If we’re going to get serious, we need to get going,” he said. Espino said that he thought a workshop was appropriate and that Hunter had agreed to be here for the workshop.

“We need at least two workshops,” said Hunter.

In conjunction, the board discussed having a bond election during the May elections.

Jason Hughes, with First Southwest Company was on hand to talk about the possibility of adding a bond election to the May school board elections.

“I have provided information for you, illustrating a bond issue of $14 million, $16 million, $18 million or $20 million,” said Hughes.

“Repayment terms of 20 years, 25 years, and 30 years was shown for each issue size,” he said.

Hughes said that since the legislature was meeting right now, it was a good time for a bond issuance.

“You won’t have this chance again until 2009, when the legislature meets again,” said Hughes.

Hughes discussed with the group the possibility of qualifying for EDA (Existing Debt Allotment) funds. EDA is a state program that helps school districts make debt service payments.

“We don’t know yet if the legislature is going to roll forward eligibility for EDA funding,” said Hughes.

“In districts which have experienced dramatic increases in taxable value because of increased mineral values, we feel that the required tax rate at lower values should be evaluated in the event that mineral values decline,” he said.

However, at current taxable value of $717.695 million, the required I&S tax rates without EDA funding would be lower, according to Hughes.

For example, the required tax rate for a $14 million issue would be 16.36 cents for 20 year repayment for 13.78 cents for 30 year repayment; and the required tax rate for a $20 million issue would be 23.39 cents for 20 year repayment or 19.68 cents for 30 year repayment.

“As we discussed, it would be essential to pass a bond election in May 2007, in order to qualify for EDA funding if it is rolled forward by the Legislature,” said Hughes.

Hughes said that they should know by June if the Legislature will approve the EDA funding.

“We will provide a calendar to discuss dates and what goes on in a bond issue,” said Hughes.

Hughes said that they would need to submit a general list of projects. “You don’t have to put in specific details, that way if you decide not to do all those projects, or parts of it, you can,” he said.

Hughes said that every bond issue goes to the attorney general.

“If you do receive the bond, you get the lump sum and you as a district have to decide how you’re going to use it,” said Hughes.

Board members also heard from Card and Company and received a report that the district was in good financial standing.

Commissioners study upgrades to jail

Reeves County Commissioners listened to a request from the Reeves County Sheriff’s Department on a new jail management system and upgrading the telecommunications system to be in compliance with the Texas Department of Public Safety, during their meeting Monday morning in the third floor courtroom.

Reeves County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Ikeler told commissioners that the owner of the company they were dealing with had died and that they were supposed to be doing maintenance on the software. “But they never did the maintenance, we had to pay someone else to do it,” added Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez.

He said that the owner of the system had called and wanted his money for the maintenance. “He said that if we didn’t pay them for maintenance, they would come for the system,” said Gomez.

Ikeler said that the new system that the sheriff’s department wanted to purchase would tie in all the computers at the department.

“This does not relieve us from the bidding requirement, if it’s going to be in excess of $25,000,” said county auditor Lynn Owens. Ikeler told the group that the prison also uses the system that the sheriff’s department wants to purchase.

The commissioners tabled the item until they can get more information on the total cost and whether it needs to be bid out. “We need a contract and then we’ll submit it to the county attorney,” said Owens. “We also need a cost estimate,” he said. Following the meeting, Reeves County Judge Sam Contreras released a statement offering more details on the county’s new contract with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for housing inmates at the Reeves County Detention Center I, II and II units.

Former county judge Jimmy Galindo and representatives of prison management company GEO announced the basics of the deal last week. Contreras’ press release on Tuesday added that the new contract would pay the county a set fee for the first 1,884 inmates, which would equal 50 percent of the three units’ maximum capacity. Above that number, the county will be paid a per diem rate for each additional prisoner, which would be subject to negotiation between the county and the BOP.

The county currently houses approximately 2,200 BOP inmates in RCDC I and II and will house up to 1,356 inmates in RCDC III under the new contract. To accommodate the increase in population under the new contract, the county will build a new housing unit along with special housing beds and a new medical unit using bond financing. Following the completion of construction in November 2007, the Reeves County Detention Complex capacity will increase to 3,763 beds.

The contract will have an initial base term of four years effective Feb. 1, 2007, with three two-year renewal option periods. The contract could generate approximately $490 million in operating revenues for the county over the entire 10-year period at or near full capacity, Contreras said.

“This important contract award along with our recent contract award under the BOP’s CAR 5 procurement will ensure the utilization of all three phases of the Reeves County Detention Complex,” he said. “With the assistant of the GEO Group, we have secured agreements with the Federal Bureau of Prisons that will allow us to achieve our long-term goals of continued economic growth and new jobs in our community.”

RCH hunts docs, OKs critical access change

Reeves County Hospital will have about half as many beds in the near future, but is hoping to boost its financial reimbursement funding from Medicare, after hospital district board members voted to change the hospital to a critical access care facility, during their first monthly meeting of 2007, held on Tuesday in the hospital classroom.

It was also the first regular meeting for new hospital CEO Al LaRochelle, but he and board members had to meet last Friday in an emergency session to discuss recruitment of new physicians to the area. The meeting was held, and board members approved retaining three physician recruitment companies, after hospital members were informed Dr. Joseph Darpolar would have to be out of town for medical treatment for an extended period of time. The district already is searching for a replacement for Dr. Olaide “Dele” Olusanya, who moved to Dallas last month, and is awaiting the arrival of Dr. Loris DrePaul, who was hired in November as a doctor of internal medicine to replace Dr. Haitham Jifi, who closed his practice in Pecos in June.

“Right now we don’t have anyone to deliver babies, except in an emergency,” said Venetta Seals, the hospital’s public relations director. “That’s why we’ve hired three firms, when normally we’d only hire one.”

LaRochelle said a representative from one of those firms was in Pecos on Wednesday. The hospital already had retained companies last year to seek replacements for Dr. Jifi and Dr. Dele, at a cost of about $25,000 each.

The doctor shortage has the remaining hospital physicians working overtime, and the absence of Dr. Darpolar has also led to short staffing at the hospital’s emergency room, though LaRochelle said the non-physician situation at RCH is in better shape.

“Staffing appears to be adequate, but we simply need to get some doctors in here,” he told the board during his administrator’s report. “The board is determined to turn this issue around and to keep more people here for medical care.”

La Rochelle said the district wants to recruit one internist, two family practitioners and one physician’s assistant to the hospital. “We might like to add at least one additional family practitioner, but we face the problem that a lot of other hospitals are in the same situation,” he said.

The move to a critical access hospital will cut the number of beds at the facility from the current 49 down to 25. But LaRochelle said based on patient bed counts in recent years, the 49 beds were far in excess of what the hospital has been seeing, and the change could boost RCH’s Medicare reimbursements by about $600.000 annually.

“What good is 49 beds if you only have seven or eight patients?” he said following a 75 minute executive session and the board’s vote to seek the critical access designation.

Board President Linda Gholson said other area hospitals have already made the change to critical access designation. The system was set up a decade ago to help keep small rural hospitals financially solvent. LaRochelle said there are over 1,000 hospitals in the U.S. under the critical access designation, including those in Monahans, Kermit, Van Horn, Crane and Alpine.

Board members also heard from Balmorhea city secretary Maria Rodriguez, who told them she had finished her EMT training course, and she and others were working to improve Balmorhea EMS coverage for Interstate 10 and the southern part o Reeves County. “That cuts back on Pecos’ responsibility,” Rodriguez said. Pecos EMS personnel have had to make more runs in recent months to the southern part of the county, due to the lack of ambulance personnel in the Balmorhea area.

Board members were also told Balmorhea EMS was seeking a variance to allow only one certified emergency medical worker and a driver to transport patients. Currently, two are needed in order to do transports.

The board also voted to place La Rochelle on the list at both local banks and with TexPool as an authorized officer of the hospital, in order to handle financial transactions, and granted a waiver on back taxes to Ronnie and Patsy Bowles, who said property tax notices had been mailed to the wrong address for the past three years by the Reeves County Appraisal District.

“We’ve always paid our taxes, on our business and our home,” Patsy Bowles said. “We should have known, but we didn’t get a bill and never thought about it.” She added that waivers already had been approved on the penalty by Reeves County and Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD.

Board member Leo Hung said he has yet to receive a tax notice on the new home he bought in September, and that the Appraisal District has yet to be notified of the change of ownership by the Reeves County Clerk’s office.

“I must pay taxes on it by February 1 or face penalties,” he said. “Many, many people are under this category. If they don’t watch out, they’ll be in this same penalty.”

The board earlier had agreed to sell its 1/6th interest in land near the West of the Pecos Rodeo Grounds to the West of the Pecos Rodeo Committee, which is seeking to by full control of the land to use it for expansion of facilities.

“The Rodeo Committee offered to pay back taxes on the property,” said board member Brenda McKinney. Gholson said the hospital advertised for bids on the land, and can now sell it to the Rodeo Committee after no other bids were received.

Three parcels of delinquent tax land in Pecos were sold by the hospital board. The board agreed to sell at lot at 423 S. Alamo St. for $300 to Phillip D. Gumm, who plans to use it for parking; a vacant lot at 618 W. Eighth St., for $500 for Romelia Garcia, who plans an extension of the yard of their neighboring house, and land in the 1200 block of South Cherry Street to Robert Abila, who plans to use it for a new residence.

Rodriguez celebrates her fourth birthday

Dalilah Ann Rodriguez celebrated her fourth birthday with a party held in her honor on Sunday, Jan. 21, at Gattiland in Odessa.

Theme for the special event was Dora the Explorer.

Family and friends enjoyed pizza, pastas and Dora the cake.

Dalilah received numerous gifts including a Dora bike and a Dora 4-wheeler power wheel.

She is the daughter of Laura and Donny Rodriguez.

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