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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Crimestoppers seeks break-in, vandalism info

Pecos Valley Crime Stoppers and The Pecos Police Department need the community’s help in solving two break-ins that occurred over the weekend.

In early morning hours last Saturday Aug. 4, Alfredo’s Restaurant at 10th and Cedar streets was broken into. Mainly candy and other small items were taken. Two six packs of beer and a neon beer sign were recovered close to the scene.

Also on that same date illegal entry was gained at the God’s Army building, 1320 Veterans Blvd. The building was vandalized, with graffiti on the walls that included a joker face and the name Little Rascals, according to Pecos Police Officer Mike Balog.

“Please help us make our community safer by putting these criminals behind bars,” said Balog.

If anyone has any information about these crimes, or any other crimes please call Crime Stoppers at 445-9898.

As always, individuals will remain anonymous and the tips could be worth up to a $1,000 cash reward.

“There is no caller I.D. on this line. Thank you for your help,” said Balog.

Police say man faces charges following south side standoff

Police took a Pecos man into custody on Aug. 6, following a 5 1/2-hour standoff in a building next to the Texas Department of Public Safety officer on the south side of town.

Pecos Police Capt. Kelly Davis said 30-year-old Donald Johnson was taken into custody at 3:30 a.m. after hostage negotiating team members talked him into surrendering. “We received a call on a despondent male at A&B Automotive, 150 Raul Florez Boulevard,” Davis said. “We were told the subject was thinking of suicide and had several loaded weapons.”

He said SWAT team members surrounded the building, before hostage negotiators began communicating with Johnson, eventually leading to his surrender. While the building is across Cothrun Street from the DPS office, Davis said police informed the office of the problem, but was able to handle the case on their own.

One shot was fired during the incident, but Davis said, “He just shot up through the building’s roof.”

“He said he and his wife had an argument and she had found some narcotics on him at the house,” Davis said. Johnson then got a ride to A&B, where he had been employed, and held up inside of the building.

Johnson was taken into custody on charges of criminal mischief and discharging a firearm. He was first turned over to workers with the Texas MHMR for psychiatric evaluation before being returned to police custody.

“MHMR said he was not suicidal enough to be committed,” Davis said. “He may have been on intoxicants and may have had eight rifles, but only one was in the building.”

Campus project schedule given to school board

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah school board members hired a new assistant principal and discussed plans for construction at the different campuses outlined during their regular monthly meeting, held Thursday evening in the Technology Center.

Monte Hunter, architect with Hunter Corral Associates, was on hand to discuss construction plans with the board that will be done out of the $30 million bond issue approve by voters in May.

Hunter told the group that they had met with the district staff regarding the master plan and are currently developing a master plan in regards to Bessie Haynes Elementary School. He also met with the district staff regarding a master plan for Crockett Junior High and they are soliciting proposals for property surveys and soil tests.

“A contract was sent for Austin Elementary School and Pecos High School roofing project to the contractor and work is scheduled to begin in early 2008,” said Hunter.

In the next month, the architect and contractors plan to finalize the Crockett and Bessie Haynes master plans and develop CATE building addition.

Plans for Crockett include new tennis courts, new parking/bus driveway and the addition of several new classrooms to house the district’s sixth graders.

Board members also approved the hiring of Bonny Herndon as new assistant principal for Pecos High School, replacing Jim Workman, who will be serving as principal at the Zavala Campus.

Sixth graders will be housed at Zavala, while construction is going on at Crockett over the next two years. The students will then be moved to the Crockett campus upon completion of construction.

Herndon was at Nueces Canyon Consolidated ISD and had currently been at Uvalde Consolidated ISD.

She has a Master degree; attended Dallas Baptist University, Sul Ross Rio Grande College and Southwest Texas Junior College. Certification: principal EC-12; elementary social studies composite 1-8; elementary self-contained 1-8 and family and consumer sciences 6-12.

Board members also approved Cruz Galarza as a composite science teacher for Pecos High School; Raul Haro, fourth grade bilingual, at Bessie Haynes; Maureen Richards, third grade teacher at Austin Elementary School and William Shrum, 7th and 8th science, Crockett Middle School.

City’s August sales tax rebate doubles from last year’s totals

Sales tax rebates for August in the Town of Pecos City were more than double the total from the same period a year ago, according to figures released last week by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ office.

Energy drilling activity has given Pecos double-digit increases in sales tax collections for the past two years, but the August check, based on sales made during June, has caused the year-to-date total for Pecos to jump by more than 40 percent from the first two-thirds of 2006. June’s totals were also helped by an early start to this year’s West of the Pecos Rodeo, the city’s largest tourism event, which was held entirely during the month of June this year. Pecos’ check, based on its 1 1/2-cent share of the state’s 8 1/4-cent sales tax, was $166,169. That’s up by 101.15 percent from last August’s check for $82,608. Overall this year, the city has gotten $921,202.78 back from the comptroller’s office, which is 41.14 percent above last year’s total of $652,660. For all of 2006, Pecos received just under $1 million in sales tax rebates. One sixth of the city’s rebate check, or $27,695, goes to the Pecos Economic Development Corp. for its operations.

Sales tax rebate checks for the other two cities in Reeves County, Balmorhea and Toyah, were not up by as much as Pecos’ check for the month, but both also saw sharp increases, and have increased by over 70 percent for the year.

Balmorhea received a check for $3,515, which is 28.36 percent above last August’s total for $2,738. Overall for 2007, the city has gotten $20,641 back from Austin, which is 70.72 percent better than last year’s $12,090. Toyah got an August check for $1,153, up 86.43 percent from last year’s $618. Overall, the city’s gotten $6,216 in sales tax rebates this year, 81.02 percent ahead of the $3,434 it received for the first eight months of 2006.

Sales tax collections for 2007 for the Reeves County Hospital District are slightly behind the increases for the county’s three cities, but their increase in August was even sharper than the one Pecos saw. The hospital’s 1/2-cent sales tax netted $83,674, a 139.19 percent jump from last year’s $34,982. For the year, the hospital has gotten back $440,332, up 35.46 percent from last year’s $325,061.

Almost all other cities in the Permian Basin reported increases as well for August. However, the numbers were lower for some cities in the Big Bend, where high fuel prices may have helped lower summer tourism.

Midland had the region’s single largest check, for $3.18 million on its 1 1/2-cent sales tax, which was up 14.06 percent from a year ago. Midland’s rebates are up 12.91 percent this year, while Odessa’s 1 1/4-cent sales tax brought the city $2.11 million in rebates this month, a 10.63 percent rise from last year. For all of 2007 so far, Odessa’s tax rebate checks are up by 12.64 percent.

For other cities collecting the 1 1/2-cent sales tax, Alpine received an $80,216 check, which was down nearly 20 percent for the second month in a row. The city’s overall 2007 total is still up by 2.2 percent. Crane received a check for $47,875, a 15.2 percent increase from August of 2006 after a drop in July; Lamesa got $117,110 back this month, which was up 4.46 percent; while Seminole received a check for $100,367, which was up 21.57 percent.

Among cities collecting a one-cent sales tax Kermit received $47,795 in their check, down 5 percent; Wickett received a $10,582 check, up 52.99 percent, Wink received a check for $7,593, down 12.37 percent, and Pyote, received an $1,023 check this month, after getting no check from the comptroller’s office in August of last year.

For area cities collecting a 1 3/4-cent sales tax, Andrews received a check for $290,653, a 17.05 percent increase. Marfa got a check for $22,782, which was down 5.89 percent; while Van Horn got a check for $24,690, which was down 45.46 percent from last year.

For cities collecting the maximum two-cent sales tax, Big Spring received $508,524, an increase of 6.81 percent; Fort Stockton received $225,297, up 35.44 percent; Monahans received a check for $135,464, which was up 2.09 percent from last July; Grandfalls got a $2,394 check, down 4.67 percent; and Presidio received $41,912, up 10.69 percent.

Statewide, Combs’ office sent out rebate checks totaling $364.1 million, up 4.12 percent from last August’s $349.6 million. Houston’s check of $44.4 million was up 2.79 percent from last June. Dallas’ check was next, at $21.9 million, which was down 0.44 percent from their rebate check a year ago.

City street closings, board appointments OKed

Town of Pecos City Council members approved first readings of two ordinances, new appointments to the Pecos Airport Board and one to the Midland International Airport Board, and the closing of several streets on the northeast side of town, during their regular meeting, held on Thursday at City Hall.

The council approved the selection of Rocky Blackstock and Greg Mitchell to the Pecos Airport Board, while councilman Danny Rodriguez was named as the city’s representative on the regional Midland board.

“They both have agreed to come on the Airport Board,” Alligood said of Mitchell and Blackstock. “They both have aircraft on site.”

Rodriguez replaces Bill Hubbs, who died last year as the local representative on the Midland board. Hubbs also was a member of the Pecos Airport Board, which oversees rates and operations at the local facility.

The ordinances approved involved revisions to the city’s hotel/motel occupancy tax rules and to street closing regulations. Councilmen were told to clarify the reporting period rules for local hotels and motels by an auditing firm retained by the city, while the change to the street closing law will make the process of shutting streets for annual events such as Night in Old Pecos and the 16th of September Fiestas easier for organizers.

Also approved by the council on Thursday was a bid for drilling rights on 40 acres of the city’s J.F. Worsham deed southeast of Pecos by Eagle Oil and Gas. The deal gives the city $375 per acre and a 22 1/2 percent royalty if the company’s drilling activity is successful.

“I think that is a good offer to the city,” said Mayor Dick Alligood. “Anytime you get around 25 percent, it’s a fair offer.”

The council also agreed with a recommendation by the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to approve a request by John and Elizabeth Armstrong to fence off the Roberson Property, located next to their home on the northeast side of town. Approval would include closing city streets within the Robinson Property platt, council members were told “If we remove the platt it doesn’t remove it from the city limits. It just vacates the subdivision,” said city attorney Scott Johnson.

The Armstrongs were among several local residents in 2004 who successfully fought a proposal by a private developer to build 30 to 50 new low-income homes on the land, through a tax credit program funded by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Alligood said since then, the area has fallen into disuse.

“Some people consider it an alternate landfill,” he said. “People on that street complain about traffic in the day and night, and they’d like something done about it. If he (Armstrong) does fence it in, that will take care of it.”

In other action, the council approved naming Lydia Prieto to calculate the city’s effective and rollback tax rates and the 2007 appraisal rolls. They were also given copies of the planning calendar by Prieto to schedule meetings to set the fiscal 2008 budget and tax rate.

The council approved five of six properties for tax sale, exempting one business property, at 2116 W Third St., so it can be reviewed by the Pecos Economic Development Corp. for its approval. Roy Lindsey submitted a bid of $3,250 for the building, an offer Prieto said was already approved by the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board.

At the start of Thursday’s meeting, council members recognized the Pecos Senior League All-Star team, which finished second last month at the state Senior League Tournament in Waco. They also gave certificates to summer workers at the Maxey Park swimming pool, the city landfill and warehouse and those who were part of the city’s youth summer jobs program.

City street department supervisor Martin Arreguy also showed council members photos of the new road to the Pecos Police Department’s new firing range on North Alamo Street. He said grader Ruben Baeza and other city employees have completed about 75 percent of the job, building up a base 1 to 1 1/2 feet thick before the oil and asphalt top is applied. “It is on schedule. We did have rain put us back a few days, but we’re striving forward,” Arreguy said.

Council, county hold talks over water rate suit

Rejections of legal claims by both a state agency and a district court judge in Austin have not deterred Reeves County from continuing its legal action against the Town of Pecos City over the city’s 2005 increase in water and sewer rates. But city and county officials are hoping a deal can be worked out before the case goes back to court later this year.

The county has appealed the latest rejection of its lawsuit, in which 345th District Court Judge Darlene Byrne ruled against action by the county’s attorneys in challenging both the city’s water and sewer rate increases and the upholding of those increases by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The new suit, filed on July 27 in the 345th District Court, was the subject of an executive session held Thursday night by the Town of Pecos City Council, in which they discussed the lawsuit and other city-county issues with Reeves County Judge Sam Contreras and Precinct 3 Commissioner Saul Herrera.

Following the nearly two-hour closed door meeting, which also included discussion on the duties of the city manager, council members approved a motion by councilman Michael Benavides to continue negotiations with the county on the water rate litigation, and on other projects, including the hotel motel venue tax board, and work on other recreational facilities, such as the Reeves County Golf Course and the baseball and softball fields at Maxey Park.

Mayor Dick Alligood and mayor pro-tem Gerald Tellez were named to represent the city in their negotiations with the county.

Contreras, who served as Town of Pecos City finance director at the time the original lawsuit was filed, said following the meeting that he hoped a deal could be reached before the next round of court hearings are scheduled.

“The appeal won’t be heard until November or December,” said Contreras. “In the meantime attorneys for both sides said that doesn’t stop you from coming to an agreement. If you do, it all gets dropped.”

Byrne held a two-day hearing in early February, after which she dismissed the county’s charges of breach of contract by the city, when it sharply increased all municipal water rates in December of 2005. She also ruled that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality did have jurisdiction to rule in favor of the city in its dispute with the county.

The judge denied the city’s claim that the court did not have jurisdiction over the county’s appeal of the TECQ ruling, but then ruled in favor of TECQ following another hearing on June 27 in Austin. The latest appeal was filed on the final day before the county’s 30-day deadline to seek a new court hearing.

. The city raised rates in order to fund state-mandated improvements to aging water and sewer systems, along with other city operations through transfers from the Water and Sewer Fund to the General Fund. Rates for most customers doubled over the previous levels, and the county was hard hit due to fees charged to the Reeves County Detention Center, the city’s single largest user of water.

Reeves County is currently paying the first 10-years on a 20-yard loan taken out by the city to fund development of the South Worsham Water Field, on which the city will assume bond payments in 2011. In filing the lawsuit last year, then-Reeves County Judge Jimmy Galindo said by spending the money on regular city operations, the council was taking away funds that should be used on the upcoming water and sewer projects.

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