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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Probe continues into Thursday’s vandalism cases

Pecos Police say they have a suspect in the series of vandalism and burglary incidents to local businesses early last Thursday morning, but have not made any arrests in the case yet.

Police investigator Kelly Davis said the incidents at Pizza Hut on South Cedar Street, Texas Gas Service on South Oak Street, and the dental office of Dr. Mike Pharoah on South Cypress street remain under investigation by the department. The Reeves County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a fourth case, at Terrazas’ Drive Inn on South Eddy Street, that also occurred sometime between late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

Windows were broken in all four locations, and items were reported stolen at both Dr. Pharoah’s office and at Terrazas, which suffered two broken glass doors.

Davis said along with those incidents, a number of car and house windows also have been reported vandalized during the past week. He said the most recent was on Saturday evening at Santa Rosa Hall on East Third Street, when the right rear window on a white Pontiac owned by Alicia Ramirez, 56, was broken out. No items were taken from the vehicle, according to the police report.

Commissioners approve new appraisal, tax figures

Reeves County Commissioners approved tax collections, 2007 certified appraisal roll totals and an officer to calculate the effective tax rate during their regular meeting, held Monday morning at the courthouse.

Tax appraiser-collector for Reeves County, Elfida Zuniga, presented a copy of the tax collections for 2006 and the certified appraisal roll totals.

Zuniga said that tax collections for 2006 were $2.24 million, including penalty and interest, and that the collection rate was 97 percent collections.

Delinquent tax collections amounted to $191,012, which brought the total of tax collections to $2.6 million, according to Zuniga.

“Is the collection about the same?” asked Reeves County Judge Sam Contreras.

“They’ve gone up a little bit,” said Zuniga.

“Is that because of the company that you are using to collect?” Precinct 1 Commissioner Roy Alvarado.

“They don’t really do the collections, until they become delinquent,” said Zuniga. “They do the delinquent tax, but don’t have anything to do with the current collections,” she said.

Most of the collections are done in December and January, according to Zuniga, who also presented commissioners with a report from the Reeves County Chief Appraiser Carol Markham.

“She had a correction, the first one was $864 million and after the correction it was $714 million,” said Zuniga. However, the total was still higher than the valuations reported last year.

“The difference is (up) $50 million from last year,” she said. “There was an increase of that much.”.

Zuniga was reappointed by commissioners as the officer to calculate the tax rate by the county.

Commissioners also approved the tax exemptions as presented by Zuniga, who said that they were the same as last year.

“It’s $15,000 for over 65; medical $10,000; disabled veteran, $5,000 and up to full exemption for disabled veterans, 65 years of age,” said Zuniga.

“Who determines the exemptions?” said Alvarado.

“Some are done by the state and some are done locally,” said Zuniga. “The $10,000 medical disabled vet is a requirement,” she said.

In other action on Monday, commissioners approved payments for the Reeves County Detention Centers during their regular meeting.

The group approved the RCDC 2001 Lease payment in the amount of $495,000; the RCDC 2001 maintenance reserve payment in the amount of $29,166; the RCDC 2005 lease payment in the amount of $345,112; the RCDC 2005 maintenance reserve payment in the amount of $29,166 and the RCDC 2007 lease payment in the amount of $28,389.

An interlocal agreement with the city of Toyah for governmental services was approved.

“The mayor had approached me about the county taking over the maintenance on the backhoe, since road and bridges uses it out there,” said Alvarado. “This is just an agreement that we will take care of it,” he said.

The commissioners approved non-secure contracts for the Reeves County Juvenile Department and acknowledged 2008 juvenile state grant budget in the amounts of $117,564 and $43,306.

Camilla Blum, interim director for the juvenile detention center, told the group that they are implementing several programs to help the youth in the community.

“This past summer we had six girls in a sewing class and they really seemed to enjoy it,” said Blum. “After the class was over they had a pizza lunch, organized by Alma Garcia and Mary Ann Acosta.”

Blum told the group that one of the staff had taken several boys to Prude Ranch near Fort Davis, where they enjoyed the day and had lunch on the way home.

“We are also working on putting together a GED program, to help those that want to further their education, and didn’t quite complete it in high school,” said Blum.

She said that we always hear about all the bad things happening, but there are some good things also.

“Some of these kids do want to turn their lives around and we want to help them,” Blum said. “We have some really good, dedicated employees that are always on call and always respond, no matter what time it is.”

City to cut property taxes; still may face rollback vote

Town of Pecos City will have a lower tax rate next year, though how much lower remains to be seen, following actions taken in Thursday’s council meeting at City Hall.

Lydia Prieto presented council members were the 2007 tax rate calculations, which showed that due to large increases in the city’s sales tax collections, the paying off of a certificate of obligation and an increase in city valuations in the past year, Pecos will be able to drop its tax rate by at least eight cents per $100 in valuations.

Prieto said the effective tax rate, to collect the same amount of ad valorem taxes as a year ago, would by .7346 cents per $100 in valuations, while the rollback tax rate would be .63937 cents and the debt service rate would be .07967 cents.

“Usually the rollback rate is grater than the (effective) tax rate,” Prieto said, while telling council members they would have to hold two public hearings in September if they approve a tax rate higher than the .63937-cent level. She added that approving a higher rate could also trigger a tax rollback election.

“Using the .63 means we will have less ad valorem taxes than we had last year,” said city manager Joseph Torres. “My reaction is leave it at the effective tax rate and see if our citizens will leave it at .73.”

Budget problems have forced the council to raise property taxes in recent years. The rate has been set at just above .81 cents per $100 in valuations the past two years, after jumping 11 cents per $100 in valuations in 2004.

Council members agreed to try to set the tax rate at the .7346-cent level, and agreed to move their planned budget workshops forward to this week from the first week of September, in order to have more time to see what tax rate they would need to set for the fiscal 2008 budget.

Prieto said the council will have to hold public hearings on Sept. 13 and Sept. 18 at City Hall, and would have to pass a motion to adopt the new rate by Sept. 27. Public notices on the new tax rate will be published in the Sept. 4 Pecos Enterprise.

The council then voted to receive, but take no action, on the proposed Pecos Economic Development Corp. budget for fiscal 2008, due to the impending changeover of the PEDC from a 4A to a 4B corporation.

PEDC board chairman Joe Keese discussed the budget with the council, and noted the two largest expenditures, for $120,000 and $230,000, were for the installation of electric lines in order to begin construction on a Hampton Inn on Interstate 20, and for the purchase of 34 acres of land on I-20 from the Pecos Housing Authority.

“We’re already two years behind as far as bringing hotels in,” said Keese, in noting that the PEDC was putting up the money because the city couldn’t afford the cost in their current budget. He said the PHA land could be used for commercial building sites along the Interstate, and for residential housing in the areas back towards the Farm Labor Housing apartments.

Keese said the PHA would use the money to buy the FLH buildings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for use as open availability apartments, while the sale of the site in one block would be easier for the PHA to get approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development than if the site is sold off in smaller sections. However, he said the PEDC would have to fund the purchase through bank loans, which city attorney Scott Johnson said could cause problems.

“In September at the next meeting, the council will vote on the name and the initial set of directors for the (4B) corporation,” he said, noting that since the 4A corporation is due to go out of existence after Sept. 30, any loans taken out by the PEDC now wouldn’t receive sales tax funding for the loans’ financial backing.

“The offer to the PHA expires at the end of September, because we really wanted to push HUD to make a decision,” Keese said.

“This budget may transfer to 4B, but keep in mind the 4B has more legal methods to spend tax money on,” Johnson said. He said the new corporation could agree to enter into the contract to buy the PHA land, but was under no legal obligation to do so.

“I strongly recommend you get the 4B set up and get moving, because there are a lot of things on the table,” Keese said, before council members agreed to receive the budget report without approving the proposed numbers.

Council members also discussed one of the items the PEDC talked about at their recent meeting, when they approved a change to the platt on the south side of Interstate 10 next to the Swiss Clock Inn. The motel is seeking to build a three-story addition just to the west of the existing rooms, and council approved closing off what is listed on city maps as an unused portion of Eddy Street, where the new section of the motel will be located.

In other action, the council also discussed the position of Municipal Court Judge during executive session, and Torres said while the council is considering reappointing Amanario Ramon to the post, they would advertise the job before taking any action.

“We’re going to advertise the position before appointing Amanario to a new two-year term,” he said. “We have to have a 90-day window to apply, and we’re going to leave it open for candidates. The council will be doing the interviewing.”

Council OKs limited park rental plan

Don’t set up your decorations early at Maxey Park without staying there to claim the site, Town of Pecos City Council members decided on Thursday.

Council members opted against setting any fee schedule for reserving the gazebo or the large pavilion at Maxey Park, but did agree to require a $50 deposit fee for reserving the Rodriguez-Mata Skateboard Park on West Seventh Street for special events, following a discussion during their regular meeting at City Hall.

City officials proposed both a deposit and a rental fee be set up for all three sites, similar to the fees charged for renting the Athletic Pool at Maxey Park. Mayor Dick Alligood explained that the move was made following a dispute between two families at the park’s gazebo, which let to police being called to the site.

“The family did the decorations work the night before and left, and the second family showed up and took the area,” Alligood said.

“If they book it, they have the right to use it at that time,” said city public works director Edgardo Madrid. “If they don’t book it, and another family comes along who has it books, they have to give it up.”

The proposed $50 and $75 deposit fees for the sites would be refundable, but it was the rental fees of $100 for the skateboard park and $75 for the two sites in Maxey Park that caused council members to object.

“If somebody doesn’t book it, they can get in for free if nobody’s there,” said councilman Frank Sanchez.

“I don’t agree to paying rent at all,” he said. “It’s OK to pay a deposit, if they’re going to use it for a special event.”

“I don’t mind the smaller fee (at skateboard park) and deposit, but not at the parks,” said councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela. “They are for everybody, and it should be first come, first served.”

“If they decorate it the night before, they do it at their own risk” Sanchez added.

The council eventually agreed that since the skateboard part has restrooms and enclosed fencing similar to the pool and miniature golf course, a deposit fee and reservations could be set up there, while leaving the other two sites unchanged.

In other action on Thursday, council members were given an update by city code enforcement officer Julio Quinones on clean-up efforts around town. He said they have been working to get residents to remove junk vehicles from their front yards, clean up weeks and cut trees that may obscure stop signs, while telling the council other issues, such as condemned home demolitions, are on hold for now.

“We’re still working on home demolitions. We’re just waiting for the range to be fixed,” Quinones said, referring to the new police department firing range, which city crews are in the process of completing.

Martin Arreguy updated the council earlier in the meeting on that project. “We’ve 90 percent done and by next week, we should be completed,” he said.

Quinones was also asked about rules to limit the streets large commercial trucks could travel on. Alligood said a number of trucks involved in local drilling activity have been using West Second Street as a through route between U.S. 285 and Highway 17, in order to bypass the traffic signals on West Third Street.

“There are a lot of families living on Second Street who are concerned about those trucks,” Alligood said. He added that the surface of Second Street is not as suitable for large trucks as that of the state-maintained Third Street, and that many of the trucks also park on city streets at night, some while still leaking liquids used in drilling work. “Five years ago we had a truck ordinance I worked on,” said city attorney Scott Johnson. “I looked at five other cities and their rules, but the council did not pass it. So it may be time to take another look.”

“There are a lot of other things to take into consideration now,” said Alligood, who noted that the ordinance was rejected to help local trucking businesses during a period of economic downturn in the city.

Streets were also the subject of a complaint at the start of Thursday’s meeting by Irma Benavides, who told the council that drivers were using Jefferson Street as a shortcut between Texas Street and Highway 17.

“They are driving so fast, to where I cannot get their license plate numbers,” she said, while asking the council to either install more stop signs or speed bumps between the 1700 and 2000 blocks of Jefferson.

Benavides said Jefferson was preferred by drivers because of it being wider than Adams Street and smoother than Jackson Boulevard, the other main streets connecting Texas with Highway 17.

“What we will do is ask some people to take a look at it, and put it on the next agenda,” Alligood said.

Substation trouble causes Barstow blackout

Barstow residents were without power for nearly three hours Sunday evening, due to problems at a substation in town.

Texas-New Mexico Power Company crews were able to restore electric service Barstow residents affected the outage just before sunset on Sunday.

The outage began at 5:22 p.m., Sunday and affected 256 homes and businesses in the Barstow area. Power was restored to all customers by 8:06 p.m.

The company said the outage occurred when transformer fuses at a company substation were blown. The cause of the outage is still being investigated.

“Because we maintain a local presence in Sanderson and Fort Stockton, our crews were on hand and ready to respond quickly to the outage,” said Donald Hunt, community relations liaison for the company.

Texas-New Mexico Power Company provides community-based electric delivery service to approximately 225,000 customers in Texas. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of PNM Resources.

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