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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Thursday, September 4, 2003

Council unsure of budget due to county's cash woes

Staff Writer

PECOS, Thurs., Sept. 4, 2003 -- Town of Pecos City department heads presented their budget "wish lists" to City Council members on Wednesday, during the first of two evening budget workshops held at City Hall.

However, the council isn't sure how they are going to put a budget together for the upcoming year - with or without approving items on the "wish lists" - due to the ongoing budget problems of Reeves County.

Council members heard from Municipal Court Judge Amanrio Ramon, Fire Marshal Jack Brookshire and city Parks and Utilities Director Octavio Garcia during the three-hour meeting. All presented request for items or increases in funding various parts of their budget for the 2004 Fiscal Year, but only after the council discussed the problems of putting together a budget without knowing the status of a $422,000 payment Reeves County owes the city.

Finance Director Sam Contreras said the city already faces a decline in tax revenues and an increase in health insurance costs for city workers. Contreras said the tax collection rate is about 88 percent compared to a year ago, while insurance costs to the city are expected to rise 15 percent in the upcoming year. "We'll let you determine if you want to pass the cost onto the employees," Contreras said.

Council members instructed city manage Carlos Yerena to look at other possible insurance carriers before deciding on what action they will take.

The council also did not want to commit to any pay increases. "It's difficult because our property taxes have declined," Yerena said. "So even though our property taxes are declining, we're increasing our services," he said, citing the impending opening of the new Town of Pecos City landfill as one added expense.

Contreras said the budget the past two years has been balanced by transferring funds from the water and sewer department to make up the difference in the general fund. He said the current budget assumes the city will receive its $422,000 payment from Reeves County, which is designated to pay back the Texas Water Development Board for money loaned to the city for building the new South Worsham water field.

Reeves County is supposed to pick up the first 10 years worth of payments on the project. The initial payment was due this week, but the county delayed payment in order to make bond payments on the Reeves County Detention Center, which also were due this week.

"If the county cannot come up with the payment, there's no way we can increase property taxes alone and meet the payment," Yerena said. "We'd have to increase property and water and sewer rates."

Council member Frank Sanchez said each cent of property taxes brings in $11,000 worth of revenue. In order to make up the $422,000 in property taxes alone, the city's tax rate would have to rise by 36 cents per $100 in valuation.

"How can we come up with a budget when we don't know what the situation is?" Sanchez said.

"A budget can be passed now and amended later," he added. "The only problem is if we have to pass a budget now (before Oct. 1) but have to collect extra revenue later, how do we pass a tax rate. I don't want to double water and sewer rates. That's too much of a burden on the people."

While the county faces a shortfall due to a lack of prisoners in the RCDC, Yerena said the city would have to come up with $130,000 for the Pecos Criminal Justice Center to pay the principal on construction of that facility.

That money is already accounted for, Yerena said, while explaining the U.S. Marshal's Service will not allow funds from the man-day rate to go towards the principal payment on the facility, but only to pay interest on the 96-bed CJC, which opened in February of 2002.

During the sessions with the department heads, the council did agree to fund some of the most urgently needed items on the "wish lists."

Ramon sought a funding increase for his clerk at Municipal Court, since he is no longer using a Pecos High School student in a part-time capacity. Combined with new laws involving several low-level crimes such as truancy, Ramon said his secretary would probably have to put in overtime to handle the additional paperwork.

"She said she can do it, but she needs a little higher salary," Ramon said.

Brookshire asked for an increase in funds to purchase new codebooks, along with an increase in training funds due to a new state law requiring the city to have a licensed electrical inspector.

He said the city's current fire codebooks are nine years old, and that a new 13-book set would cost about $1,000. He added that the books also are available on CD-ROM, but at roughly the same price.

The other two items discussed by the council were a video camera for Brookshire's vehicle, and a portable hand-held generation. He told the council the camera would be helpful in court by recording the scene of a fire, while the generation would allow for more light inside a fire-damaged building during nighttime investigations.

Sanchez said since Brookshire is certified as a peace officer, Yerena could try and get a grant for the video camera for his car, similar to the grants for video camera that were placed in regular Pecos Police Department vehicles.

Garcia's largest request was for the city's Street Department, to reinstitute the seal-coating program. "The streets and alleys (budget) has been going down, down, down. Right now we're down to $35,000, and that's for maintenance. That's why we haven't done the seal coating," he said.

"Sooner or later it's going to cost us more if we don't do it," said councilman Danny Rodriguez. "We can either do it now, or pay more later."

Garcia said the program cost the city $70,000 the last time it was done, with $15,000 going for engineering. Sanchez told Garcia to figure out the linear feet of the area proposed for seal coating and to come back with a cost estimate later.

As far as equipment goes, Garcia told the council repairs need to be made to several vehicles, including a 1960 maintainer, and equipment that hasn't been used for about a decade at the landfill may also need work when it is reactivated during the upcoming year.

"We got $10,000 (for maintenance) for last year and we've already used $17,000 this year," he said.

Mayor Dot Stafford suggested an increase in the maintenance budget for equipment outside the landfill from $9,000 to $15,000, though Yerena said, "Just keep in mind whatever increases we have we'll have to cut someplace else to get back into line."

Maintenance costs for equipment at the landfill was later budgeted at $10,000. The city has contracted out disposal of its trash for the past decade, but is building the new trench to replace the contract with Wes-Tex Waste.

During discussion of funding for the Building Department, council member Angelica Valenzuela suggested that work be suspended on the interior renovation of the former Pecos Police Department offices, which are to be converted into added space for city personnel.

"If we have to stay in those offices another year, I don't see it as a priority," she said. "I just see where we can better use this someplace else."

The council did support $16,000 in funds for regular building maintenance.

Garcia was scheduled to resume budget discussions with the council today, focusing on the water and sewer departments. The council was also scheduled to hear budget request from the police, fire and emergency medical service departments during their workshop tonight, which will begin at 6 p.m.

Detention Center's bond rating lowered

From Staff and Wire Reports
PECOS, Thurs., Sept. 4, 2003 -- Reeves County Detention Center's ongoing financial problems have prompted a New York financial firm to lower the rating of the facility's $90 million in bonds to just above "junk bond" status.

In a press release on Wednesday, Finch Ratings downgraded the underlying ratings of Reeves County's approximately $89 million outstanding certificates of participation (COPs)-lease rentals (Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) Trust) to 'BB' from 'BBB' status, which is the lowest rating given to bonds before they are listed as "junk" status.

"Junk" bonds include all bonds with Standard & Poor's ratings below

BBB and/or Moody's ratings below Baa. The bonds are considered to carry a higher risk for investors, and usually must offer higher rates of return in order to attract buyers. Investment grade bonds of BBB and higher are generally legal for purchase by banks; junk bonds are not.

The decrease in the rating is in connection with the $40 million RCDC III project, which opened in March, about two months behind schedule but was unable to acquire the 960 inmates projected from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The BOP currently has 2,000 inmates in RCDC I and II, but the county is seeking other sources of inmates in order to meet future bond payments on the facility.

In the press release, Fitch officials stated, "More problematic than the delay in completion has been BOP's lack of action to certify the approximately 1,000-bed addition as ready for occupancy and delays in raising per diem rates to projected levels. While a recent lump-sum payment by BOP reportedly reduced payment arrears, coinciding with a retroactive increase in per diems to near projected levels, the lack of certification means that the prisoner census is now about 2,100, as opposed to the more than 2,700 inmates originally projected for calendar year 2003.

"The bureaucratic process for negotiating a possible new statement of work for RCDC and a three-year renewal of the facility's agreement with BOP has begun, but the outcome of these discussions is uncertain, and the delays in payment and certification action by BOP are a source of concern for Fitch, given the importance of the positive partnership to prior rating assignments. Also of concern is the ongoing restructuring of federal homeland security functions and the uncertainties this raises with BOP and other RCDC federal customers."

County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo has talked with Department of Homeland Security officials, U.S. Marshal's Service officials and with the State of Arizona about housing prisoners in RCDC III.

The Marshal's Service has placed about 100 inmates in RCDC III. However, Michael Troyanski, with the U.S. Marshals Service in El Paso, told the Associated Press that the agency won't guarantee a specific number of inmates.

"We are not going to commit," Troyanski said. "The prisoner population is fluid, it goes up and down with the tide."

Galindo visited with DHS officials in Washington on Aug. 21, but no immediate agreement on housing inmates could be reached.

Arizona's prisons exceed capacity by about 4,000 inmates, said Jim Robideau, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections. The department considered the Reeves County jail about a month ago, he told the Associated Press, but wasn't aware of any negotiations or a pending agreement.

Finch's report on the bond downgrade cited information from the AP story, which ran nationally this past weekend, as one reason for the action.

The statement by Finch officials continued, "While sustained lower occupancy could allow the county to reduce staffing levels somewhat, Fitch believes that if the census remains at or near this level for a protracted period of time, the county's ability to make lease appropriations could be reduced since debt service could grow to well over 20% of revenues, thus limiting flexibility. Several million dollars in certificate reserve funds provide some comfort, as do the county's general fund reserves, which do not secure the COPs but have been tapped at times for cash flow loans to the RCDC.

"Officials report loans of approximately $800,000 are now outstanding from the county to RCDC, a trend of borrowing which can not be sustained for a long period of time. There also is a trustee leasehold interest in the project, although Fitch believes it is difficult to predict whether the sublease of the facility to an entity other than the county would improve performance after a default.

If the county misses the payment, the bondholders could put the jail up for sale or hire a private company to run it.

The nation's largest for-profit prisons operator, Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America, is one company closely watching the situation, said Laurie Shanblum, CCA senior director for business development.

CCA served as manager for the Reeves County Detention Center between 1989 and 1992.

Increased border security and more arrests for drug and immigration violations since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has made West Texas attractive to companies like CCA, she told the Associated Press.

"Our current philosophy is very conservative," she said. "We wouldn't get involved without strong assurances that there is light at the end of the tunnel."

On the plus side, Finch said, "Credit strengths continue to include a seasoned management team for the 18-year-old RCDC enterprise, competitive per diem rates, and the importance of the facility to the county's economic base. Risks continue to include the inability of BOP and other agencies to enter into long-term contracts for incarceration of inmates. A tightening federal budget environment may affect future demand.

"Negotiations with BOP concerning agreement renewal, certification, and a statement of work including the facility's third phase reportedly will begin in October. BOP payments are governed by federal direct and indirect cost recovery protocols," the statement said. "Should census numbers rise to projected levels, the source of such prisoners, the negotiated per diem rates under federal guidelines, and any associated adjustments in expenses would be key factors in determining whether the rating would stabilize. Improvement in the rating likely would require redevelopment of a sustained, positive track record of consistent BOP use of most RCDC beds; moreover, timely payment of per diem rates at or near originally projected levels will be important."

Fall Fair preparing for additional events

Staff Writer

PECOS, Thurs., Sept. 4, 2003 -- Preparation is underway for next month's Reeves County Fall Fair, with new activities added to the annual event.

"Plans are coming along very well and we have been getting quite a few vendors in," said Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce Director Linda Gholson.

Gholson said that new events have been added and some expanded upon for the fair, which will be held on Oct. 2-4 this year.

"The Reeves County Sheriff's Posse is busy getting the barbecue cook-off event together and they will even be hosting a dance on Friday night," said Gholson.

The barbecue cook-off is held annually in conjunction with fall fair activities, at the Reeves County Sheriff's Posse Arena.

Along with the barbeque cook-off, a Chuck Wagon Cook-off has been added to the Fall Fair activities

"After the judging the public can purchase tickets to eat what the chuck wagon gang has cooked up," said Gholson.

Tickets will be available for a chicken fried steak dinner complete with mashed potatoes, bread and dessert, according to Gholson.

"Plans for the livestock show are going really well, also," said Gholson. The event will be a sanctioned show and the showmanship show will be TCLA sanctioned.

A pet show and stick horse rodeo for the younger children are planned for inside the Reeves County Civic Center.

"We're hoping to have a bicycle show as well," said Gholson.

This year the ranch rodeo will be held both Friday and Saturday. "They will have a No. 7, three $40 roping," said Gholson.

An enchilada plate sale, sponsored by the Pecos Eagle Band Boosters will take place inside the civic center, while the Pecos Rotary Club will be serving up pancakes on Saturday morning. The Lions' Club will be selling hamburgers both Friday and Saturday during the Fall Fair.

All schools are invited to participate and purchase a booth. "The students will have their work on display and some will be having fundraisers," said Gholson.

Theme for this year's event is Red, White and Blue.

Entries for the fall fair will be taken on Thursday Oct. 2, from 1-7 p.m., at the civic center. Culinary and fresh herbs will be accepted on Friday morning, Oct. 3, from 7:30 a.m. until 10 a.m., with judging starting at 10 a.m.

The fair will officially open at 1 p.m., Friday with a special ceremony planned and will continue until 10 p.m. The fair will open again on Saturday, Oct. 4, from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., but pancakes will be available beginning at 7 a.m., Saturday.

Fall fair booklets are available at both Security State Bank and West Texas National Bank, Reeves County Library, Reeves County Extension Service and the chamber office.

"We want to welcome everyone to come out and join the fun," said Gholson.

Pecos 4-H holds horse workshop Saturday morning

PECOS, Thurs., Sept. 4, 2003 -- The Texas Cooperative Extension and the Reeves-Loving 4-H will hold a 4-H Horse Project Workshop at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Pecos 4-H pens off East County Road.

Cost of the event is free and horse basics will be taught by Faye Lease and Bruce Salcido. The event is open to anyone interested in learning about horses.

Probation department sponsors bell-ringers

PECOS, Thurs., Sept. 4, 2003 -- The Reeves County Juvenile Probation Department will sponsor a Drug Free, Crime Free Spirit Bell Ringers Group for the 2003 football season. The group will attend the three home district football games and ring bells to remind people to make good choices and support the Pecos Eagles Football team.

Boys and girls in grades 5-9 who reside in Reeves County and are drug free and crime free are eligible to participate. Participation is free of charge and limited to the first 20 eligible applicants.

Call Louise Moore or Mary Ann Acosta at 447-6901 to sign up. Sign up deadline is Sept. 26.


PECOS, Thurs., Sept. 4, 2003 -- High Wed. 93. Low this morning 59. Forecast for tonight: Partly cloudy with a slight chance of thunderstorms. Lows near 60. SE winds 10 to 15 mph. Fri.: Partly cloudy. A slight chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Highs in the lower 90s.SE winds near 10 mph. Fri. night: Partly cloudy. A slight chance of thunderstorms in the evening. Lows in the mid 60s. South winds near 10 mph.

Saturday: Partly cloudy. A 20


Marriages for July 2003, as filed with the Reeves County Clerk's Office.

Frederico Diaz Ornelas and Veronica Mendoza Perez.

Rolando Rodriguez and Diana Viescas Villescas.

Omar Rodriguez Garcia and Criselda Galvan.

Marriages for August 2003, as filed with the Reeves County Clerk's Office.

Elijah James Patterson and Layla Danielle Williams.

Auden Navarrete and Melissa Patino Sotelo.

Pete Edward Ramos III and Mayra Tercero Dominguez.

Raul Quezada Villescas and Miriam Catalina Hinostroza Navarro.

Oscar C. Dominguez and Norma Ann Leos.

Erik Villareal Gabaldon and Graciela Muniz Carrasco.


Divorces for August 2003, as filed with the Reeves County District Clerk's Office.

Vianca Mendoza and Victor Jaso Mendoza.

Mauricio Leal and Monica Leal.

Noelia Inostroza and Rene Inostroza.

Francis Dutchover Martinez and Jason Martinez.

Roger Cross and Stephanie Cross.

Albert Mondragon and Rosemary Mondragon.

Francis Muniz and Ramon M. Muniz.

Jesus Gomez and Maria Belma Gomez.

Patsy Mendoza Rodriguez and Jose Luis Rodriguez.

Graciela Rodriguez and Albert Rodriguez.

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