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Thursday, April 8, 1999

Rancher getting help in W. Texas `air war'

Staff Writer
PECOS, April 8, 1999 -- Calls have come in from all over since Monday's Enterprise story about the Joe Vernon family's fight to save their peaceful country home from bomber training flights.

As a result, Vernon has called a press conference for 1 p.m. Friday at Pecos Municipal Airport when several people fighting the flights will be present.

Steve Uslan, the southwest regional vice president of the United States Pilot's Association; Brian Kelly, president of the Trans-Pecos Protection Group; and Carey Ream, heritage association president, will address the issue from the legal standpoint.

Uslan has protested low-level flights by military aircraft all over the country, Vernon said. The other two are area landowners who fight for the rights of individuals, using constitutional and cultural heritage laws, Vernon said.

They plan to attend the public hearing at 5 p.m. Friday in the Pecos High School cafeteria.

Vernon said a number of private citizens have also contacted him.

"Some will come to the meeting Friday," Vernon said. "All are against it, and most for the same reasons."

What they are against are low-level bomber training flights across Reeves County, with two electronic scoring sites for simulated bombing runs at 200 feet. One site is southeast of Pecos at Toyah Lake, and the other is near the Vernon ranch at Alamo.

After reading about their concerns that the flights would spook their livestock and scare the chickens, a Kermit man offered to buy the chickens.

"I told him we would sell him eggs; we don't sell chickens," Vernon said.

It was the promise of a quiet life that led Vernon and his wife, Helen, to buy 225 acres at Alamo for their home, a garden and pasture for their cattle and horses.

"I like to sit on the porch at night and drink a glass of iced tea. All I hear is a hen cackle every now and then or a horse come up wanting to be fed," he said. "I can see the lights of cars passing on the highway, but I can't hear them."

The Vernon homestead is eight miles west of Verhalen, on Texas Highway 17, and there is nothing in between, he said.

Helen Vernon gave up her job as a police officer in Carrollton (north Dallas) to work full time as a housewife and mother, since Joe's job as a contract pumper pays the bills.

They live in a double-wide mobile home, whose windows rattle when one of the bombers passes anywhere near.

Stacked on their property is used lumber they bought to build their dream home, and they have planted trees along the driveway where it will be built when they save enough to start construction.

But the bomb-site plans have made them nervous about building a permanent home on the ranch.

"My insurance man said the shock from those planes will tear up a house in a short time," he said.

Vernon's biggest worry is that he won't be able to fly his Cessna 150 from home to the gas well locations he is paid to check every day. When he is able to fly, he can make the route in 5 1/2 hours. In a pickup, it takes twice as long and costs twice as much.

"All of my wells are gas wells, and they have a big location," Vernon said. "Most are 400' x 400' and I can pretty much land and take off on the location."

One company built him a small air strip, and others provide good roads that he can land on.

If he has to move his home to a location away from the bomber training route, Vernon fears he would be too far away to travel to the wells.

"I don't want to be pegged as being against the government protecting us, but I don't think they have to run me out of my space to do it," he said.

Vernon agrees that Reeves County is ideal for the bomber training route because of the flat terrain required for the electronic scoring sites.

And he sees little chance of changing the route.

"I don't see how we can stop them," he said.

Anyone who wants to try is welcome to attend the meeting from 5-9 p.m. Friday in the Pecos High School cafeteria.

Council rejects ban on parking big rigs

Staff Writer
PECOS, April 8, 1999 -- Rights of citizens to use their property as they see fit won out this morning over the attractiveness of the city as a whole when the Pecos City Council rejected a proposal to tighten truck parking rules.

Terry Burkholder, who proposed in the last meeting that the council prohibit truck parking on private property as well as city streets, said the city needs to "bite the bullet" and do what is best for the town rather than please a few protesters.

Kay Hanks was one of the protesters who said that a person should be able to do what he wants with his private property. Her husband, Bill, is a truck driver who parks his rig at home two or three days out of the month.

Sam Patel, Quality Inn owner, spoke in favor of curtailing parking to make the town more attractive to tourists.

"I deal with people from outside town," he said. "The economic impact of outsiders is quite a bit. They pay bed tax. I try to promote Pecos. When I send people to the museum, they come back and say, `what on earth happened to the town?' It is embarrassing that they are disgusted with the town, with us wanting them to spend money here.

"Your property owners don't care," he said. "Pecos is so far behind other towns. You keep going back to stepping on toes.

"The dollar is powerful. If you get money coming into town, those people won't care because their taxes will be reduced," Patel said.

Considering two proposed ordinances, the council chose to vote on the shorter version that prohibits parking of vehicles over 25 feet long on both public and private property.

Randy Graham and Danny Rodriguez voted for the ordinance, but Gerald Tellez Jr., Johnny Terrazas and Ricky Herrera voted "nay" to defeat it.

The current ordinance prohibits parking vehicles longer than 25 feet on public property. A truck tractor and its trailer are longer than 25 feet. Some of them park on city streets, but many complaints come from those parked in residential areas on vacant lots that are private property.

After much discussion on the proposed Type IV landfill, the council voted to take the first step toward its construction by drilling monitoring wells to determine whether the old Type IV landfill is adding nitrates to the water table.

That project will cost $9,000, unless engineers determine that wells already located in the area can be used.

Roy Knowles of Charter Waste said that the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission requires new wells to be drilled under their direction.

If the landfill is not polluting the water table, the city could qualify for an arid exemption and would not have to line the landfill trench, saving on construction costs.

Knowles said that if the city opens a new landfill near the transfer station, they would be willing to operate it. But if a new location is chosen, it would cost too much for them to operate it.

Jason Payne of Duncan Disposal said that they may have to raise rates at the transfer station if the city does not open a Type IV landfill for construction and demolition debris, tree limbs and other non-petrucible (decaying) waste.

The council adopted two ordinances related to the enterprise zone and tax abatement, approved resolutions establishing rules and policies regarding use of excessive force by law enforcement (a requirement to close out a 1996 grant), agreed to apply for two grants through the Texas Community Development Program, and declared the three unopposed council candidates elected.

Gerald Tellez Jr., Johnny Terrazas and Larry Levario were the only candidates to file for the May 1 election. They will begin new terms with the first council meeting in May. Levario will take the seat currently held by Graham, who chose not to seek re-election.

Tougher penalties eyed for city's gang members

Staff Writer
PECOS, April 8, 1999 -- Juvenile gang members can be prosecuted for organized criminal activity, a felony, if they are arrested on a misdemeanor charge, Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney told the city council this morning.

McKinney said he met with juvenile probation officer Alberto Alvarez and school officials to formulate a plan to combat gangs, and has talked with gang suppression units in the area.

"They said we need a plan, organization and teamwork," McKinney said. "With those three elements, you can make a dent."

He said a 30 percent reduction in gang activity is considered a success.

The four basic areas for gang suppression is law enforcement, aggressive prosecution, schools and parents, he said.

"Law enforcement is where I come into play. They said you need manpower, money, training and information."

For the first step, the police department will rely on existing manpower and has already begun to compile information on individual gang members.

Using a form, officers who stop a juvenile for questioning will document whether he admits to being a gang member, is associated with a gang member, is arrested with a gang member or is stopped in commission of an offense.

If he meets any of those criteria, he is affiliated with a gang, McKinney said.

"If a documented gang member commits a Class B assault, they can pursue the organized crime statue, which is a felony," he said.

The documentation will include name, address, date of birth, pertinent identifying information and a photograph, McKinney said.

Officers will carry the documentation on patrol so they can recognize individual members.

"We have 35 juveniles that have been detained and referred to the detention center that are gang-related activity," he said. "We have a list of all juveniles on administrative probation, supervision or official probation. If they associate with a gang member it is a violation of their probation."

McKinney said he would share information with the sheriff's office and the school district.

"This is just one of the first steps in enforcement," said Ricky Herrera, a member of the gang intervention committee. "From what I have learned, they try to concentrate on enforcement, intervention and prevention. As a community we need to look at what we can do to prevent gangs."

City Attorney Scott Johnson said that gang violence is getting worse.

"Since last council meeting I have had four or five cases involving different gangs - 13-year-olds. This involves baseball bats - physically violent juveniles."

He said prevention needs to start early.

Herrera said that gang activity seems to be more prevalent in middle school grades. Another key element in prevention is getting citizens to report gang activity such as graffiti, he said.

"We need to take a stand on this and not turn the other way," he said. "I think we all play our little role in this."

The council delayed several matters for further study, including an agreement with Frank X. Spencer & Associates for surveying and engineering work on a new water well; interlocal agreement with the county and school district to replace the track surface; permission for seismic survey in the Ward County well field; and tax abatement ordinance with M. Brad Bennett Inc.

Oil suit may delay tax roll certification

Staff Writer
PECOS, April 8, 1999 -- Litigation by the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD and other area taxing jurisdictions could keep the Reeves County Appraisal District from certifying the tax roll this summer, chief appraiser Carol Markham told the board of directors Wednesday.

P-B-T has joined Kermit ISD, Wink-Loving ISD, Fort Stockton ISD and Loving County in a suit against 15 oil companies, claiming they undervalued the price of oil and gas to lower the appraised value.

"They are saying our values are wrong," Markham said.

The oil companies involved have not yet rendered their values for 1999, and the deadline is April 15. Markham fears the suit may interfere with that rendition, with is crucial to the appraisal process.

Markham said that the oil companies paid additional severance tax to the state comptroller's office on the sales price, but "severance tax has nothing to do with property tax."

Severance tax is actual tax on products sold, Markham said. Property tax is based on information available to the appraisal district on Jan. 1, projections into the future, and the best educated guess by appraisal professionals, she said.

Prtichard and Abbott appraise minerals for Reeves County. P&A petroleum engineer Victor Henderson explained the appraisal process to the P-B-T board Tuesday.

The 15 oil companies named in the suit were appraised at $130.7 million for 1998 - 36 percent of the tax roll in Reeves County.

For the P-B-T, which includes part of Ward County, the total appraised value is $137.8 million, or 37 percent of the tax roll.

Markham said that if the oil companies fail to render their property values, her staff "will have serious problems. We certainly don't have the staff and time to go out and appraise each major oil company individually. We count on their renditions. We look at them and we get things settled."

"If these are tied up under protest, we won't have an appraisal roll," Markham told the board. That means none of the taxing entities could assess taxes for 1999.

Paul Ward said that everyone is aware how tough the oil companies have had it.

Hugh Box said that the largest 3-D seismograph project in the country is underway in Reeves County now, with the Mobil-Titan partnership, and a company from California is considering another one.

"I would sure hate for the oil companies to quit paying their taxes," said Brenda McKinney.

Linda Gholson suggested that board members contact the taxing entities they represent and share information so that better decisions can be made.

Bob Card of Card and Company presented the 1997-98 audit, noting that the district had a surplus of $28,000, which can be returned to the taxing entities or restricted for use next year.

The board approved the audit, retained Card & Co. for another year at $2,200, agreed to add $21,000 to the 2000 budget for a new pickup for Markham's use, and authorized her purchase of a cellular telephone.

Markham presented a proposed budget, to be adopted in the next meeting on July 14.

Health Fair plans events for children

Staff Writer
PECOS, April 8, 1999 -- First and second graders will have an opportunity to participate in this year's 12th Annual Reeves County Health Fair, scheduled for Saturday at the Reeves County Hospital.

All first and second graders are encouraged to draw a picture of health. Drawings can be on any type of paper 8-1/2 X 11 or larger. Participants are asked to write their name, grade and teacher's name on back.

Pictures should either be turned in by Friday morning to their teacher, or participants can take them to Reeves County Hospital by 6 p.m. Friday afternoon.

Ideas for the drawing include, jumping rope, healthy heart, brushing teeth, doctor's visit, eye check-up, exercising, nutritious foods and foods to avoid.

Judging will be on Saturday morning. First, second and third place ribbons for each grade will be awarded as well as participant ribbons. Pictures can be picked up between 1-3 p.m.

Balloons, coloring books, 911 demonstration, fingerprinting, free hearing tests, electrical safety display, face painting and more will be offered at the annual event, which will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at various sites around the hospital.

Mineral sales earns $, property just nets ¢

Staff Writer
PECOS, April 8, 1999 -- Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez collected sales proceeds of $119,389 for the county and the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah school district Tuesday in a minerals tax sale on the courthouse steps, but the property tax sale did not fare as well.

Sales proceeds paid delinquent taxes owed primarily by out-of-state mineral owners, who have been delinquent in paying taxes for up to 20 years.

According to Russell N. McInturff, partner with the tax law firm Linebarger, Heard, Goggan, Blair, Graham, Pena and Sampson, LLP, more than 1,350 separate interests owned by 500 people were sold to the highest bidder.

"Most of these interests belonged to people who have not paid taxes owed for many, many years," said McInturff, whose firm represents the county and the school district. "It is an unfair and costly burden to the county and the school districts to maintain these severely delinquent accounts," he said.

Thirteen prospective buyers from Dallas, Tulsa, El Paso and West Texas attended the sale, and all items were sold. In addition to taxes collected, the county received approximately $4,000 in additional revenue as a result of the sale and may be entitled to up to $20,794 in future proceeds for sales amounts received in excess of taxes and court costs.

"Additional future income will be earned, because these previously uncollectable accounts are now owned by known, accountable taxpayers," said McInturff.

Public auction sales have been used commonly by the county as an avenue to collect unpaid taxes on real property. Applying this remedy to mineral properties is relatively new.

"Because of the way mineral properties were originally sold to out-of-state investors back in the 1920's, and because of the fractional splits at each generation since then, we often are dealing with tiny interests, as little as 0.0000001," said McInturff.

"These people are far removed from the needs of the local community as well as from their obligation to pay taxes here," said McInturff. "Reeves County schools and taxpayers will benefit from bringing the county's revenue back into the community."

The delinquent tax property sale only brought in $260.

"We didn't do as well as the minerals sale," said Reeves County Chief Deputy Victor Prieto, who added that only one property was sold out of the 16 or 17 that were listed.

The property that was sold is located at 121 S. Sycamore St.

"They'll be back in auction in July, however, so I'm hoping we'll do better then," said Prieto.

Young nominees sought for cantaloupe pageant

PECOS, April 8, 1999 -- The Women's Division of the Chamber of Commerce is currently taking applications for the 1999 Little Miss Cantaloupe Pageant. The pageant will be held in conjunction with the 1999 Golden Girl Revue on Friday, June 25.

Applicants must be enrolled in the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, and they must have been in kindergarten, first or second grade for the 1998-99 school year.

There is a $25 entry fee. Applications and more detailed information can be picked up at the chamber office, 111 S. Cedar St.

Deadline for entries is Monday, April 26.


AUSTIN (AP) No ticket correctly matched all six numbers drawn Wednesday night for the twice-weekly Lotto Texas game, state lottery officials said. The ticket was worth an estimated $4 million. The numbers drawn Wednesday night from a field of 50 were: 11-12-20-29-45-47. Saturday night's drawing will be worth an estimated $7 million.


AUSTIN (AP) The winning Pick 3 numbers drawn Wednesday by the Texas Lottery, in order: 4-3-9 (four, three, nine)


PECOS, April 8, 1999 -- High Wednesday 97; low last night 67. Tonight, mostly clear. Low near 50. West wind 5-15 mph. Friday, mostly sunny. Windy and warm. High near 90. Southwest wind 20-30 mph.

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Pecos Enterprise
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