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County Commissioners Meeting: Public Works Director retires, UTEP lease at Fabens Airport

PUBLIC WORKS DIRECTOR TO RETIRE

"Bittersweet. Hate to leave. But it's time."

That's what El Paso County Public Works Director Pat Adauto said after being asked how it feels to retire. Monday was Adauto's last County Commissioners meeting as the Public Works Director. She's retiring after spending 40 years in public service, most of those spent with the City of El Paso.

"I'm excited to go into a new chapter of my life, staying home with my family," Adauto told ABC-7.   "I want to do other things," added, laughing as she said, "not work." Adauto said she wants to spend more time with her parents and her mother-in-law, something she said she would do when she retired from the city, but ended up going back to work.

During Monday's meeting, County Judge Veronica Escobar acknowledged Adauto's time with the county, thanking Adauto for stepping in during a time of "strife and challenge" for the department. Escobar joked that people made bets that Adauto won't be able to stay retired. 

She went on to compliment Adauto on her poise and grace, and her ability to turn around a department and implement policies. "El Paso is lucky to have you, and the county has been lucky to have you," Escobar told her. Escobar then walked over to her and handed Adauto pink roses and a hug.

Adauto has faith she will leave the department in good standing. She said the department has been given new responsibilities which speaks highly of the people working there, and added that the community is going in the right direction.

Don't be surprised to see Adauto in the future, though. "I may come back as an ankle biter", she joked.

According to Chief Administrator Betsy Keller, the search is well underway for Adauto's replacement, with staff narrowing down to three top candidates shortly. She hopes to have someone in place by the middle of January.

 

FABENS AIRPORT/ UTEP PARTNERSHIP

"This will be one of those transformative projects for the community." "This is huge for the region." "The sky is the limit."

These were just some of the phrases spouted at Monday's meeting, discussing the partnership with the county and UTEP to bring aerospace development projects to the Fabens Airport. The airport is located just off 1-10 at Fabens exit 49.

Commissioners unanimously agreed Monday on a straight tenant 30-year lease with UTEP that begins April 1, 2017. 

For $1,500 a month, UTEP will get exclusive use of 3.29 acres at the airport, including exclusive use of the existing hangar and other areas for parking that will be shared. The contract is for 10 years, with two 10-year extensions.

The overall plan for UTEP is to add two new facilities to the small airport within six years, including an aerospace and design studio. Even with the plans, the designation as an aviation airport won't change.

Commissioners also said they are looking into getting a new airport fixed-base operator for the airport. A fixed-base operator provides services that planes using the airport need, essentially managing regular day-to-day operations.

Although both the county and UTEP agreed to the contract, the county is now waiting for the Texas Department of Transportation to add a paragraph to the contract before it's finalized. Public Works Director Pat Adauto explained that the Federal Aviation Administration gives the county $150,000 a year to maintain the Fabens Airport. 

Texas Aviation, a department of TxDOT, is the agency that gets the money from the FAA, and distributes it throughout the state. 

In order to protect the county, Texas Aviation wants to add a paragraph ensuring that the funding for the airport won't be affected by anything UTEP does. The added language won't affect the lease terms, said Adauto. 

She added, "What this does is that it brings into play 400 acres of county airport land...and that is huge for the region because it's going to bring Boeing, NASA... think of all of the big aeronautical companies."

Adauto also said the collaboration will bring huge potential for the airport in terms of number of planes, hangars, and people that use it.

Commissioner Vince Perez said this is just the beginning of a partnership that will enable UTEP to conduct research not usually available to students, and give the under-utilized airport additional uses.

"We can't say this will attract thousands of jobs, but it's certainly a building block for a much larger economic development plan," said Perez. "We do these types of arrangements with the goal of creating additional opportunities for students".

Perez added this could attract companies to our region who would otherwise not have been before, and added there could even be opportunities to combine the airport with our ports of entry along the border.

County Judge Veronica Escobar echoes the sentiments of Perez and Adauto. "Hopefully, 10 years from now, we can look back and see this was the beginning of a really great foundation for better jobs in our community, and a way to provide UTEP graduates with opportunities in their own backyard," said Escobar.

"UTEP is producing that talent, but El Paso is just not producing the jobs or luring the companies with those jobs aligned with that talent." Escobar said this is not a short-term win, adding that the partnership won't produce jobs from this year to the next. 

But, Escobar added, "what it does is pursues a vision laid out by UTEP President Diana Natalicio to create a pipeline of students with exceptional skills, in this case in aeronautical engineering, and hopefully lure and attract companies interested in that talent."

When asked if there could be a partnership with the county and Fort Bliss in the future, Escobar said she wouldn't doubt if there is partnerships with federal agencies.

Adauto said there has also been talk of making a UTEP satellite campus near the Fabens airport in the future.

"This is really going to explode our airport, in a good way," said Adauto. 

 

RED SANDS TRESPASSING

County Commissioners were scheduled to discuss restricting access in the Red Sands area Monday, but did not take any action.

Earlier in the month, staff heard concerns from residents living around an old quarry site and unincorporated land often used as a hangout for recreational shooting. Red Sands, the area in question, is just off Montana Avenue east of the Montana Vista colonia.

Last week, Jose Landeros, senior policy advisor for Precinct 3 Commissioner Vince Perez, said people living nearby are finding bullet holes in their homes and blame the recreational shooting that takes place nearby.

The quarry and patches of red sand that give the area its name are not official shooting ranges, but are often used for that purpose as shown by the many shells and casings found on the ground. Red Sands is also a popular destination for off-roading enthusiasts.

In response, Landeros brought up the possibility of placing no trespassing signs on pieces of county land and right-of-ways near the site. The county has limited ability to place restrictions on use of land, unlike zoning and ordinance authority that cities can use.

Monday, Commissioner Vince Perez said there is still work that needs to be done before the county can vote on installing signs, adding that it's been difficult to figure out what land is private and which is owned by the county.

"You want to put the signs where they are visible, and that people who trespass will see them," said Perez.  "It won't make sense to put signs where folks won't see them."

He said there have been meetings with the County Attorney and the Sheriff's Office to identify where the signs would be most effective.

One problem Perez addressed was the growing population out in the county. "As the county becomes more dense, you're having many residents living next to vacant lots," said Perez. "Even though they're vacant, they're private property. Yet people use them for recreational shooting."

He said even if Sheriff's Deputies encounter trespassers shooting recreational,  they can't prosecute unless there is permission from the landowner to prosecute. And since many lots are privately owned, it becomes more difficult to figure out where people can gather.

Another problem is locating all the owners of all the vacant lots. Perez said if you look at a map of the county showing which lots are private and which are public, it looks like a checker board.

Perez said he hopes to have an item finalized by the new year, adding that the safety of residents out in the county is a priority. 

 

UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER BONDS

On Monday, County Commissioners authorized University Medical Center to refinance the bonds issued for the construction of El Paso Children's Hospital. 

County Judge Veronica Escobar said the chance to refinance will amount to $5 million in savings. She likened it to when you refinance a car or a home at a cheaper rate. 

If all goes as planned, Escobar said the bonds will be paid off more cheaply.

 

ANIMAL SERVICES UPDATE

County Commissioners Monday unanimously approved to allow the El Paso County Sheriff's Office to provide animal control services to the municipalities of Clint, Anthony, San Elizario and Socorro. Prior, the City of El Paso provided services to those areas.

The item came about after the City requested a new contract with the county for the services provided. The contract is for the housing of animals picked up or turned in from unincorporated areas of the county. 

Depending on the animal, a flat fee will be charged per animal for housing, feeding, ear tipping, spay/neuter procedure, and euthanasia. 

The contract, costing the county about $219,700, allows for the City of El Paso to bill the municipalities. The contract also allows the Sheriff's Office to use city facilities, and the Socorro spay and neuter facility.

There was some hesitation from County Judge Veronica Escobar at first when the court learned that the fee per animal had risen 35 percent since last year, from about $85 per animal to a little over $100. 

The cost rise by the City was attributed to the impound processing fee and daily handling fee. The difference accounts for twice-a-day feeding and additional care. 

Sgt. Robert Rojas with the Sheriff's Office said the contract allows for Sheriff Richard Wiles' plan to euthanize less animals.

He said the department is also trying to better response times and the ability to investigate allegations. A big problem is education though, said Sgt. Rojas.

"People don't understand the laws. Once you read it and see what you can do, many people comply," said Rojas. 

In October of this year, Commissioners Court voted unanimously to approve a new set of county-wide animal regulations with the hope of reducing the number of feral animals and rabies cases. 

The new regulations, which went into effect in November, require pet owners to register cats or dogs with the county or the municipality they live in. It does not impact El Paso pet owners already subject to city regulations and ordinances.

Registration fees for providing that service go towards reducing the feral animal population with spay/neuter and release programs, with the hope to be more in line with the City of El Paso's mission of becoming a "no-kill" city.

The ownership of "dangerous wild animals" like coyotes, wolves, and bobcats is also be prohibited under the new ordinance.


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