LCDC Board Meeting July 28th

With budget season coming into full swing, the LCDC sat down last night for their regular meeting to get updates on recent projects and perform a budget workshop. Both the LCDC and the LEDC boards are busy wrapping up their budgets for the Monday night City Council Meeting, wherein revised budgets and tax rates will be looked over. The LCDC, like the city is keeping most funds in cash accounts as that is where the interest rates are best at the moment. Currently, there are $760,000 funds attributed to the board. Retail food is trending up at the moment, followed slightly slower by Industry and Services, which are both recovering well after the pandemic. Sales Tax, according to the board is trending even higher than the 2018-2019 numbers. They say projections are conservative at the moment, but are looking promising. In this meeting the board heard from Dustin Reichelt with the parks department on their recent projects. The George Price playground is complete and is open to the public. The playground has been open for a couple of months, and the last thing needing to be slightly tweaked is the irrigation system. All 13 playgrounds in town are now updated and have a 25 year lifespan, with the oldest one being 6 ½. City Park’s irrigation set up is almost finished and running, and the playgrounds there are complete. They are waiting to open the playgrounds to the public, however as there is still some construction to be done on the pavilions. That construction should begin next week, and is expected to be short term. New restrooms have not been started just yet, and the basketball court is currently under construction. New trees have been ordered for the park, and will be planted around October with a ribbon cutting coming this Fall.

When going over possible projects, the board seemed to have many options. There was talk of adding ADA compliant fishing docks on the lakes, adding lighting for the soccer fields, benches and tables in the parks, as well as paving walking trails. One project stood out among the rest, despite its long term nature: phase two of the Oxy Sports Complex. The Oxy Complex was the LCDC’s first large scale project, and phase two would add another four baseball fields, with one of them being a full sized field that would allow up to college level of play. It is projected that phase two is around 3 years out, but plans are being tossed around now. The other item that was discussed rather heavily was that of City Park. The board wanted to ensure that even with a large scale project like the Oxy on the horizon, that they didn’t abandon City Park. When moving forward with planning, they plan to be very adamant about the park having a funding mechanism.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Levelland City Council Finishes Preliminary Budget

With the end of the fiscal year fast approaching, City Council have been hard at work analyzing the proposed budget city staff have drafted. There’s a great deal on there minds at present, as the Fire department, Police Department, Inspection department and more have need of more employees. Last night was one of many budget workshops the city held, and the last of the preliminary meetings. We heard from Mary Siders of the Chamber of Commerce, who presented the current state of the hotel occupancy taxes. These funds understandably took a major hit during COVID. The current hotel occupancy tax is 13%, 6% of which goes to the federal government, and 7% stays local. Siders made it clear they were not asking for an increase to the occupancy tax, just that their budget for the year remain the same. They are not exempt from the staffing shortage, but have made some changes to make things more efficient. At least one full time position has been split into two part time positions to cover more ground, and the Chamber’s contract with the city states they must keep at least 3 employees in the office. Finally Siders planted the seeds for a hopeful revival of many of our city Mosaics. She realized this was a year of recovery, but nonetheless wanted to start the conversation now to get the ball rolling.

Next we heard from Dustin Reichelt who oversees city parks, the Cemetery as well as the city pool. The cemetery budget hasn’t had too much change this year, but the biggest difference will be an upgrade to irrigation systems, as the current system is 20 years old. Additionally, the city is almost prepared to go out for bids for the seal coat procedure for the west side of the cemetery. They are asking for an increase in the machinery portion of the budget to keep up with maintenance and expand the life of their 2012 model backhoe used for digging graves. Reichelt informed the council that plots at the cemetery cost about $600 and have not fluctuated in quite some time. He also told them the cemetery has approximately 20 years worth of space left, with room and land to expand. As for the city pool, it had a very strong season this year, despite the issues that needed repairing in the beginning. The pool had been dormant for two winters which brought some unexpected maintenance problems, but Reichelt reminded the council that the pool is now 35 years old. When concerns about the pool failing were aired, City manager Eric Rejino stated that there would be a significant portion of freed funds this year and that the city would have the potential to look at a few projects, one of which could be a new pool.

HR had a bit of the spotlight last night as a hot topic for the council these last two meetings has been the car allotment provided to city hall employees. HR Director Melissa Allgeyer was present to weigh in on the possibility of the city being held liable in the case of an employee’s personal vehicle being involved in an auto accident. She said she’s been in talks with the city’s liability carrier about those possibilities, but didn’t have an exact answer just yet. There was a concern that if there weren’t enough pool cars to meet demand, who would take precedent over the available vehicles. The problem the council has with the car allotment is that everyone gets a flat allotment for using their own personal vehicle, but some employees use their vehicles for the job more than others. After a period of discussion, the issue was ultimately tabled until next session.

In the case of Police special funds, Police Chief Garcia had some interesting information. When the police department seizes funds in an arrest, they can utilize those funds for the department, but only for very specific things. In the past they’ve upgraded communication infrastructure with it, and have plans to purchase a new K-9 unit with it soon. But the department is currently awaiting the dispersal of hundreds of thousands of federally seized funds back to the department, and the federal government is holding up the process. Funds were originally delayed under the Obama Administration, and neither president since have expedited the dispersal of these funds. Chief Garcia has talked with various people and entities within the federal government about receiving those funds, but until further notice it’s merely a waiting game.

With the entire budget being finished on this preliminary reading, now the city staff have to revise according to the Council’s specifications. Another budget workshop and tax rate meeting will be on Monday, August 2nd.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Levelland City council Meeting – July 27th

Last night the city had their regular meeting, with an added budget workshop, making it the second large scale meeting the Council had that day. Earlier in the day, they held a joint meeting with the Hockley county Commissioner’s Court over an agreement for Fire Suppression services, it was the first meeting of its kind to be held between the two entities. As the morning faded into afternoon, however it was time to cover city business. This regular meeting saw the council going over the event application for the Levelland Mainstreet’s Saturday Shop the Square event going on August 7th. Mainstreet Coordinator Tania Moody explained that while it was originally ice cream themed, the “Whats the Scoop” event has now been shifted to the “Blue and You” Event to support our law enforcement agencies. Slated to be the biggest Saturday Shop the Square event to date, there was even a request to close off two blocks around the square similar to the Sip and Swirl Event. This event boasts live music provided by Rusty Hudelson and John Hartin, a street dance, a Levelland ISD rally in which you’ll be able to meet the new A.D, Board members and more, as well as a licensed beer truck and a “Blue and You” candle light vigil to honor our first responders. While the inclusion of alcohol made some board members nervous, the event application was approved.

The largest portion of the meeting came from the board’s budget workshop. A minor debate broke out about which was more efficient: to give City Hall employees a “car allotment” as compensation for using their own personal vehicles at work, or to purchase a few “Pool cars” to be used by city staff. In addition to those vehicle concerns, it was revealed that the Police Department’s Leasing plan for their cruiser fleet was in the works, but nothing was finalized. The floor was handed over to Chief Garcia once again to speak a bit about budget cuts. He acknowledged that while he has never had his budget directly cut, any time there was a city-wide budget slash, his department ultimately would pay the price. Chief once again stressed the importance of more staffing, as they were already short staffed before the events of july 15th. After wards Officer Shawn Wilson is still in the hospital. On top of that, Chief says several officers have been taking time off to regain composure so they may return to work, which leaves them even more short handed. When he seemed at a loss, the council stepped in and gave him their word and commitment that they would do what they needed to to find room in the budget for more officers for his department. A task force was proposed to sit down with the chief and go through the budget line by line if need be and find the places room could be made.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hockley County Commissioner’s Court Joint Meeting with Levelland City Council

The Hockley County Courtroom was packed this morning with citizens who wanted to participate in or be privy to the first joint meeting between the Hockley County Commissioner’s Court and the Levelland City Council. With both groups seated at their tables, and the crowd eagerly waiting to hear the proceedings, the meeting came to a start. The Commissioner’s Court had a few items on the agenda before the City Council: two presentations by Sheriff Ray Scifres, and DA Angela Overman. The Sheriff began his presentation as a budget amendment. In the past, the Hockley County Sheriff’s Office has been very good with their budget, even returning a percentage of it each year. However, with the events of July 15th fresh on everyone’s mind, the Sheriff thought it important to bring attention to what repercussions that event had on our county Jail. Scifres informed us that there were currently 4 people in his custody that had been charged with Capital Murder, and that violent crime was sharply on the rise. It costs approx. $74.16 per day to house one of these particular inmates, and the average length of stay in their facility for these offenders is 554 days. It costs $164,000 to house them in that facility, not counting medical expenses. Their current facility is a 64 bed facility, but the average population is closer to 72, and that the overflow has to be housed outside of the county in other facilities at an alarming rate. He explains that his department out grew that facility a decade ago. The Sheriff said that he has only 18 people to assign to the jail, and that it required 3 people for staffing per shift, but he said this often leaves them short handed. If a fight breaks out, or any other situation occurs, they need more staff on duty to perform their tasks. “They are tired,” Sheriff Scifres said, “My staff don’t feel safe.” There have been over 160 calls for maintenance to that facility this year alone, and the plumbing has been a problem for far too long. “This is about public safety and being able to do the job we are tasked with doing.” the Sheriff said. In the end, it seems like the HSO is having the same issue as other agencies around the area: staffing shortage. To really hit home that the office needed more resources, Sheriff Scifres pulled out a single .22 round and showed the courtroom. “10 days ago, someone sent a very clear message of what they thought of our personnel. What message will you send your personnel today?”

After a heavy silence, District Attorney Angela Overman approached the podium to move forward with her presentation. She echoed many of the same points Sheriff Scifres had made, harping on the importance of law enforcement and that she, too had seen an uptick in violent crimes coming through her office. She then informed us that a Capital Murder trial, like the one that will be held for alleged shooter Omar Soto-Chavira in the death of SWAT Sgt. Josh Bartlett, start out around $800,000 and can increase to upwards of $1.8 million. “There’s no price on a human life, and no price on Justice” she continued. She insured us that she will be seeking the death penalty for Chavira, but these cases take time and lots of resources. She, too has asked for a part-time DA, or a full time secretary, or some other form of assistance. In this effort she has reached out to the Attorney General’s office, who has corresponded with her. She also is putting together a prosecution team for the case, but most help will be coming from out of the county. The defense is entitled to a great deal of resources that Overman’s office must provide including body cam footage, personnel rosters, etc. which can be quite time consuming to procure. “Crime has increased, but our resources have not,” she said.

With both presentations for the Commissioner’s Court out of the way, they and the City Council began discussions about the proposed fire suppression agreement. As it stands, the county has “purchased” 200 runs a year from the Levelland Fire Department to help cover out of city fires in the county. This came at a cost of $175,000 a year, and this agreement is in place until September 30th. However, that particular agreement is set to expire, and upon renewal the City Council has increased the asking price to $200,000 per year. However, the county had not reached its 200 run limit the past two years, with last year only racking up 174 runs. When questioned where the extra money went at the end of the year, the council explained that it went towards things like upgrading of equipment to improve the service they provided to the county. The Levelland Fire Department just went over their budget with council a few weeks ago, in which the largest thing Fire Chief Durham requested was more full time firefighters. The question became: would it be fairer to charge the county per run, but the city council did not have the figures for exactly how much that would cost. Ultimately nothing was finalized and another meeting must be set. Both parties were sure to assure the people present that no matter what happened, if they were still in talks for an agreement, Mutual Aid would still be provided, so the County would not be left without fire suppression support, and the current agreement stands until September 30th.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Funeral Service for Josh Bartlett of LSO SWAT Team

Friday brought an end to a long and arduous week for families and Law Enforcement Agencies across the South Plains. The funeral and interment for Lubbock County SWAT Sgt. Josh Bartlett marked a point where hopefully the area could put the sad event behind them and begin to heal. The funeral began at 10AM at Trinity church on Canton Ave. then the procession moved across town to Resthaven Memorial Garden for an Honor Ceremony celebrating Bartlett’s 9 years of service to Lubbock County, as well as his two tours in Iraq with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. Citizens and officers alike flocked to the Garden by the hundreds to pay homage to a true hero. His paul bearers were his brothers in blue on the SWAT team for the Lubbock County Sherriff’s Office. A 21 gun salute was given, and his end of watch was given by the Sherriff’s Office as well. Finally, flags were awarded to the grieving family as the colors of the United States Flag flew over him one final time. The outpouring of support from the community cannot be overstated, and the sheer number of people present showed just how deep our West Texas Blood runs, and how many lives Josh Bartlett touched in his life time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Alleged Levelland Shooter Faces Federal Charges: No Bond Set

The fallout from last Thursday’s deadly standoff with police in Levelland continues as the alleged shooter Omar Soto-Chavira federally charged with assaulting a federal officer, as well as the states charge of Capital Murder. Chavira is being charged with Capital Murder in the death of Lubbock Swat Team Lead Josh Bartlett, who was shot in the neck in last weeks standoff. Four other officers, including Levelland PD’s own Shawn Wilson were injured and taken to UMC in Lubbock for treatment. Chavira has previously been in trouble with the law, but was bonded out twice before. Both bonds were taken care of in June of this year, one for $2,500.00 for assault causing bodily harm to a family member, and another time for bonds totaling $66,000 for various charges including Assault with a deadly weapon, continuous violence against a family member, and resisting arrest. According to the Hockley County Sherriff’s Office he was released the second time on July 11th, a mere four days before the shooting that gripped the state. There was a bit of an uproar when word hit the street that Chavira had been issued a $500,000 bond, but that was for the state’s charge. Were he to even post bond, he’d immediately be transferred to federal custody, where he would be held without bond according to Acting US Attorney Prerak Shah. If convicted of the federal charge, Chavira faces up to 20 years in federal prison, and he faces the Death Penalty for the State’s charge, and Assistant US Attorney Sean Long is prosecuting this case. One thing remains certain, Chavira isn’t going anywhere until his trial is complete, and the federal government will do their due diligence to see justice be done.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Prayer for Levelland PD Shift Change

There’s some things that small town Texas really evokes, and one of those is a strong sense of community. At 5:30 PM on Wednesday, July 21st Levelland came together from all walks of life to show that West Texas Community Strength. After the deadly standoff in town last Thursday, our officers are exhausted physically and mentally, but a community led prayer vigil let them know that we still had their backs, and appreciate everything they do for us. A group of civilians, led in prayer by Pastor Lacy of First Assembly church gathered at the Levelland Law Enforcement Center to pray for officers during their evening shift change. Chief Garcia spoke out to the crowd, telling them how much his officers and he needed the support, and to be lifted up. He thanked everyone for showing up, and even got a bit emotional when speaking about the tough week ahead. The funeral for slain SWAT Team Leader Josh Bartlett, who was killed in the standoff last Thursday, is on Friday. Many from Levelland will be in attendance to pay honors to the officer as he fought for their community as if it were his own. Sgt. Shawn Wilson, of Levelland PD also received severe injuries from that incident, but is recovering in UMC. Chief Garcia tells us he was moved out of ICU, and is beginning to gain feeling back in his body. He suspects that by the end of the week, or early next week Sgt. Wilson will be moved to a separate hospital to begin physical therapy. Though we as every day citizens can rest knowing the event is over, for many officers and their families, the fight continues. The community is key in helping them press on, and the Officers of Levelland PD and Hockley County Sheriff’s office know, we’ve got their six.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Morton BBQ Leads to Three Injured in Accidental Shooting

A BBQ celebration in Morton led to 3 people injured from gunshot wounds on Saturday, according to the Cochran County Sheriffs Office. Around Midnight on Saturday, Cochran County Sherriff’s deputies responded to a call of injured individuals and shots fired. They report that one individual was intoxicated showing off a firearm, when another intoxicated individual tried to get possession of it. The gun went off, sending a round through one persons hand, grazing another person’s finger, and fracturing a third individual’s leg. The gun was not fired maliciously, and is being ruled an accident.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Deadly 9 Hour Police standoff in Levelland Leaves one SWAT member dead, 4 officers injured

A deadly standoff yesterday in Levelland left 4 officers injured and one Lubbock officer dead. Around 1:12 pm yesterday Levelland PD officers responded to a call about a subject, possibly armed, acting erratically. When officers arrived on scene, that situation escalated and shots were fired. The subject retreated to their home and barricaded themselves inside. Lubbock SWAT responded quickly, and was quickly followed by other agencies. ATF, US Marshals, Homeland Security, Secret Service, Levelland and Lubbock PD’s as well as Hockley and Lubbock County Sherriffs Offices were all present before the situation was resolved. After a tense 10 hour standoff, the subject was finally apprehended when power was cut to the residence and chemical gas was introduced. The subject, identified by Levelland PD Chief Garcia as 22 year old Omar Chavira was slightly injured upon his aprehension, and was transported to Lubbock in police custody to be treated. Nothing was solidified but Lubbock Sherriff Kelly Rowe stated they would most likely be pursuing the charge of Capital Murder.

Of the 4 officers that were injured, one was transported to Levelland Covenant Medical Center, the rest were transported to UMC in Lubbock, two by ground, and one was airlifted. The slain officer was Lubbock SWAT Commander-sergeant Josh Bartlett. The event garnered national media attention, as well as several statements from state and national representatives. Congressman Jody Arrington had this to say in a statement: “I ask the people of West Texas to pray for the family of Sgt. Josh Bartlett of the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office, who was tragically killed in the line of duty today. May God bless all the victims of today’s shooting, their families, and our community at this difficult time.” Lubbock County Judge Curtis Parrish said that all flags at Lubbock County buildings would be lowered to half staff in honor of Sgt. Bartlett, who leaves behind a wife and three children.

Levelland Mayor, Barbra Penner released this statement earlier this morning:”On behalf of the City of Levelland, I want to extend our deepest gratitude to the Levelland Police Department, Hockley County Sheriff’s Office, Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office, Lubbock Police Department, SPC Police Department, City of Levelland Public Works employees and the many regional, state and federal law enforcement professionals that responded to our community during yesterday’s dangerous stand-off. We are reminded that those who protect us daily run toward the danger while getting the rest of us out of harm’s way.

To those officers who were injured, we are grateful for your service to our citizens and we send prayers for healing.

Finally, to the family of fallen Lubbock County S.W.A.T. Commander, Sgt. Josh Bartlett, you have our heartfelt condolences. He leaves this world as a hero. Though your loss is unimaginable, please know his sacrifice will never be forgotten.

To our citizens, please join me in lifting up our first responders and the family of Sgt. Bartlett in prayer.”

Barbra Pinner

Mayor, City of Levelland

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

City of Levelland Budget Meeting July 13th

Levelland City Council had one of many budget workshops to come last night in City Hall. They heard from several department heads including Joe Shedd of the Code Enforcement Department, which is asking for a significant increase in budget due to current projects the City has underway. A $25k increase was requested for required demolitions throughout the city, which the city just wrapped up public hearings on the other night. Shedd stated that it wasn’t simply demolition jobs, but these crews were going in to clean up the entire property, removing tree stumps, etc. so it can be properly sold. Additionally, he asked for a $7k increase to help alleviate the strain from hiring mowers for various properties around town. With the heavy rainfall we’ve had lately, the department has been stretched thin, as highlighted by the slight changes to their policy on citations regarding weed offenses. This small increase would not be that big of a stretch, however as the city has collected approx. that amount in weed cutting fees from residents already this year. With the work load stacking up, the Code enforcement started what would become part of almost every department heads presentation that night: more staff. Shedd stated he was looking to hire one more full time person for his department to alleviate some of the workload.

Tania Moody and the Mainstreet Program asked for a slight increase on their budget this year, but she explained that was due to her chasing her accreditation as a Mainstreet Coordinator, as well as catching up with software. She also reminded us that the last budget was slightly skewed as well, since many events the Mainstreet Program would have put on could not go on due to the COVID Pandemic. So far Moody has seen great Success with Saturday Shop the Square, of which there is one remaining. She also estimates around 700 people were present for the Sip and Swirl event in June.

Fire Chief Durham made a presentation on behalf of the fire department last night as well, detailing several small changes he would like to make. As far as capital, all Chief Durham was asking for was to replace their old Jaws rescue unit from 2001. For many years, the Department tried to replace four air packs a year, as they would all be out of code by the mid 20’s, however when COVID impacted the community, departments tried to cut back to conserve resources. Unfortunately this means they fell behind their air pack replacement schedule, and are asking for an increase in funds to bring them back to code. The biggest request Chief Durham made, however was for more staff. With the city growing in population and in the number of structures, he estimates that more staffing was becoming vital. In their recent ISO evaluation, Levelland Fire Dept. scored in the 30-percentile, listing them as deficient in staffing for the amount of calls and population they serve.

Finally, Police Chief Garcia gave his presentation as well as some statistics on how many calls his department services in a year. He informed the Council that there were three police cruisers that had particularly been troublesome, going into the shop an estimated 2-3 times per year, with a significant repair bill each time. PD had been trying to replace 3 vehicles a year in order to update their fleet, but they’ve been slowing down and reanalyzing their department so they can hopefully free up enough resources to get some more officers on the force. Levelland PD serviced more than 25 thousand calls in 2020 with 24 officers. Chief Garcia knows that hiring four more officers is not feasible, so they’ve set their goal for making room for one more officer to help in the busier shift of the day. To that end, Chief has been discussing with other Police Departments about how they operate, and found that his officers would be more happy partnering up as far as squad vehicles go, if it meant they could have more officers in the force. Under this system, instead of every officer getting a cruiser, they would partner with another officer and essentially take shifts with the service vehicle, ultimately reducing the size of the fleet. Nothing was finalized but chief Garcia is committed to doing whatever he can to help facilitate another officer joining the department.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment