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Mayor Ortega Talks Big Plans for Questa

Mayor John Anthony Ortega delivered a “State of The Village” address on the first of April and talked about big plans that his administration has for Questa communities from infrastructure work and water systems to sewer lines, library expansions, and green hydrogen. The Council Chambers was full of people in anticipation of the Mayor’s address.

“The reason that we did this tonight is because April 1 marks two milestones,” Mayor Ortega began. “Two years ago I was sworn in as the Mayor, Councilwoman [Louise] Gallegos was sworn in to her fifth term on the Council, Councilman Jason Gonzalez was sworn in to his first, and Councilwoman Katrina Gonales was sworn in to the remainder of my term. Next, today is the day one year ago, which we brought the Questa Police Department back to the Village.”

The recognition of the QPD’s revival brought applause from the audience. It was also a key campaign issue for Mayor Ortega when he ran for the office in 2021. The Village now has three certified police officers.

“Traffic is no longer going 75 mph through town unless they’re the police chasing somebody chasing somebody like they were two nights ago,” chuckled the Mayor in reference to a high-speed chase through Questa last week. “There was somebody on the run from Taos, Taos County Sheriff’s Department was chasing them down, [Officer Travis Wilder] was able to stop that person. That person had been wanted for a few days in Taos and was doing some bad things there.”

Mayor Ortega continued with some data points from the Questa Police Department in 2023.
• 22 arrests for narcotics, domestic violence, and other felonies and misdemeanors.
• 600 traffic stops.
• 11 arrests for DWI’s.

“I think those are pretty good numbers for a year,” said the Mayor. “I know everything isn’t perfect, I know we still have our problems but we’re working on it.”

Mayor Ortega hopes to encourage everyone to do their part in helping the police by staying vigilant and calling to report any potentially suspicious or criminal activity at their non-emergency line at (575) 586-1196 or (575) 586-0787. Any urgent or emergent incidents should be reported by dialing 911.

“We can’t expect our officers to arrest criminals if they don’t have the calls coming into them,” urged the Mayor. “Please call and report it. . . . I have not had a single complaint from anyone about our officers not responding to a call yet. . . . If you call and report it, they will show up.”

The Mayor then moved on to Questa Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) who responded to 603 calls in 2023. As of March 25 of this year they have responded to 143 calls.

“Those are record numbers for our Fire and EMS Department,” said the Mayor.

Questa Fire and EMS cover an area from Amalia in the north, San Cristobal in the south, and the old Chevron mine in the east; they also serve on-call with agencies in the Town of Red River as well as Taos County.

He then spoke about the public library.
“The Questa Library [in 2023] had 5,907 patron visits.

Applause from the audience.

“I’m always impressed that a small town like Questa can have the library that we do,” said the Mayor. “And that is due to the hard work of Sharon [Nicholson] and her staff.”

Last year, the Questa Library was open for a total of 1,629 hours, issued 88 new library cards, and logged about 189 volunteer hours.

The next topic was the Questa Utilities Department.

“We have 4 people in our Utilities Department,” said the Mayor, “and they work very hard doing water, sewer, airport, weeds, we have a good staff out there.” The Mayor understands that roads throughout Questa are not the best but wants to assure everyone that the Utilities staff is doing all they can to maintain our roads the best they can.

One significant accomplishment of Mayor Ortega’s administation is the deal with New Mexico’s Office of the State Engineer (OSE) to forgive the water debt that the Village owed due to an over-divergence of water from our wells.

Read about the Village’s water debt forgiveness here:
Instead of paying the water debt in full, the OSE retroactively credited the Village with the amount of water that has been returning to the Red River via Chevron’s water treatment. The Village continues to work with Chevron to procure more water rights.

Mayor Ortega then moved on to the final topic, projects and infrastructure.

Village Clerk Valerie Vigil and Village Project Manager Jake Lafore helped to secure a $50,000 grant for a new comprehensive plan which will be getting started this month and hopefully done by the fall season.
The Village received $40,000 in capital outlay last year for a skate park for our youth which will be enough for the planning and design phase. The Village is looking to place the skate park behind the current Municipal Park.

Additionally, the project to replace the Llano Bridge on Lower Embargo Road has been fully funded for a replacement.The project to improve Shirley Drive has been fully funded.

The project for repairs to Cabresto Road is 2/3 of the way funded. The project was designed in three phases, only two of which have been fully funded; it needs an additional $900,000. The project for repairs to Embargo road is partially funded for planning and design and will need an additional $2.68 million. The projects to improve Lower Embargo Road and Old Llama Road are not currently funded.

The Village has a total of $1.8 million for new sewer lines that will go along Gallegos Road and $350,000 for a new water well. These grant-funded projects will hopefully be done within the next two years. The Village has also hired an engineer to assess all the roads within the Village.

The Village received $1.8 million from the Water Trust Board for a new water well. A new well will help the Village increase efficiency with water usage and will hopefully be under construction next spring.
The Village has $130,000 for planning and design of a new wastewater treatment facility.

The Village is planning a 3,000-4,000 square-foot expansion to the Taos Bakes building costing $1.5 million and will hopefully be done this summer. Further improvements to the Questa Library and the Municipal Park are also in the works for this summer.

The Village is planning to rebuild the cafeteria of the old La Cienega school, converting it into a new senior center and apparently the gym can still be salvaged, but much of that old school is contaminated with asbestos and lead paint and set for demolition.

“Those are all the projects currently in the works,” said the Mayor.

Future projects include animal control for which the Village currently has $75,000 and a new fire department building for which the Village has million dollars but needs about another $5.5 million.
The green hydrogen project is still preliminary. Mayor Ortega estimates it to be a long-term, 5-10 year project, but he assures high-paying jobs for the community when that gets off the ground.
A recording of the “State of The Village” address can be at Questa del Rio News Facebook page.