A week after Mayor Mark Gallegos lost his re-election bid by just thirty votes to his opponent, Councilor John Anthony Ortega, the Questa del Rio News sat with the outgoing mayor inside the El Monte Carlo Bar and Grill (owned by Mark Gallegos) to discuss his hopes for Questa’s future.
“…thirty votes is a tough pill to swallow for sure, but there is humility that I have to absorb and take in,” opined Gallegos. “I’ve been very fortunate for eighteen years to serve the community – ten years of City Council and then to roll over into eight years of being Mayor gave me an opportunity to serve the community as best I could and see some projects come through and see some projects that get to be completed in the next Mayor’s tenure.”
The Questa News asked Gallegos about the Mayor-elect’s preparedness for the office
“…everybody learns in different ways,” said Gallegos. “Some people learn how things work by observation and some people learn by application, they have to have their hands in the mud getting dirty…I’m confident that John Ortega has been able to have the ability to know that…carrying on the duties as Mayor, it’s challenging. You can’t say that anyone is going to be prepared for it because something might be thrown in that you’re not prepared for. Eight years ago I wasn’t prepared for the mine to close, I wasn’t prepared to change the identity of the Village of Questa and who we’re gonna be for the next four years or the next forty years. Nobody plans that so you have to be capable of adjusting to whatever the needs are that come forth. . . . Mayors have to be prepared for anything that gets thrown at them.”
The Questa News then inquired about Mayor Gallegos’ hopes for the start of the new mayoral administration. “There’s projects in place that I think the Mayor can knock out of the park by the hard work that was done, him included, and all the Council members as a whole that have gotten those to be shovel-ready projects or projects ready to be completed this year. I believe there are probably two or three projects that can be accomplished this year that will definitely give the Mayor momentum and confidence to move forward.”
“What projects?” the Questa News asked.
“…the project that everyone has concerns about is Upper Cabresto Road getting paved,” Gallegos responded. “That project has been anticipated to get done over the past three years…we couldn’t pave it because we wanted to make sure we had a brand new water system, a sewer system. So we put those in first so that when we do pave it, we won’t have to disturb the paving thereafter. We have a project that’s in the process of getting engineered that will be a turn-key project by late fall for river restoration. That’s about a $1.5 million project. We have another sewer extension for folks that are living in the wetlands near Red River, to tie those people into the village infrastructure. That’s another million dollar project. There’s a couple of additional projects that might come down the pipeline as far as bridge rehabilitation off of Lower Embargo Road. So, like I said, there’s projects that have already been put in place that are shovel-ready or close to shovel-ready…so that the Mayor and his new Council will have the ability to get those completed.”
Mayor Gallegos expressed gratitude that his administration received $1.5 million from the state government to extend the Questa Business Park where Taos Bakes is renting space. “That extension will probably bring in five to ten more jobs.”
“There are some projects and funding sources that we’ve been working on for a few years to come to fruition and it’s just a matter of turning the switch one more click and getting it done,” said Gallegos.
The Questa News then shifted to the subject of law enforcement in Questa, arguably a top issue for voters this recent cycle. “Statistically crime has been down over the past two, three years,” said Gallegos. “We did have a full law enforcement…My chief resigned and his officers followed suit. We did not get rid of the department, we did not want to get rid of the chief, they chose willingly to step down from their positions and seek other job opportunities. It put us in a pickle to enter into this contract with the County. So maybe there has been some lapse in the calls where the County officers aren’t able to get here within ten minutes, five minutes, but it’s a good security blanket for Mayor Ortega to have while he’s seeking the Police Chief and developing his budget for law enforcement.”
“There’s gonna be some money that will facilitate how they’re gonna create the budget for law enforcement,” Gallegos continued on the subject of the village budget. “But it’s important that, if the community wants 24/7 coverage, it’s either gonna be still a partnership with County and State for the hours that aren’t covered by whatever law enforcement Mayor Ortega has.”
Gallegos expressed concern over the law enforcement marketplace. “I just haven’t seen unemployed law enforcement officers… It’s not a career where there’s a high number of people to pick from. You’re gonna have to basically challenge rates of pay from other agencies whether it’s County or State or other municipalities that offer the same amount of money or maybe a little more to recruit people.”
Mayor Gallegos explained that some challenges that his administration has faced over the past year regarding law enforcement and crime was organizing the village budget. “Those are things that I’m assuming Mayor Ortega has already put in place to make those promises,” referring to Ortega’s campaign promises to bring back Questa’s police department. “There’s a lot of different variables that still have to be discussed through his administration.”
During the campaign, there was confusion among voters about why the Village of Questa needed to have a contract with the Taos County Sheriff’s Office at all since Questa is still inside Taos County and under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff anyway. Gallegos explained that the contract is to ensure dedicated patrols from the Sheriff and his deputies here in Questa. Without the contract, the Sheriff would only be obligated to come to Questa when they get calls which means their presence in Questa would be even less frequent.
“The idea originally was to pay $200,000 to have three dedicated law enforcement officers patrolling Questa,” said Gallegos. “Unfortunately the Sheriff had a drop in his numbers… He lost some officers so he had to spread his remaining officers thinner. Maybe [Questa] shouldn’t have to pay them but then they’re only gonna respond when they get a call. They’re respective jurisdiction is not the Village of Questa. They’re here to assist the Village but we’re our own municipality so we should respectfully have our own law enforcement.”
According to Gallegos, the Village’s contract with the Taos County Sheriff’s Office is supposed to create an even greater priority for the Sheriff to cover Questa more regularly rather than just when they get calls.
“I think having a law enforcement presence will deter a little bit of the crime,” said Gallegos when pressed on the effectiveness of law enforcement. “But the criminals are still going to break in, they’re still going to vandalize people’s property. The biggest task is incarceration and keeping them in jail…State statutes don’t allow anybody to stay in jail for longer than 24-48 hours especially if you’re not a violent individual… Before the ink even dries on officers’ reports criminals are back out, it almost makes it look like our officers didn’t do their job…It’s up to our judges, it’s up to the DA’s office, to make sure all this stuff is in line so that these people can stay in jail. If it’s a revolving door, they don’t care, those criminals don’t care…Only time will tell if a new police department will help.”