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Partnering up with our neighbor

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By Katy Korkos

“We all share a vision for a diversified economy for the region,” said Española Mayor Joseph Maestas, who welcomed a group of more than 50 representatives from northern New Mexico governments and communities to Española’s Misión y Convento on Jan.11 for the kick-off of the Regional Economic Development Initiative.Air and water quality, education, transportation, recreation, laboratory funding, emergency management, workforce development, public health and law enforcement are just a few of the issues that know no political boundaries, and require cooperation among neighbors. The Los Alamos County Council has acknowledged that need through its “Progress through Partnering” initiative, through Los Alamos’ participation in the North Central New Mexico Regional Transit District and through its funding of the Regional Economic Development Initiative. The county has put up $250,000 to create a long-term strategic plan for the entire region through a contract with the Regional Development Corporation.Banding together with our neighbors for more clout on the state level and in Washington has also been a priority for Los Alamos County. Maestas and assistant Los Alamos county administrator Tony Mortillaro traveled together to Washington in November to present a united front to congressmen working on the federal budget, upon which so much of the economy of northern New Mexico depends. “We had tremendous access to each of our representatives, better than we could have gotten on our own,” Maestas said Wednesday.The budget for Los Alamos National Laboratory and lay-offs of employees impact the city of Española and the entire Rio Grande Valley as severely as Los Alamos, affecting real estate prices and property tax revenues.Maestas’ “State of the City 2007” report shows that many of the challenges Española faces are the same as those in Los Alamos. Improving the police station and jail, building courtrooms, water supply and wastewater treatment have all been on Maestas’ to-do list in recent months. He said he believes that his city and the region benefit by the “Progress through Partnering” initiative. He also sees the Energy Communities Alliance as an underused forum for regional issues, and plans to rejoin the Alliance after Española let its membership lapse for several years.“The ECA is a sleeping giant,” he said. “It has a lot of potential to be a voice. It could bring about a sea change in the fate of these communities.”Among Española’s many assets, he listed Northern New Mexico College as a major anchor. The college has expanded to include several baccalaureate programs, in addition to its many certificate programs geared toward preparing students for the workforce. “The successful future of Española and the region will rely heavily on the college,” Maestas said.Maestas is a self-described crusader, and it is that sense that has compelled him to become a candidate for the Public Regulation Commission (PRC). He is running in district 3, which includes Los Alamos. “Socio-economically, people are struggling,” Maestas said. “It’s important to protect the weak.”“I was looking at the PRC, and the work it can do, insulated from special interests. It regulates the telecom industry, utilities, fire protection and utilities. Consumer relations and consumer protection are a high priority.” He added that the maintaining fair and reasonable utility rates, making sure that energy assistance programs are maintained or increased, and pushing to increase alternative sources of energy were major goals of his if elected to the PRC.Maestas had considered a run for the Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Udall, D-NM, but made the decision to stay and finish the job he started out to do in Española. The PRC position would not require that he relinquish the mayor’s job.“It’s a dream of mine (to be a congressman),” Maestas said, “but the congressional campaign could be very demanding. If I won, I would have to step down as mayor.”No matter what, “I’ve been committed to reform, and I’m following through on my commitment.”