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Sol Traverso/Taos News

In a town hall held via Zoom on Jan. 7, Pascualito Maestas, held questions and discussed his campaign platform for mayor of the Town of Taos.

The race for Taos mayor is on, and one candidate, town councilman Pascualito Maestas, kicked off his first online town hall on Friday (Jan. 7) at 5:30 p.m.

The hourlong town hall explored issues like affordable housing, renewable energy, tourism, a town detox center, renewable energy and the Taos Regional Airport. 

Maestas began the town hall with a brief introduction about his background. His parents were from Taos but moved around during his childhood. He was honorably discharged from the Navy and earned a degree in international studies and economics from the University of Florida. He then moved back to Taos and worked at the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. He later worked as a math and economics teacher at Taos High School. He was elected to the Town of Taos Council in 2018 and in 2020 he won a seat on the Taos Municipal School Board.

In his powerpoint presentation, Maestas listed current items that he disagrees with such as the current “two-two split,” where Mayor Dan Barrone can act as a tie-breaker on voting decisions. He also disagreed with some of Mayor Barrone’s past efforts, such as the zoning for a four-story Holiday Inn Express, and more recently, the use of EDA CARES Act funds. Maestas believes that those funds could have been used for broadband expansion, “a small business revolving loan fund” or career technical education.

“Instead, this grant of $2 million with a $500,000 match coming from your taxpayer dollars, was used to build out water and sewer to the airport,” said Maestas at the town hall. 

Maestas said that the current budget has $20 million invested in the airport and $75,000 in affordable housing. 

“We got people working two or three jobs, earning $12 to $14 an hour. It's impossible to buy a home right now. Rents are skyrocketing. And Taos is becoming a place that's unlivable,” said Maestas. 

Discussion around affordable housing carried into the questions segment of the town hall, which is the number one issue in Taos, according to Maestas. 

Maestas said he’d soon release an econometric report he said will show “a very strong correlation between lodgers tax increases and home value increases; and home value increases with very small correlation with median income.” Maestas believes that it’s not the cost of lumber that is driving the “housing problem” but the “drive for housing investment.”

One of the solutions that Maestas proposed is to start building affordable houses through a community land trust. The land upon which the house is built would be owned by the community land trust. He added that people could make mortgage payments for these houses “three or four years down the road,” with the idea that people can build up equity during that time and could potentially save enough for a down payment on another home. 

“A community land trust really just needs the land and some mechanism to raise money to start building the homes,” said Maestas.

Another key issue for Maestas is a detox center within the town of Taos. 

A question was taken from Lawrence Medina who was frustrated at the building swaps that have taken place between Taos County and the Town of Taos, hampering his efforts to open a detox facility. In 2021, the Taos News reported that the swap was being held up, at least in part, by title companies to handle the legal transfer of the buildings. 

“In two separate town county joint meetings, there was a verbal commitment that the swap would take place. And due to ego, personal animosity, just fighting between the town and the county. We can't come to an agreement to make the swap for our community. At a time when you are absolutely right. This is a crisis right now. I'm only 35, and it seems like every year I have lost members of my graduating class,” said Maestas. 

On the issue of renewable energy, Maestas wants to see more electric vehicles on the road work closely with Kit Carson Electric Coop. He proposed making the transition for an electric vehicle “fleet” for school buses and for the town and county. 

For the current economy, Maestas doesn’t want to rely solely on tourism and wants to see more investments in career and technical education. He also wants to increase access for farmers and ranchers to sell their products to local people. 

He doesn’t believe in the efforts to bring in concerts to Kit Carson Park. Instead, he said he wants to focus on housing and the detox center. 

“It's my personal opinion that the Town of Taos doesn't need to be in the concert business. I know a lot of people that would like to bring a concert to the park. Last I heard the Town of Taos was asking private industry to pay the full market rate $10s of $1,000s of dollars to bring up an event onto Kit Carson park. It's good sometimes. I think we've done it too much,” said Maestas.

He ended the town hall by saying he hopes Taos County and the Town of Taos governments become more unified. 

“The problem right now, I think, is that there's not enough trust between the town and the county yet for us to work together to merge some of these departments together. But my administration is going to work hard to develop these partnerships, get us to a place where we have trust. And we can say, let's put our money together and let's make it more efficient and make a system that works for people better,” said Maestas. 

As mayor Maestas said he would limit the power of the mayor for himself and for future mayors.

“I know in the audience tonight, there are some supporters of other candidates, even a few other candidates themselves. But I'm going to say that if and when I'm elected, and you've given me the opportunity to serve you as mayor, I'm not going to be one to hold grudges against the people that have not supported me. The mayor is the mayor of the entire community,” said Maestas.

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