ANTONITO — A group of candidates on this April’s ballot say it’s time for a change.
Mike Roque, a consultant and small business owner, is running for Antonito mayor and says, “We can try the same thing with the same leaders or try something new — It’s time for a change.”
Roque, Jurice Montoya, Paul Jiron and Roxanne Madril have run a campaign focusing on economic development and promise to work with regional, state and national sources to bring money and resources to the town.
“Antonito and Conejos County are the only town and county that do not participate in the Regional Council of Governments,” Roque says.
“Most of the improvements — water system and sewer — mentioned by the current administration were mandated by the state because they did not meet legal standards. The town, through its residents, will be paying for these for 30 years.”
He adds, “We will be transparent in all town business. We will make the town budget, meeting notes, financials and other public records available on the town’s website.”
Currently, one must file a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request to get these documents, the group platform state.
“The town budget should be accessible to any resident upon request. Also, it should be posted on the town website. We will hold two public meetings a year to explain the budget to residents and develop a process for resident input into the budget,” the platform materials state.
“It’s time for a change in Antonito. We need new leadership and new ideas to create a town that people will take pride in and work to make the town a better place to live and raise a family; we must build an economic base to provide a reason for our youth to stay. The first priority will be to get a fully functioning gas station in the town.
“We must work with regional, state and national sources to bring in money and other resources to the local community. We must provide incentives for local businesses to stay and grow and encourage people to create new businesses in town. We must make the town a place where travelers want to come to, visit and come back. We must save our downtown buildings and help residents to fix up their properties.”
Abeyta, George see re-election
Aaron Abeyta, pictured, seeking his second term as mayor of Antonito, says he loves his community and wants to continue guiding its government.
Interviewed along with Wade George, also seeking re-election, Abeyta says they have served the community to the best of their ability for the past four years.
Abeyta has picked up endorsements from former U.S. Rep. John Salazar and Justin Garoutte, originator of Valleybound School and Community Garden.
Both have lived in Antonito all their lives and express great love fro the community.
Abeyta says, “Everything in my adult life I have dedicated to making my community — my home town — the best it can be.
“My idea of service is to better the community. I was raised with the notion that if you are going to make things better, you have to do it. My life is dedicated to service and, win or lose, I won’t change.”
George said, being a lifetime resident, he has a unique interest in the town and has volunteered for many years in planning recreational activities and holidays.
His past four years in community service have taught him some lessons, George says. “I have learned that there’s more to people and governing than meets the eye… Having learned this will make me more effective during the next four years. It’s a wonderful adventure.”
One item of progress, Abeyta said, is the water project and more projects on the horizon, costing the taxpayer very little, due to grants and in-kind services.
“The need to find a way takes extreme patience. My goal in life is reconciliation — I won’t split the town.”
George said the town also developed a municipal code and worked on recreation.
With tax income including taxation on recreational marijuana, Abeyta said more than $128,000 has been received and current taxation bumps it up.
With these funds, the town made a down payment on the Warshauer Mansion, soon to be town hall. Money was also spent on two used Colorado State Patrol vehicles for the police department, two new staff fleet vehicles a new front-end loader and a trash truck.
Also achieved were cost of living pay raises for town employees and body cameras for law enforcement.
Abeyta said some residents had expressed unhappiness that all the streets weren’t repaved after the water project wound down, but they would just need to be torn up again with new, planned work. “We won’t tear up roads twice.”
Many of the lines replaced were more than 100 years old.
“There’s lots of misinformation going around,” Abeyta said. “There will be no huge raises in sewer and water rates… No one sets the rates but the board.”
Each town of comparable size in Colorado has rates close to Antonito’s base rate of $42, Abeyta said, pointing to a small town in western Colorado as charging more than 100 per month. There will likely be a raise in Antonito out of necessity
Neighboring La Jara has a base of $42, but charges extra for the amount used, he said, and the solid waste rates are lower in Antonito.
“We are not passing debt on to the community,” he pointed out.
Monies received from other sources such as the state recreational fund are spent wisely, Abeyta said.
He pointed out that community projects such as the gardens are providing recreation, while children are using the ball diamonds and basketball court. The town park will be moved to the mansion grounds.
George said Antonito was “on the downslide” four years ago, but population has been holding steady, except for normal attrition such as deaths and children leaving after high school.
“We are trying our best to keep employment here and bids for the water project were awarded to local companies.
Abeyta said all the work on infrastructure would make Antonito more attractive to incoming businesses and people. “If I wanted a community to build in, I would be looking for a good system.”
Other problems raised are not unique to Antonito and neither are the solutions, both men said. Hearing about the opioid issues and drug problems in town, Abeyta said everyone should help in solving that problem.
Asked about the personality of Antonito, George said it’s a “rambunctious teenager, stuck between heritage and the modern world, while Abeyta said it is a place where an ancient culture is still tied deeply to the roots that have sustained it for centuries, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t go modern.”
Antonito is based on faith, family, survival, cultural heritage and a linguistic heritage, Abeyta said, and those factors are found throughout the town.
“Everything in my life will be to ensure all this remains safe and untouched,” he said, noting that progress is possible without harm.
Both men said they haven’t served for money or prestige, but to serve the community.