By Ed Fincher
Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon attended the third annual Border Town Mayor’s Summit hosted by Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts at Farmington’s Gateway Museum on Thursday, Sept. 20, where the presentations and discussions focused on the unique issues faced by communities that border Native American reservations.
“What I was really impressed with,” Aragon explained, “was their police department. They had a presentation by the chief of police (Farmington Police Chief Kyle Westall), and some of the things they are doing … Well, they have a SWAT team, and they are trained and accredited by the FBI for dealing with bombs and bomb threats. For training they send their guys off to the criminal justice academy.”
Racial profiling is a good example of the types of unique issues faced by municipalities in the Four Corners area and is something for which the Farmington Police department is especially trained. “We’re so pampered, I think, sometimes,” Aragon said. “We don’t have that real high crime rate, and we don’t deal with racial profiling. In fact, I’ve never even heard of it here.”
While Pagosa Springs is more isolated and does not have to deal with some of the tougher social issues of homelessness and alcoholism faced by border communities like Farmington or Gallup, N.M., Aragon said he would still like to see the local police force receive some higher levels of training. “They’re trained, I know, but you can’t ever get too much training, so maybe I want to see about doing something like that here.”
One of the things Aragon was most impressed with was the willingness on the part of these other communities to help each other out. Even though Farmington is over 90 minutes away, Chief Westall assured Aragon that if there is ever an emergency in the future all the mayor would have to do is place a phone call and help would be sent.
“Pagosa Springs is unique,” Aragon said, “We are a mountain resort town and we are just barely scraping by. In order for us to be a thriving community we need sales tax revenue. Without that we die.
“They, on the other hand, are surrounded by casinos. They are surrounded by oil and gas. The place where we had the meeting (Gateway Museum) was built with oil and gas money. What I found out is how much more challenging it is for our area, for Pagosa Springs.”
Aragon said he doesn’t like to micro-manage, but he would like to talk to Pagosa Springs Police Chief Bill Rockensock and perhaps help set up lines of communication with other police departments such as Farmington’s, and to facilitate more cooperation and advice on training.
“I know that he wants the best for our community and he knows that I want the best for our community,” Aragon said. “I am really proud of our police force because I have known them all for many, many years and they are very hard workers; but, you can be the hardest worker and still suffer from a lack of training.”
Besides law enforcement, some of the other issues discussed at the summit included human services, social problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and street inebriates, and the drain on the health care system caused by problems related to obesity.
“For me, it was a bit of a culture shock,” Aragon admitted.
One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Lowell Catlett, from the University of New Mexico — a futurist, consultant and speaker dealing with technology, and an economist who tracks trends in healthcare, agriculture, the environment and education. His presentation was titled “Crossing Borders and Economic Futures,” and focused on how people live and work in a diverse community.
“I know town council has been condemned because of the Wal-Mart issue, for one,” Aragon said, “and now the development on Reservoir Hill. A lot of people who are self-sufficient and don’t need to work for a living, come here from outlying areas, especially from back east, and they want to see Pagosa Springs stay like it was when they got here.
“Of course we do, too. I don’t want any change. Nobody likes change. But, on the other hand, you either change or die. There’s no two ways about it. People don’t understand that there’s a big responsibility, and you have to take your licks.”
Strong economic development and growth is the key to acquiring the resources to deal with some of these tough social issues that affect all communities in the Four Corners area.
“I asked them if we could host the summit here next year,” Aragon laughed, “and when they asked why, I told them, ‘For economic development. Maybe we can get everyone to eat lunch or dinner, and then stay the night.’ They laughed at that, but the idea is out there, so …”