Cordova envisions better infrastructure

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When Jerah Cordova isn’t working his full-time job, he’s giving his full attention to his duties as the new mayor of the city of Belen.

“It’s been very busy,” Cordova said of his first month as mayor. “Being mayor is a lot of work, there’s no doubt about it. It takes an incredible time commitment throughout the week, handling constituent issues, text messages, phone calls, emails. It doesn’t end on the weekends because there’s a lot of events I have to attend.”

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova has been busy addressing constituent’s issues while searching for a new city manager.

Even though Cordova is busier than he was when he was one of four city councilors, he’s proud, yet humbled, for the opportunity voters has given him.

On a recent Friday, his day was filled with commitments such as touring the city with code enforcement officers to assess the problems with properties around town, contract negotiations for a new city manager and a meeting with the Belen MainStreet Partnership. The new mayor says he’s made it a priority to make time for everyone.

“It’s been incredibly busy, it’s been incredibly exciting, there’s been a whole lot of energy, not only here at city hall but out in the community,” he said. “I’m excited and I think the citizens are excited as well.”

In the five weeks since Cordova was sworn in as mayor, he says he’s seen immense progress already at city hall, and believes that once a new city manager is in place, the city will move forward.

During his campaign, Cordova said he wanted to address eight main issues, but the priority has always been jobs, business and the economy. He knows Belen’s economy isn’t where it should be, and in the first few weeks of his administration, he’s directed his staff to focus on business retention and recruitment.

“I want (the staff) to provide a level of customer service that is needed so that entrepreneurs coming to town looking to open a business feel welcomed,” Cordova said. “Anytime we hear a business might be closing, even if it’s just a rumor, we will be reaching out to that business owner to make sure that they have everything they need from the city.”

Still fighting for a hospital in the city of Belen, which would potentially bring hundreds of new jobs to the Hub City, Cordova realizes that the city can’t put all of its eggs in one basket. The mayor points to the fact that the city has assets, such as three exits off Interstate 25 that lead into the city, the rail system and the Belen Alexander Airport.

“Belen is a transportation city, and the biggest opportunity for us right now is the airport,” he said. “The money is there and we’re ready to move forward with airport expansion. We’re just waiting on final approvals.”

Cordova says if the airport does grow with a runway expansion as expected, it will provide an opportunity for new aviation-related business.

But because of the older and broken infrastructure within Belen, such as roads and sewer lines, the mayor’s goal is to ensure that the city maintains existing infrastructure and replaces what’s needed before adding new projects that the city might not be able to keep up in the coming years.

“My goal would be to shift the focus of continuing to build new infrastructure when we could repair the old infrastructure,” he said.

When Cordova was elected to the city council in 2010, the governing body struggled with its $3.2 million budget deficit. To help deal with the crisis, more than two dozen city employees lost their jobs and some city services were greatly scaled back, leaving some departments with a bare-bones staff.

Four years later, the budget now has a $400,000 surplus, allowing for the city to fill some of the empty positions and offer more services, such as re-establishing hours at the library. While the city isn’t back to where it was before the budget crisis, the mayor says it has “stabilized.”

Along with working to establish a master plan, organize the staff, update the city’s organizational chart, maintain parks and ensure that the infrastructure is taken care of, Cordova is also possibly looking at asking voters to approve general obligation bonds to build a new main fire station, put asphalt on roads and make sidewalk repairs throughout town.

“We need a new main fire station badly,” he said. “The fire station now is a hot box and every summer, it is uncomfortable to be there. It is certainly run down, and it is in no way, shape or form an acceptable fire station to be in this community.

“In order to have a new station, we need the money,” Cordova said. “The fire chief has been looking for grant opportunities and we have considered taking the issue to the voters.”

Cordova has a lot of plans, but in the end, he says it’s the community that has to work together and understand the needs of the city. He also says he will work with all municipalities and the county to help bridge the divides and move the entire county forward.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.