New mayor humbled by the job
Mabton Mayor Laura Vazquez on Wednesday said the city is moving forward as quickly as it can. But that’s not good enough for some residents.
Several, she said, show up at every meeting to complain. She fields a lot of phone calls, and most of those are not from fans.
Vazquez said it’s been brutal at times, and it hurts, but she defends the detractors.
“They have a right to think and say what they want,” she said.
That’s consistent with things Vazquez thought and said when her predecessor, Mario Martinez, was in the mayor’s chair.
“I was there” when residents would harangue Martinez, she said. She blamed him for the budget woes that were rumored to be on their way.
Now, she says she understands what Martinez went through.
As Vazquez speaks, you sense she would like to take back some of the things she said before and during the campaign, but she said it’s too late. She can’t go back.
The sting of criticism has been softened at mayors’ or city officials’ meetings, when others say such things as “Welcome to City Hall” or “We all get that.”
On the toughest days, she reminds herself of her mother’s words: “You’re a strong, independent individual.”
Vazquez must buck up. Her only other choice is to satisfy the critics by quitting.
She won’t do that, she said. She got herself into this situation, and she’s going to work her way through it.
“At least they’re happy that I answer their questions,” she said.
Vazquez said she is still excited about being mayor. She said she is going to give it all she has and will remain unemployed until she believes the city no longer needs full-time attention.
She still has three years to prove herself.
“It has humbled me,” she said.
New Mabton Mayor Laura Vazquez is finishing nine months on the job today, and she admits being mayor has turned out to be much more than she imagined.
“It’s gone really fast. I’ve been here nine months, and there is still a lot to learn,” Vazquez said. “It feels like I’ve been here a month.”
“It’s like running a big business with a whole lot of laws,” she added.
And she said, “Sometimes the mayor’s hands are tied.”
The first nine months have been spent keeping Mabton out of hot water financially.
Vazquez’s tenure started with a meeting of the department heads. She was handed the city’s tough financial news, and the purpose of the meeting was to make sure things didn’t get worse before she could make them better.
The city cut back on overtime, and there were other minor cuts.
“We’ve paid the bills every month, but it was paycheck-to-paycheck at first. Now we have some money left over at the end of the month,” Vazquez said.
One cause of the money challenges was the new water tower, which just went into service.
It tripled Mabton’s available potable water, but, Vazquez said, city officials over-estimated the amount of revenue that would come in to offset the cost.
“But I can’t say I’d blame anybody for that,” Vazquez said. “We needed infrastructure. We still need infrastructure.
“Our newest truck is four years old, and the town has trucks that are older than that,” she added.
That revenue might still come, Vazquez said. The population is at about 2,200, and the community is growing.
“Once there were little paths. Now those are roads,” she said. “Places that were outside of town are now a part of the town.”
Vazquez said the residents — her too — know now how much the town needed the new water tower. It improved water quality and pressure.
“We actually can take real showers now. It used to be just a light spray of water,” she said.
Another thing that helped the budget was the departure of police officers. One died, one retired and one went to another department.
She said the city tried to replace them, but “… good officers are tough to find.
“They want more money than Mabton can pay,” Vazquez said.
Now the city is contracting with the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement. That will cost about $440,000 per year and three new patrol cars for the sheriff’s office at the outset. The city was paying $650,000 per year for its own department.
Vazquez said it appears the city’s lone officer, Tyson Cox, will sign on with the sheriff and continue to work in Mabton. The sheriff offered one sergeant and two deputies to Mabton.
Until that all comes together, the sheriff has increased visits to Mabton, Vazquez said. They are frequent and unannounced.
They don’t just come to town, though. They drive through neighborhoods, she said.
Mabton is moving forward as fast as it can move for now, Vazquez said. It will continue to look for grants aimed at small towns.
She said the city is preparing to apply for the Relight Washington Program the cities of Grandview and Sunnyside have taken advantage of, so the city can change to LED street lights. The changes cost nothing, and each city estimates it will save $50,000 or more yearly for power.
Vazquez said she’d be happy with any savings at all.