BELEN — The city of Belen will soon be adding two new positions to its police force thanks to a state grant.
The Belen City Council unanimously approved the acceptance of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Recruitment Fund Grant Agreement, which will provide funding to pay for the two new police officers.
Belen Police Chief James Harris told the council his department applied for the grant in July.
The total amount of the grant is $393,750, which, over the next three years, will be utilized to hire additional law enforcement. The city will be allocated $225,000 during the first year, 50 percent up to $112,500 for the second year, and up to 25 percent up to $56,250 in the third year.
“These two positions will be added to the current roster,” Harris told the council during Monday’s meeting.
The chief said it will bring the total amount of officers to 25 in the Belen Police Department.
Councilor Steve Holdman, who was attending the meeting through Zoom, asked if the grant offsets the salary increase approved at the last council meeting.
On Sept. 18, the council voted 2-1 to increase the salary for new officers from $24.27 per hour to $27. Councilors Frank Ortega and Tracy Armijo voted to approve the increase, while Councilor Danny Bernal Jr. voted against it.
Daniel Carbajal, the city’s finance director, said the city will pay the new officers at the rate agreed upon at the last council meeting.
According to Kristen Oliver, the city’s human resources director, the police department currently has three police officer vacancies. The chief will now be responsible for hiring five new officers for the city of Belen.
Ortega said after the funding ends in three years, the city will then pick up the tab for paying the officers’ salaries out of the general fund.
“We’re doing everything we can to beef up the police department, and this is one of the ways. The salary increase last time was another way,” Ortega said. “We also have the GO bond voters approved for a police station.”
The city council recently approved a $950,000 purchase of two buildings (former magistrate court and division of vocational rehabilitation) on the 900 block W. Castillo Ave., which will be renovated into a police station.
Belen City Manager Roseann Peralta said she recommended the council approve the item, saying it would benefit the city.
“I think it is a very good thing for the city, especially at this time now that things are progressing. Businesses are coming in, and I feel comfortable that we will be able to support these positions in the future.”
Mayor Robert Noblin asked the chief if he had anything to add before the council voted.
“Please,” was Harris’ plea to the council.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.