BELEN — A state agency that wants to lease a space in the Belen Business Center will have to wait until the governing body receives more information if city can afford the terms of the contract.

Charles Eaton, the city’s administrative support director, presented a proposed lease agreement with the New Mexico Human Services Department to the council last week. The lease would be for about 1,400 square feet of office space in the Business Center for 10 years.

After a lengthy discussion, Belen Mayor Robert Noblin cast the tie-breaking vote to table consideration of a lease agreement with NMHSD. Councilors Frank Ortega and Yvette Padilla voted in favor of tabling the agenda item, while Councilors Steve Holdman and Danny Bernal Jr. voted against the motion.

Eaton told the council the city has been working on an agreement with NMHSD for about a year that would facilitate the relocation of the Income Support Division from its offices on South Fifth Street to the city-owned building at 719 S. Main St.

“It’s somewhat unique in its terms,” Eaton said of the lease agreement. “There’s some improvements that need to be made to the center that the city could not up-front. The state will make those particular arrangement, and there would be credits set aside for about five years to be paid back for those improvements.”

Eaton said the state couldn’t pay for the improvement alone without violating the anti-donation clause.

According to the proposed lease agreement, the NMHSD would pay for about $60,000 of improvements to the space and, in return, would receive a monthly $1,000 credit against rent for the first five years.

The renovations needed to the building include construction, alteration and installation of interior walls, windows and doors, insulation, electrical wiring and lighting; tape, texture and paint; and installation of exterior signage.

Additional improvements the city would pay for include the parking lot, construction of secured ADA compliant entry door and ramp, relocation of a fence, and other exterior work.

If and when approved, the proposed rent schedule would include a 2 percent escalation each year, and the NMHSD pay the city $655 a month for the first year, $688 per month in the second year, $721 in year three, $755 in the fourth year, and $791 in year five. The rent payments would then be paid in full starting in year six at $1,827 per month.

At the end of the 10 year lease, the state would pay the city a total of $217,433.

“Currently we have two city functions operating at the Business Center — the RSVP program and our community preservation program,” Eaton said. “The outside agencies there are the housing (HUD) program and a private firm, Medicare Solutions.”

United States Department of Housing and Urban Development program is leasing part of the building for five years, but are currently not paying rent. Eaton said staff is reaching out to the them and will soon start paying rent.

“We are a month or two away from establishing a relationship with the Veterans Administration who wants to lease about 348 square feet of the Business Center, which would amount to about $4,500 annually,” Eaton said.

“When we look at this revenue stream, we have an annual expense at the business center — water, gas, electric, solid waste and exterminator fees — totalling about $18,000 to $20,000 a year,” he added. “What we’re trying to do is offset some of those expenses at the Business Center.”

Karmela Martinez, director of the state Income Support Division, told the council the department has a commitment to service the area. Her department assists the community with food support in terms of SNAP benefits, Medicaid, utility assistance and cash assistance programs.

“Right now, we provide services to 1,057,175 New Mexicans … 50 percent of our population relies on our support,” Martinez said. “That’s a commitment we don’t take lightly.”

Martinez told the council that Valencia County is ranked 7th highest in need of services in the state, and 40,000 unique residents rely on services, with 20,000 people receive food assistance.

She said when the Income Support Division reopened its doors to in-person services, from July 2021 to January 2022, a total of 2,891 people walked in for services.

Councilor Frank Ortega voiced concerns about the city’s budget in regards to one clause of the proposed lease agreement for janitorial services. According to the agreement, the city would be responsible for not only paying for the utilities, but would also provide for janitorial services.

The agreement calls for daily cleaning between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, weekly cleaning to include waxing of all tile floors, semi-annual cleaning of interior and exterior window washing, bi-annual cleaning of walls to include painting of interior and exterior walls and pest control.

“I think we are entertaining the contract too early,” Ortega said. “We need to make sure the money is in place for a full-time custodian. We need to make sure we can afford it.”

Eaton stated the city currently has one full-time and one part-time custodian that takes care of six city-owned facilities. He said when the new magistrate and municipal court is built, the city would also be responsible for the janitorial services at that building, and would probably need to hire another full-time custodian.

“I think there’s too many variables,” Ortega said. “We don’t know if we have the money for another (full-time employee). We haven’t had our budget hearings. I’m not against this, but we need to work it out together. It’s fiscally irresponsible if we don’t.”

Martinez told the council the NMHSD is eager to move into the space at the Business Center, adding that another state entity will be taking over the location they are currently in. She did say they could wait between four to six weeks for the council’s final decision on the lease agreement.

In other business, the council:

  • Held a public hearing and approved a liquor license for Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, Inc.
  • Approved the city’s third-quarter budget adjustments
  • Approved a resolution stating the official intent of the city to reimburse itself for certain cost relating to capital cost incurred prior to the issuance of tax-exempt bonds
  • Approved a lease agreement with John Thompson, director of the Belen Regional Airport
  • Approved the appointment of Councilor Yvette Padilla and Jeffrey Woods to the Veterans Committee
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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.