BELEN—As cities and states across the country have and are planning to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Belen has drafted a Return to Work Plan for some city employees and open some city-owned facilities.
Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said he and other city officials have been thinking about and planning how they would successfully reopen since the initial shutdown last month.
“I think we’ve come up with a balanced plan to ensure safety and get back to business in our city,” Cordova said. “Our goal is safety, but we need to get back to business as usual.”
The plan calls for some city employees to return to work and some facilities to reopen on Thursday, May 7.
While it’s expected that New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will extend the state’s stay-at-home order until May 15, the city’s plan is to support businesses that opt to reopen rather than enforce the state health and executive orders forcing them to close.
Believing all citizens, businesses and organizations must follow the law, Cordova said enforcement directives by the state have been vague.
“The general position from the city is we fully understand … we have no legal authority to close or reopen businesses,” Cordova said. “That’s up to the state, and as much as I want to reopen businesses, we don’t have the authority to do that. I do have the authority, however, to make sure we have the resources to provide essential services and programs to our constituents, such as facilities.”
The mayor said city staff will have ability to provide assistance and advice to businesses as they safely reopen.
“We want to make sure we keep the community as safe as possible,” Cordova said. “We can’t dictate to businesses to close or reopen, that’s up to the state and individual businesses owners. We just want to be as supportive as we can, and recommend best business practices.”
As of Monday, April 27, the city has received and 16 complaints of businesses that allegedly have violated the state’s directives. Of those, two are repeat violators, and one has refused to comply. Cordova said that business was referred to state police.
“The city needs to use its resources as best as possible,” the mayor said. “As we open city facilities, we can’t do enforcement at the same level, and we need to ensure they’re safe and protected.”
According to the plan, which can be viewed at news-bulletin.com, city employees will continue to work in shifts, some teleworking where possible. While facilities such as the Bugg Lights Museum and the Belen Harvey House Museum will remaine closed, other facilities such as City Hall, library, business center, municipal court, police department and community center will reopen in a limited capacity.
The library and community center will only have counter service, and other areas of these facilities will be closed to the public. Two computers in the library can be used by the public, but by appointment only.
As these facilities reopen, Cordova said each building will have signage and floor markings to indicate where and how the public can move within the building, with a general rule of 6-foot physical distance.
While the city cannot require members of the public to wear masks while in city facilities, Cordova highly recommends the practice. He said all employees are required to wear masks, and their temperatures will be taken twice a day.
The plan also calls for the reopening of city parks and other outdoor spaces, with rules that prohibit more than five people congregating together in these areas.
As the city prepared to reopen its facilities, it’s also preparing for the summer recreation program, which will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., May 26 through Aug. 14. Last year, the program had about 200 participants, but Cordova said they have limited it this year to 130 children.
The plan calls for a cap group sizes at 10 children, with a total of 13 groups for a total of 130 children admitted. Children must be between the ages of 5-13. The weekly cost per child is $60.
The mayor said families can begin registering their children on Monday, May 4, either online, by telephone or limited walk-in registration at the community center.
While the plan says to qualify, families must be able to provide proof of Belen residency and children from outside of Belen will not be permitted into the program, Cordova said some exceptions will be made.
City of Belen employees with childcare needs will be given priority to the summer recreation program, then Belen residents, followed by those living in the 87002 zip code.
“All precautions will be taken to ensure the health and safety of the children, including having one group leader for each group and not allowing the groups to mix or mingle at any time,” the plan states. “Activities will be held outdoors at Eagle Park as much as possible. When indoors, each group will be isolated to its own space within the Belen Community Center.”
The Belen Community Center will remain closed to the public for the duration of the summer recreation program.
The mayor also said the Return To Work Plan is a working document and can be changed at any time depending on health and executive orders.
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.