BELEN — After years of planning and as the new courthouse in Belen is near completion, the Belen City Council made the decision Monday that the municipal court will remain at its current location.

The courthouse, which is being constructed directly east of Belen City Hall, was initially only to house the magistrate court. As AOC and the city continued plans, a former city manager had the idea for the municipal court to share the space.

News-Bulletin file photo
The city of Belen’s municipal court will remain at its current location at 525 Becker Ave.

Charles Eaton, the city’s administrative services director, told the council that at the last walk through of the new courthouse, municipal court staff brought up issues about the building.

“The intent of this agreement was there, but it was poorly planned,” Eaton said. “The current and past staff at municipal court was asked how involved they were in the planning and it was very limited.”

The issues include insufficient space for municipal court staff and records, the cost of security the city would have to pay — $80,000 per year — and changes to the design of the building to accommodate municipal court.

“It’s our recommendation that you approve this amendment,” Eaton said.

The council approved an amendment to its lease agreement with the Administrative Office of the Courts, which includes the removal of the municipal court from the agreement.

“There was great intentions, and there was necessary changes that were to be made early on in construction,” said Belen Mayor Robert Noblin. “This would have been a great opportunity but it would cause a large financial burden to the city.”

He said the decision had a lot to do with the technicalities and cost of IT, phone lines, of security measures and more. The mayor asked Eaton if there would be a possibility in the future if the municipal court could move in.

“It would have to be a joint venture with the Administrative Office of the Courts, and they’re not even receptive to even have that discussion,” Eaton said.

Councilor Steve Holdman asked about the two courtrooms that are currently being built. Eaton told him the second courtroom would now be used by a visiting judge.

While the city is paying half of the cost of repaving the parking lot between the courthouse and city hall, Eaton said AOC will now pay the full cost security for the building, as well as paving the alleyway between the courthouse and Main Street.

The 11,100 square-foot courthouse is scheduled to be completed in January 2023. The city approved the final cost —  $5.6 million — in March 2022. Bradbury Stamm was hired by the AOC to build the structure, while the city of Belen is acting as the fiscal agent for the project.

In other business, the council:

  • Postponed a decision on amendments to its landscape ordinance after city councilors and residents had questions regarding the financial and legal impact it would have on property owners;
  • Approved amendments to its fencing and walls ordinance for the purpose of establishing a uniformity of appearance and construction materials;
  • Approved an ordinance that would allow the removal of inactive, broken or double utility poles;
  • Approved a lease with the Department of Veterans Services for office space at the Belen Business Center. The state agency agreed to a five-year lease beginning in January 2023. The monthly rate will start at $378 per month in the first year, and increasing 2 percent every year to $451 in the 10th year;
  • Postponed a decision of entering into capital appropriation project agreement with New Mexico Department of Transportation to plan, design and construct a westward connector at the north interchange at Exit 195 in Belen. The reason the council postponed the decision was because the wrong amount was listed on the meeting’s agenda;
  • Approved an MOU with the Mid Region Council of Governments to purchase and equip a maintenance vehicle and equipment;
  • Approved an MOU with the Mid Region Council of Governments for improvements, specifically a new turf soccer field, at Eagle Park.
Belen Fencing and Walls Regulations (Dec. 2022)

Belen Fencing and Walls Regulations (Dec. 2022)

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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.