BELEN-Voters in the Hub City will have an opportunity to vote on whether they want to pay for a new police station.

The Belen City Council unanimously approved placing a question on November’s ballot to allow the city to issue $2.5 million in general obligation bonds to pay for the construction and equipping of a new police station.

Daniel Alsup, an attorney with the Modrall Sperling Law Firm, the city’s bond counsel, said if the question was approved by voters, the city would have four years to issue those bonds in one or more installments.

The resolution also authorizes four positions on November’s ballot — mayor, two council seats and the municipal judge position.

“The resolution also authorizes and directs city staff to provide the necessary notices to the county clerk, who will actually conduct the election, and to the state and local government division of DFA,” Alsup said. “My office will also work with Mr. (Andrew) Salas (Belen’s city manager) to provide the notices.”

News-Bulletin file photo
Black mold has been found in the current Belen police station, located on the corner of Becker Avenue and Sixth Street. Voters will have a chance to vote on a GO bond question on the Nov. 2 municipal election ballot.

GO bonds allow an agency to borrow money for large, capital improvement projects, such as fire stations and major road projects.

While the council approved the ballot question, some councilors had questions about the measure. Councilor Danny Bernal Jr. said he was told the city could only issue a bond of $2.5 million for the police station, but it would actually cost $2.9 million. He asked how the city was going to pay for the overage.

Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said it was his understanding it’s a possibility the city could place the project on its Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan, asking state legislators for funding. The mayor also said the city has other grant and loan options.

Bernal said he agrees there’s a need for a new police station, but questioned what would happen to the current building.

“We can’t just completely abandon it,” Bernal said. “I don’t want it to end up like the old fire station or old city hall. How are we going to continue to maintain that building and how much is it going to cost to maintain that building?”

Cordova told the councilor isn’t aware of an answer to his question.

Councilor Frank Ortega asked Alsup if voters to approve the general obligation bond, would it increase citizen’s property taxes.

“That would not raise property taxes,” Alsup replied. “It would be structured so that property taxes would be at a level basis for the maturity of the bonds.

“The bond can be issued for up to 20 years from the date of issuance,” he explained. “The repayment of the bonds is structured to align with repayment of the city’s current GO bonds, and property taxes would remain level.”

Belen voters approved a $4 million general obligation bond in 2016 to build a new fire station.

Ortega asked if this GO bond was approved, would the city be at its limit. The city’s financial director, Roseann Peralta, told the councilor it would get the city close to its bonding capacity.

“At the time of issuance of the bonds, it’s likely the city would be close to the 4 percent assessed valuation number that declines over time as the debt is paid off,” Alsup said.

Ortega also expressed his concern that the city is need of upgrading its wastewater plant. He wanted to make sure the city’s priorities are balanced. Peralta told him the cost of a wastewater plan could be funded through a USDA loan.

Steven Tomita, the city’s planning and economic development manager, told the council during Monday’s meeting that the current police station, located on the corner of Becker Avenue and Sixth Street, has black mold and they need to get out of the building for health reasons.

“More research needs to be done as to whether we can kill off the mold or remove it,” Tomita said. “We’re also looking at site locations for the police station, and the possibility of demolishing it and putting a new building there. We’re looking at parking needs, building needs and site needs. We’re looking at different alternatives.”

Belen Police Chief James Harris said the mold problem recently came to light when they were tearing out a wall in one of the offices. He also told the council he had to close off the women’s rest room because the structure underneath the toilet was deteriorating and isn’t safe.

Both Harris and Tomita said they hadn’t contacted someone who could evaluate the mold and possibily abate the problem.

Salas, who wasn’t at Monday’s council meeting, said Tuesday the current police station is inadequate, unsafe and unsuitable.

“Regrettably, the old building that serves as their headquarters is increasingly inadequate and unsafe for them to operate out of, does not provide the level of service that Belen citizens need and deserve and compromises their ability to fulfill their important mission to the people of Belen,” Salas said of the current police station. “The building was never designed to be a police headquarters in the first place, and the layout does not support the operational needs of the department.”

Salas said the building doesn’t provide for adequate space, including for a training classroom, unsatisfactory size for  the evidence room, holding cell and administrative areas.

“The space is inadequate for briefings, training and meetings that are a daily requirement of operations,” Salas said. “The evidence room, which must meet state and federal standards for compliance, is not properly sized or equipped for optimal use, and the holding area is not conducive for safety of arresting officers and detainees.”

The city manager also said the building is showing cracks, antiquated electrical wiring, a compromised plumbing system and a presence of black mold.

“A new facility is therefore a smart investment in our children’s future, to ensure they have the best possible level of public safety we all want for our families and our businesses,” Salas said.

While a final location for the new facility has not been selected, various good candidate locations are under review, Salas said.

“We all thank the people of Belen in advance for considering the merits and necessity of a new facility, and are proposing a general obligation bond measure for consideration in this upcoming election,” Salas said.

Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin, as well as the executive editor of El Defensor Chieftain, the News-Bulletin's sister paper in Socorro.
Clara 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.