BELEN — When Hub City voters go to the polls on Nov. 2, they will be asked to consider a general obligation bond worth $2.5 million to build and equip a new Belen police station.
Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said the GO bond will be repaid from property taxes, but because the city has paid down its debt from the last GO bond effort, property taxes should not increase.
“In the past, the city has used the GO bond to fund the new fire station and sidewalk improvements around town,” Cordova said.
“First and foremost, we know law enforcement is critical in having a good community, public safety and we are continuing efforts in reducing crime in the area,” the mayor said. “Anything we can do to support our police department is essential to those efforts.”
The building the current police station is housed in, located at the corner of Becker Avenue and Sixth Street, is more than 120 years old. It was built in 1900 and used as a wool warehouse.
Several people have owned the building over the years, and has been used by Tabet Lumber and as a bookkeeping area for First National Bank of Belen. The city purchased the building in the early 1980s and was used as the Belen fire station.
The city then transformed the building in the 1990s to use as the home of the Belen Police Department.
While the building has housed the BPD for more than 20 years, Belen Police Chief James Harris said the age of the structure is becoming a problem.
“The biggest problems we have are structural,” Harris said. “We have problems, specifically with our foundation. The foundation is beginning to collapse on our drainage and water supply.”
The chief said the damage is also creating leaks in the building’s sewer line, which is causing seepage under walls within the building. Because of this, mold issues have arisen and one office in the building is no longer usable.
“Lt. (Adam) Keck has been displaced and we had to find him another location to work from,” Harris said.
The chief said he and city administration has decided to hold off paying the $10-11,000 cost for abating the mold problem in the event the voters approve the GO bond.
“We’d rather not cost the citizens and taxpayers any more money right now,” he said. “Also, we have very insufficient office space for the personnel that require offices.
“There are a lot of structural issues, a lot of electrical issues that need serious overhauls to completely make that station usable.”
While the building has undergone some renovations over the last few years to allow for more office space, Harris said it was not properly done.
The chief said the building’s open parking lot has become a problem, saying vandals have caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to police vehicles. With a new station, Harris said they could create space for a secured lot.
Another problem with the current police station is its evidence room. Harris said there’s not enough space for evidence, and it has experienced leaks, which could destroy or damage evidence.
“Luckily, there has not been any evidence that has been destroyed,” he said, “at least nothing of evidentiary value that we needed to be maintained. The evidence room needs to be very organized, and it’s currently very difficult to organize in a space that is 10-feet wide, and maybe 40-feet long.”
Cordova said the city is always working to build up a 21st century police department, but it’s been operating out of a 19th century building.
“When you look back, the police department is always getting the hand-me-downs,” the mayor said. “It’s time for them to have their own building that addresses the structural and layout and technical needs for the 21st century.”
“What’s good for the police department is good for the community,” Harris said. “It will give us the opportunity to give better service to the citizens, and to have a place to work out of that is clean and safe … and a place to be proud of.”
While a location of the proposed new police station is yet to be determined, the mayor and Harris said they would like it to be built somewhere on Main Street.
“One of the goals is getting a new police station is to ensure it has a presence in our community,” Cordova said. “I would love for people to come into town and see a strong presence of our police department on Main Street.”
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.