BELEN — No decisions have been made but Belen city leaders are working on a plan to possibly relocate both the police station and city hall.
In November 2021, Hub City voters approved a $2.5 million general obligation bond to construct a new police station. The current building has had its share of problems, including structural issues and mold.
Last week, BPD Chief James Harris went before the city council and proposed the department move from its current location to the city hall facility instead of building a new police station.
“We’ve been looking at multiple sites of where to place the Belen police station, and we’ve thought about rebuilding or remodeling where we are already at,” Harris told the council during a special meeting on Wednesday, July 27. “It would be fiscally irresponsible and bad for our department to do that.”
Harris told the council his primary plan was to remodel the business center on South Main Street, but the cost would be too high and it would use all the GO bond funds.
“We have had another idea come up,” Harris said. “The idea is we move to the city hall location and refurbish it to our needs. We don’t have all the exact figures, but it might be between $1-1.5 million. The rest of the money we could use for a real time crime center for the city of Belen.”
City Manager Andrew Salas said while they are grateful to the citizens for approving the $2.5 million GO bond, it’s not enough to build a new police station.
When asked by Councilor Steve Holdman where city hall would be, Salas suggested the city buy the Wells Fargo building across the street.
“It’s one possibility,” Salas said. “The location is convenient, and it’s on the market. It has leased customers paying part of the mortgage — Wells Fargo and the district attorney’s office.”
The city manager said two floors of the four-story building is vacant, which gives the city room for expansion.
“There’s not a whole lot of refurbishment needed,” Salas said of the space. “It’s my understanding that the leases paid now would come close to the mortgage payment for a 30-year loan.”
Salas said both the roof on the building and the HVAC system was recently replaced. The 3.8 acres would also allow for secure parking space for the police department.
Steven Tomita, the city’s development services director, said he toured the building and the mechanical rooms were “very clean” and said “the building is in better condition than what I thought it was going to be.”
He also told the council the council chambers and utility clerks could be located on the first floor to help customers, while other city employees would work on another floor in a secured area.
Councilor Danny Bernal Jr. said he couldn’t visualize what city hall would look like in the building, and asked if the council could schedule a time to see the building.
“Depending on the process, it would be nice to have the new municipal and magistrate court open when the police department opens at city hall,” Bernal said. “It would be like a government district.”
As the council continued to discuss the issue, Joshua Kerns, the city’s parks and recreation and tourism director, suggested using the business center on South Main Street as a recreation center catering to youth. He said they could have games, a computer lab, video games, pool table, ping pong table, corn hole and more.
“It would give (the youth) a place to go to do something constructive when their parent’s aren’t home,” Kerns said. “It would be open from 3-8 p.m., and we wouldn’t have to do any renovations.”
Belen Mayor Robert Noblin said the current police station is unsafe for employees, and new construction of a facility is cost prohibitive.
“This option kind of makes sense,” Noblin said of the city possibly buying the Wells Fargo building. “I think we can give direction (to staff) to proceed with the market research, and also schedule a field trip for the governing body.”
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.