State legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have funded more than $9.6 million for various capital projects for municipal and county governments and other entities in Valencia County.

Lujan Grisham signed the $517.74 million capital outlay earlier this month, without vetoing any of the Valencia County projects. The total amount allocated for the area by House Bill 285 was $9,628,500.

City of Belen

A total of $2,399,000 has been allocated to the city of Belen for various projects, including improvements at Eagle Park, infrastructure needs and more.

The majority of the city’s capital outlay funding will go towards the city’s largest park, with $746,000 to plan, design, construct and install improvements to Eagle Park. Another $108,000 will be given to the city to purchase and install security fencing, and $105,000 to plan, design and construct multipurpose trails and maintenance service roads.

The city also has $100,000 to plan, design, construct, improve and equip the Veterans Memorial at the park.

The largest chunk of funding the state will be setting aside for the city of Belen is $860,000 to plan, design, construct, replace and improve sewer lines along West Aragon Road.

Last year, the governor vetoed funding for improvements to the Don Luis Trujillo Boulevard intersection near Interstate 25, but this year, the funding — $450,000 — has been approved.

Legislators also gave the city $30,000 to plan, design, construct, purchase and install improvements to the gazebo and arch gateway on Becker Avenue. Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said this money will go toward maintenance because some of the stucco on the structure is crumbling.

Cordova said he was very excited to see the amount of money legislators and the governor are giving to the Hub City. While the bulk of the 2021 legislative capital outlay the city received will go toward Eagle Park, the mayor said the funding will only go so far.

“The No. 1 request is for the skate park, and we will focus some of that money along with the $25,000 that we already put aside for it,” Cordova said. “We don’t have a full cost estimate yet for what they want.”

Other Eagle Park improvements slated for the funding include resurfacing at least one of the tennis courts, awning and shade structures, additional trees and paving of the top parking lot. The mayor also listed additional irrigation systems, paving of the baseball field parking lot and installation of a dog park.

“We’ve had two full phases of Eagle Park constructed, and that is what’s there to date,” Cordova said. “We still have a full phase three that hasn’t been realized, but that isn’t what this money is for.”

The city also plans to install walking and running trails at Eagle Park, making it a little more user-friendly, the mayor said, and the fencing project will protect the soccer fields from damage done by vehicles.

The $100,000 allocated for the Veterans Memorial, including the $350,000 from last year, will help the city build new restrooms at the site as well as complete the marble work inside the memorial.

Councilor Frank Ortega said they are working on a master plan for the memorial, and have plans to pave the parking lot, build a bridge over the arroyo, add shade structures with barbecue grills, add lighting and security cameras.

The city has, for years, been planning a massive project for Aragon Road, including replacing the sewer and water lines from Mesa Road to Main Street, as well as paving and adding sidewalks to the north end of the road.

The $860,000 in capital outlay funding will help with paying for replacing the underground infrastructure.

“We didn’t have sufficient funds for the entire projects, which includes a full reconstruction, such as water, sewer, paving, drainage and ponding,” the mayor said. “Planning for the Aragon project has been in the works for years.”

The city has also been working to improve the north Belen interchange for 15 or so years, the state is helping the city move forward on the project with allocating money for a nearby intersection.

“We’re chipping away at what we can in the mean time,” Cordova said of the allocation of funding for the Don Luis Trujillo Boulevard intersection. “We have a growing number of homes being built, and we needed to restructure the intersection because if you need to turn one way or another, it’s very difficult. We need to reconstruct the intersection so it’s safe for traffic coming off the interstate and out of the Don Luis.”

Village of Bosque Farms

It’s been a long time coming, but the village of Bosque Farms will finally be able to add a second clarifier to the village’s wastewater treatment system.

Village Clerk/Administrator Gayle Jones said the village has been looking for funding since 2005, when funds were available through the Corps of Engineers.

“The bids came in extremely high and there wasn’t enough money, so we shelved it then knowing in the back of our minds we have to do this,” Jones said.

By using funds from other, smaller legislative appropriations and USDA low-interest loans, engineering and design of a second clarifier has been moving forward.

The $859,500 appropriation from the 2021 session will allow the village to build the much-needed second clarifier and refurbish the ultraviolet system at the treatment plant.

“It’s been a long haul and we’re so glad this is moving forward,” Jones said.

Construction of the second clarifier will take about 18 months. Once that is done, there is a second phase needed to get the entire system in top shape — refurbishing the existing clarifier that’s about 20 years old.

“It’s never really had any major maintenance since it was built,” she said.

The village also received $206,500 to purchase and equip vehicles for the police department, which will add about four fully-equipped vehicles to the fleet, Jones said.

The $200,000 allocated for improvements to the fire and police department building was initially going to be used to relocate the fire chief’s office and create additional sleeping space for EMS personnel. However, due to issues with the HVAC system in the building, Jones said the money would be used to refurbish the heating and cooling unit.

“We’ve had issues with the HVAC unit since the building was built. It keeps that place about 90 degrees year round,” she said.

Village of Los Lunas

Los Lunas was allocated $775,000 for three different projects in the area — improvement to their sports complex, improvements to River Park and the beginnings of a new aquatic center.

Greg Martin, the Los Lunas village clerk, said since the budget has not yet been approved for the next fiscal year, the plans still only stand as ideas and are not yet set in stone.

Following the closure of the public pool at Los Lunas High School a couple years ago, the village began looking for ways to replace that amenity. They received $150,000 for an indoor aquatic center that will be located at Daniel Fernandez Memorial Park, the same location as the newly-constructed community splash pad.

The splash pad was also funded by nearly $600,000 in capital outlay dollars, but has not yet opened since construction was completed at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“(The aquatic center) is still in its infancy in terms of its design. As a matter of fact, we just barely settled on a preferred location … adjacent to the current recreation center” Martin said.

Capital outlay funds won’t get the village far in what they anticipate to be a multi-million dollar project, simply funding preliminary designs for the center. Martin said the funding is not even enough for the full preliminary designs and will be combined with other funding to complete.

The largest chunk of capital outlay funds received by the village will go towards improvements at the sports complex. The $400,000 allocated this year will fund lighting around two of the ball fields.

Martin said the village has also been working towards improvements at River Park. This year’s $225,000 capital outlay funding, as well as the $225,000 allocated last year, will go towards the expansion and improvements of trail systems in and around the park.

“What we hope to do is improve the network for trails within that area,” Martin said. “We hope to provide better river access. We hope to add signage and wayfinding signs for the users of the park and do some re-vegetation efforts.”

Town of Peralta

At nearly $2.7 million, the town of Peralta received the most capital outlay funding from the state in Valencia County to pursue projects including the construction of a new fire station and a new park.

A new fire station is in the works on the land across from Peralta Elementary School to eventually move the volunteer crew out of the metal building they currently reside in.

With the $350,000 they received from the state for the project, Town Clerk Kori Taylor said they will be able to complete designs and hopefully have enough left over to begin construction.

“Our fire department is in dire need of room to grow,” Taylor said.

The town received $350,000 to continue to improve the park adjacent to the planned Peralta Community Center, a project that Taylor said has been in the works for a couple of years. The town is close to finishing the park design, and with the money they received from the state, they will be able to begin construction of walkways, playgrounds, picnic areas and vendor areas in the three-acre area.

She added there are also plans to eventually have a space to show outdoor movies.

In addition to those projects, Peralta also received $550,000 to construct drainage and flood control systems to address the water that comes off the Manzano Mountains to the east of town during the monsoon season, Taylor said.

“We are right now doing a little bit of work there, but we can always do more improvements,” Taylor said. “This will go a long way in helping us control that flooding issue we have coming off of the …mountain.”

Taylor said the town is also excited for the $500,00 they received for road improvements, which will be focused on paving dirt roads within the town where the sewer line was recently placed as well as other roads that need repairs.

Another $500,000 was also allotted to the town for the ongoing wastewater project as more Peralta residents opt into the sewer services.

The remaining funding is slated for use to purchase vehicles and equipment for the police, fire and public works departments.

City of Rio Communities

The county’s newest municipality, the city of Rio Communities, received a total of $754,000 in capital outlay funding from the 2021 legislative session.

The city’s ongoing project of improving and updating city hall received $300,000. This money will also be used for fire suppression, security and safety improvements to the building.

State legislators and the governor approved a total of $250,000 to plan, design and construct trails, parks and open space within the city.

Rio Communities also received $204,000 to purchase and equip a new fire truck for the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department.

Rio Communities Mayor Pro Tem Peggy Gutjahr said she and the other councilors are excited for the funding provided by the state, saying it will help them in providing services to the residents.

“We are very happy about it,” Gutjahr said. “It’s a really good head start in getting projects completed. I want to make sure all our legislators know how grateful we are for helping us.”

Along with this year’s capital outlay funding, the governor and Legislature received reauthorized funding they hadn’t used prior, including for fire apparatus equipment and lighting.

“This is great for our fire department,” the mayor pro tem said. “Our fleet is older and has been in need of repair for quite some time. We’ll be able to get a new engine and maybe a new tanker.” Rio Communities City Hall has been a work in progress for several years, and with the new funding, Gutjahr said they’ll be able to proceed with their plans.

“We’ve been wanting to move our staff over (to the other side of the building),” she said. “We plan on having indoor recreation where the staff is now, near our nearly-completed library, which was stalled due to COVID.”

Along with the library, which will also be a WiFi hot spot, Gutjahr said, they’ll open the area for indoor recreation, such as an exercise room for older adults and other activities for youth.

Gutjahr is also happy they have funding for the trails and parks project, which the city already has plans for.

“I would like to invite anyone who wants to be on the parks committee to volunteer,” she said.

The state also reauthorized funding for lighting in Rio Communities, and Gutjahr said they have identified different intersections on the east side of N.M. 47 that are “really dark” at night.

Valencia County

Valencia County was allocated $390,000 to bring back its abatement program to help rid the county of dangerous and abandoned properties.

Jeremias Silva, Valencia County project manager/grant coordinator, said before the county can begin taking down buildings, it needs to revamp its abatement policy and procedure.

“We have a lot of properties on our radar that are eligible for abatement. We are looking at our existing policy and editing it in a way that allows us, our code enforcement officers, to have more bite,” Silva said.

The revised policy will have to undergo review by the county attorneys, he said, before it’s put to use.

“When that happens, we can begin with the properties we have on record, and also incorporate information from the sheriff’s sergeants, what they’re seeing, where the problem areas are,” Silva said. “We are also looking at the treasurers office to see who is delinquent on taxes.”

The years of information and complaints the county has collected about nuisance properties across the county is being complied into a registry that will allow code enforcement officers to easily track the status of each property, he said.

To abate and clean up a property, the county has to notify the property owner and give them time to correct the problem, he said. If the owner doesn’t fix the issue, then county staff presents a resolution to the Valencia County Commission, which if approved, puts the property owner on a clock.

“The resolution basically states you fix it. If not, the county will place a lien on the property,” Silva said. “After the resolution is executed by the commission, the owner can still object. That’s where the extra time comes into play. We hope we don’t reach the point of objection. We would rather people clean up their property.”

Historically, the county has given three warnings to nuisance properties it wanted abated, Silva said, but in reviewing the policy, he found no requirement for three notifications.

“That seems to be something code enforcement has just done over the years with regards to abatement,” he said. “We are required to give a notice and give the owner time to correct the problem.”

The current policy classifies what is considered a nuisance property and eligible for county intervention, but Silva wants to focus on the worst of the worst.

“If there’s been a death in an abandoned building, that should be a red flag. If there are a lot of calls to the sheriff’s department for kids partying somewhere, people living in a building, that’s a yellow flag,” he said. “We do have enough properties to go after. My hope is once we start reaching out to people, they won’t want to deal with us and go through the whole process. Hopefully, they will clean things up on their own to avoid us.”

Silva said making the abatement policy efficient is a must to really make Valencia County shine.

“I want to be able to say, ‘We were in a hole for so long but we did it. We got out,’” said the Valencia County native. “I don’t want to focus on a property in the middle of nowhere, but in the middle of the community, where our kids are.

“These buildings have been there too long; we acknowledge that. We finally have the resources we need to effectively make a difference in the communities they’re located in.”

The county also received $300,000 to make some long needed safety upgrades and code corrections to its own administrative building.

Silva said there are bids out for several projects for the building, which includes installation of an ADA compliant elevator, sprinklers and an alarm system, as well as upgrades to plumbing, heating, electrical and ventilation systems.

“We are bringing a lot of systems up to code which will let us use the third floor and the whole building for its best use,” he said.

There were two allocations for the Valencia County Detention Center — $135,000 for a full-body X-ray scanner and $97,000 for an emergency generator.

With this funding, the county will be able to remove the generator from its Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan to make room for new projects.

Silva said the body scanner is an important addition to the jail, since people try to take in drugs and other contraband.

The $100,000 to purchase and equip vehicles for the Belen Senior Center will most likely be used to buy a 15-passenger, ADA-compliant transport van and a hotshot meal delivery truck.

Silva called the $50,000 for interoperable communications equipment for the county’s public safety departments the “icing on the cake.”

“This will allow the county to buy and install the microwave unit that will synchronize all the tower sites,” he said. “That will be the cherry on top.”

Other entities

The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus received $300,000 to make improvements and renovations to the Learning Resource Building, which contains the campus library.

The funds will replace skylights in the building, as well as pay for renovations in the writing center and its associated offices and the learning center common areas.

The Loma Escondida Water Association received $225,000 to buy land and water rights, and to plan, design, construct, improve and equip water systems for the Loma Escondida Water Cooperative Association.

In September of 2020, the community well that served about 30 households in Los Chavez stopped running. Residents of the area were unable to get the owner to make repairs.

The Town of Tomé Land Grant received $100,000 to acquire property and to plan, design, construct, purchase, renovate, furnish and equip buildings, including the historic jail site and other structures within the patented boundaries of the land grant-merced.

The Pueblo of Isleta received two allocations from the legislature — $35,000 to plan, design and construct upgrades to the solid waste transfer facility and $10,000 to plan, design and construct water system improvements and additions, including wells and elevated water tanks.

Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.

Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.

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.