BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – There was some celebration in Belen on Tuesday as the governor signed the COVID spending bill that includes $50 million to build a hospital but that bill does not specifically designate the money for Valencia County which has been working for decades to build one. If the county wants this money, it could still have a long road ahead.

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With that, $480 million in federal COVID relief money has been earmarked for projects around the state. Tuesday’s signing took place in front of the old Belen hospital. Thirty years later, residents are still without one.

This bill provides $50 million to build a new hospital in a community with fewer than 100,000 residents. Valencia County hopes it will be them. “This community has shown the will to move forward with a project like this,” said Senator Greg Baca.

Valencia County has been working for decades to replace that hospital. Through a 15-year mil levy, they’ve raised more than $23 million to operate one. They have renderings, at one point broke ground, but have faced lawsuits, challenges over location, and finding a provider to run it.

Then in April, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed a bill passed by the legislature that would have allowed the county to use that $23 million to open a 24-hour emergency facility, not necessarily a hospital. “That was a disappointment for sure. That bill went through the legislator without one vote of opposition, went to her desk. We were shocked and dismayed when it was vetoed, it was just another derailment of the hospital plan we are glad she is now supportive of it,” Sen. Baca said.

But when that $50 million to build the hospital was approved, lawmakers made sure this wasn’t specifically designated to Valencia County. “I think that is the answer that I am looking for that it’s open to anyone who wishes to apply,” said Rep. Cathryn Brown. “This covers the vast majority of counties in New Mexico.”

That means Valencia County will have to fight for it. KRQE News 13 asked the governor if Tuesday’s celebration in Belen was premature. “This is the only community that has money in hand due to a mill levy. It is a community that is already been developing plans for a hospital community already been having relationships with providers. We invite every New Mexico community to bring their request forward will be a competitive open transparent process,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said.

Despite the governor’s comments, her Press Secretary Nora Sacket sent out a press release this afternoon with the title, ‘Gov. Lujan Grisham signs legislation, funding Valencia County hospital.‘ KRQE News 13 also talked to Rep. Brown Tuesday afternoon who raised those questions about the money, she said it’s unclear what the official process will be for deciding who gets the money and who will oversee it.