Residents JW Hill and Kathy Suagee addressed council members during Monday’s meeting, both speaking out about issues they have with the city.
Along with hearing from the two speakers during the meeting’s Call to the Public, the council approved the acceptance and execution of a Federal Aviation Administration grant for the municipal airport, listened to a financial update presented by City Finance Director Jim Cox and approved membership with the Southeast Arizona Economic Group.
Vice Mayor Lori McGoffin presided over the meeting, as acting Mayor Toney King was not in attendance.
During the Call to the Public, Hill, who has appeared before the council in past meetings, questioned whether city employees do their jobs. Outspoken about what he believes are health and wellness issues in his neighborhood because of unkempt properties, Hill wants the city to be more aggressive about enforcing violations in his neighborhood, problems that he says create eyesores. He pointed to City Manger Glenn Nichols and stated that Nichols is the “highest paid employee in Benson and he doesn’t do his job.” As he addressed the council, Hill was particularly critical of what he claims is Nichols’s failure in overseeing Benson Chief of Police Paul Moncada. He also is upset about a neighbor who has pit bulls, but isn’t taking proper care of the dogs, especially when there are injuries from dog fights. He noted that an animal control officer recently seized one of the dogs because of injuries, but feels all of the animals should be removed from the property.
Kathy Suagee, another Benson resident who addresses the council on a regular basis, feels the city should have disclosed the names of the parties involved in an 11-acre piece of property the city is buying for $130,000. At the previous council meeting Suagee requested the owners’ names be included on the purchase contract. “I pointed out that it should be no secret that you are buying land from Mr. Mark Battaglia and his partner,” Suagee said during Monday’s council meeting. “Mr. Battaglia and his family members and business partners own half the land in Benson. What’s the big secret about buying some of it?” She then implied that the council was hiding information from the public, which she said “reflects poorly on this council and each of you.” Suagee requested that the council amend the minutes of the previous meeting in order to include the names of the parties involved in the purchase.
Councilmember David Lambert questioned whether the checks for the property would be made out to Battaglia, to which Nichols responded “no.” Lambert then noted that “since no checks are being cut to Mr. Battaglia, his name has no bearing on the purchase.”
However, Councilmember Ron Brooks moved to amend the minutes so that Suagee’s comments and Battaglia’s name would be included, thereby making the amended portion public record. However, the motion failed in a 3-3 vote, with Brooks, Al Sacco and Chris Moncada supporting the motion, while McGoffin, Nick Maldonado and Lambert voted against it.
Brad Hamilton, who is the city engineer and director of public works, requested authorization to accept and execute an FAA grant for improvements at the airport that will allow construction of a new backup generator. The FAA will be paying 95 percent of the $332,500 cost, with the city responsible for no more than 5 percent of that amount and possibly dropping down to as low as 2.5 percent.
In a presentation of the city’s financial highlights for July 2012, Cox noted that the city’s unrestricted cash is stable at $2.1 million. The fund balance for July is $66,000, which is down by $36,000 from 2011. The city’s overall financial trends are down slightly from the previous year. Cox said that while state tax collections are steady, the city’s year-to-date collection are down by 8 percent, or $24,000. On a brighter note, the golf course operations are improving, something the council is watching. Cox warns that with the city’s overall financial picture slightly below what it’s been in recent years, the 2012-2013 cash flow will be challenging for the city. Under the current conditions, Cox believes the city will remain financially sound, though further economic downturns could affect that outlook.
The city approved membership into the Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group, a nonprofit organization that works to attract new businesses to Northern Cochise County. SAEDG Director George Scott answered questions about the organization, which has been in existence for five years. He noted that SAEDG continues to work with Rosemont Copper Company to promote the mining project in the Santa Rita Mountains, something he says will have a positive economic impact on the region. In addition, SAEDG is involved in developing new business opportunities for the Benson Municipal Airport, Scott said. As part of that effort, the organization is participating in the effort to bring Unmanned Aerial Systems research and development to the Benson Airport.
With the membership approval, the city will be giving SAEDG $2,000, which is the platinum membership fee.
The next council meeting is 7 p.m., Sept. 24 at the city council chambers.