BENSON — “I thought it went well, I was glad to hear everyone express their opinion,” commented Benson City Manager Vicki Vivian at the conclusion of Wednesday’s public input forum.
“The council recently had a discussion on financing projects and asked staff to gather input on projects the public would like to see accomplished,” Vivian said to the 35 or so gathered in the city’s makeshift City Hall at Benson Community Center. It’s the first of more gatherings to come, noted Vivian, and which are planned to elicit ideas from the public on city projects they’d like done. Vivian offered a brief presentation before those who signed up to speak offered their suggestions.
The next forum is set for Dec. 2, at 6 p.m., and also at Benson Community Center. “Thank you to everyone who participated in the last public forum… we were so pleased with the attendance and range of comments,” said Vivian.
Monies for projects would come from refinanced bond debt the city is already paying and which will continue for the next 10 years, said Vivian.
“This is an opportunity to refinance that debt and get some money out to do some long term projects,” she explained. “What this will do is it will slightly raise our payment, it could slightly extend the payment, or it could double the payment terms, depending on how much financing we have,” she explained.
In addition to Vivian, Seth Judd, the city’s finance director, and Brad Hamilton, public works director, were also on hand.
Vivian spoke of some potential projects: A new city hall, railroad quiet zone, street improvements and park improvements. Vivian noted the city has been without council chambers since a storm last year compounded problems within the existing structure and which subsequently led to demolition of the chambers at 120 W. 6th St. City Council meetings have been held at Benson Community Center since that time.
“We’re in dire need of a new facility,” said Vivian, while showing slides of the building in obvious modes of disrepair. A new city hall could be erected in the current parking lot, she said, and oriented facing Apache Park rather than Sixth Street where the park could also double as a courtyard.
With regard to the railroad quiet zone, equipment and traffic studies needed to bring railroad crossings into quiet zone compliance, and the escalating costs associated with getting that done, could bring that final tab at well over $1 million, she noted. The quiet zone is something that has been in the works since 2016.
Street improvements would first require a comprehensive study and maintenance schedule which could be done in house, said Vivian. Streets have gone into disrepair throughout the state due to continuous raids by the state legislature of Highway Users Revenue Funds, which had been appropriated for road improvements.
Another project the city has been looking into more than a year is a splash pad for Lions Park. Vivian showed a model installed in Thatcher she said cost $300,000. Parlayed against a recent city insurance dividend of about $160,000, that project could already be about half funded.
Nine speakers offered suggestions.
The first, Ernie Batten, long affiliated with Benson’s softball program, talked about park improvements that could include softball fields and facilities for a softball academy. While investment would be substantial, Batten noted, the city would surely reap benefits given the lack of big-time tournaments in this part of the state and given Benson’s elite reputation in softball circles that would be sure to attract hordes of teams for big time tournaments and travel ball leagues and the like. He said those visitors, and if done regularly, would surely boost revenue for city coffers, filling up hotel rooms and dining in local restaurants.
Andrew Abernathy spoke of the need for the railroad quiet zone.
“Some of us have been talking about it for many years now. The train noise is a quality of life issue,” he said, that would “benefit the entire community,” and would go a long way toward revitalization of Fourth Street. “Train noise is one of the biggest impediments,” he said.
Josh Allred talked about the need for park improvements and specifically the need for more improved soccer fields. He also touched on the quiet zone issue. “This town was established by trains,” he said.
Sarah Allred spoke of the need for things to do for families in town. “If we can give families someplace to go for good wholesome fun” would strengthen the community, she said.
Pat Myers of the Benson/San Pedro Valley Chamber of Commerce noted the need for lighting and permanent stage at Apache Park that would make it easier to hold events there, she said.
Miranda Sutton, one of several high school students in attendance, agreed with the park improvements and the need for things to do for the community’s young people.
Kay Edwards offered an impassioned plea.
“I’m here to advocate for the young people in the community and the absolute lack of activities for them,” said the retired educator and longtime Benson resident. “If there are youngsters not involved in sports or not involved in the LDS community, there is very little for them to do after school and on weekends.” She mentioned reduced library hours and asked what happened to the bowling alley, roller skating rink and movie theater. “These things were here,” she said. She also pointed to the need for an year-round swimming. “I do think that our young people in this community deserve better than we are currently giving them,” she concluded. The address drew applause from the audience.