Benson community hears from candidates at forum | Benson News-Sun

Completing projects at Lions Park, concerns about the financial impact the city-owned golf course is having on Benson and attracting economic growth opportunities are examples of issues that were addressed Thursday by the Benson candidates for mayor and city council.

Hosted by the Benson/San Pedro Valley Chamber of Commerce, the community heard from two mayoral candidates, current mayor Joe Konrad and opponent Christopher Tapia, as well as six city council candidates running for three open seats at the of the next elections. The three sitting board members, Larry Dempster, Barbara Nunn and Cynthia Tapia (no relation to the mayoral candidate), will be up for re-election against newcomers Aaron Abbott, III, Seth Judd and Levi Johnson.

The six council candidates spoke first, where they were asked if there was a need for a full-time fire department, what their position was on Benson’s growth and what they thought was the Benson’s strongest asset, to name a few.

While most candidates support the idea of ​​a full-time fire department, they also recognize that funding a fire department likely wouldn’t be feasible for Benson at this time.

Judd said he supports a full-time fire department, but would like to see more data before making a decision on the matter, mainly because of the expense.

“I think one option would be to create a fire district…” he said. “It could be an alternative to a full-time fire department, where we could incorporate J-6 and Mescal and some of the surrounding areas to help share the cost of that. I am not opposed to a full time fire department as long as the funding is there and we really have a need in the community.

While Councilman Nunn also thinks a full-time fire department would be good for Benson, the city doesn’t have the funding to support the effort at this time.

“Obviously a full-time fire department would be the ultimate for Benson, but it will take more growth to get revenue to fund it,” she said. “We just don’t have the funds…”

Council candidate Johnson suggested adding fire personnel paid in increments as funding becomes available.

Dempster, Abbott and Cynthia Tapia also support a full-time fire department, but all believe more data needs to be provided to determine its feasibility, especially given Benson’s tight budget constraints.

When it comes to growth for Benson, all of the candidates believe growth is vital, but it has to be smart and responsible growth.

Abbott referred to economic growth when asked about Benson’s strongest asset, which he said is the community’s location close to Highway 10 and State Roads 80 and 90. Benson Municipal Airport, in addition to the railroad that runs through town, are other important features that could help the community grow as a potential distribution center for large corporations, Abbott said. . Companies like Walmart, FedEx, UPS and Amazon could use the rail system, the airport and I-0 to move products and distribute them through National Routes 80 and 90, leading to Douglas, Willcox and Sierra Vista, he said. -he declares.

Completing a slate of projects at Lions Park is another passion all applicants share. Money for Lions Park and its improvements has been set aside, but there have been delays in starting projects.

Regarding the golf course, some mayoral candidates are proposing its closure due to the expense to the city.

Johnson proposes to close it and use the property as a huge park for sports programs such as softball, soccer, and football.

Although Councilman Larry Dempster understands the financial problems the course poses for the city, he believes there is a large population of golfers who use the course and the issue should be investigated before taking such a drastic step. Dempster also noted that the new management company, OB Sports, has made progress in rehabilitating the course.

When asked about tackling the problem of community blight, Cynthia Tapia said everyone needs to be active to keep the community safe and beautiful. She supports the volunteer work of Elton Bowman and Pam Masters who started ‘Brighten the Path’, a community clean-up project that has grown tremendously since its launch some five years ago.

Tapia, who works for Benson Hospital, said she was passionate about Benson and his community culture.

“We have an amazing, positive environment here,” said Tapia, who said people needed to have a voice and action to go with it. Council members need to think outside the box to come up with innovative ideas when it comes to tackling community challenges, she said.

On Benson’s strongest asset, Konrad said the city’s sense of community has always been strong. It’s one of the things that drew him and his wife to Benson more than 30 years ago.

“It was Butterfield weekend when we first visited and it was deeply evident that this community was tightly knit,” Konrad recalls. “But unlike some close-knit communities, we were immediately welcomed…”

He also discussed how Benson Unified School District’s quality education was a big draw and noted that in 2013, Benson School District was named the number one district in the state of Arizona. .

Benson Hospital and its commitment to quality health care is another asset Konrad spoke about.

“A good hospital is essential for growth, stability and prosperity,” he said. “When people are looking for a place to raise a family, schools and health care are the main draws to a community.”

For Chris Tapia, Benson’s strongest assets are city employees: police and fire personnel and city employees.

“The men and women who work in the field often wear many hats to keep our city running smoothly,” Tapia said.

He thanked the police department for taking the necessary steps to keep the community safe and praised the community volunteer fire department for their efforts, describing them as the community’s “unsung heroes”.

Asked about the three biggest concerns facing Benson, Tapia said economic development is one of the biggest challenges facing the community.

“We need to work together to bring business and technology to the region,” he said. “I want our city to be an area where technology and businesses would want to locate and where people would want to live and raise their families.”

Infrastructure is another issue that Tapia says is of concern.

“We need to partner with the county and the state on future projects,” he said. “Completing the Lions Park projects, repairing and renewing streets, and continuing to upgrade and replace outdated facilities while protecting the environment for Benson’s future are some of the infrastructure projects that need to be addressed.”

Public safety is another issue that concerns Tapia.

“As new homes and businesses spring up across the city and surrounding areas, we must begin to plan for the future by expanding the city’s workforce and providing the best resources available to our prime stakeholders,” he said.

Addressing Benson’s main concerns, Konrad spoke about the city’s struggling economy and its disproportionate percentage of people living at or below the poverty line.

“We currently have 52.4% of Benson’s population living at or below this threshold established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” he said.

“That’s why we need to embrace and support local organizations like Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona, Community Food Bank of Benson, Produce on Wheels Without Waste, Salvation Army and many more.” Konrad said the city needs to budget for and provide amenities like parks and recreation so those less fortunate can enjoy a quality of life.

Improving community infrastructure before serious outages occur is another issue. Benson’s utility systems are aging and need to be replaced.

The impacts of illegal immigration on public safety systems is another concern addressed by the mayor. The community is directly impacted by human and drug trafficking due to illegal immigration, which directly impacts local law enforcement, Konrad said.

When asked what inspired him to run for mayor, Konrad said that after serving five years on city council, three of which were vice mayors, he felt running for mayor was a natural progression and that he had the consulting experience to support the position.

Tapia decided to run for mayor because of how he was supported by the community after being diagnosed with a painful form of cancer.

“When the community was there for me, it inspired me to do more for my community,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m running for mayor.”

Melvin B. Baillie