The city of Benson is expecting to receive an estimated $530,000 in Community Development Block Grant in federal funds through the Arizona Department of Housing.

Monday’s regularly scheduled council meeting featured a discussion of CDBG uses and a public hearing to gather citizen input on how the community would like to see the 2023 CDBG application used.

“There are certain types of projects that are eligible for CDBG funds,” Mayor Joe Konrad said prior to the discussion. “I will emphasize that these projects must principally benefit low and moderate income persons.”

Some of those uses include water, sewer and gas-system improvements, road and street improvements, flood and drainage improvements and public housing rehabilitation.

In past projects, Benson has used the funds for water, sewer and gas-system improvements, a city library expansion and large-print books for the library, paving, curbs and sidewalks in eligible areas, and a senior center that has since transitioned into a community center. A drainage study and the installation of Americans with Disabilities Act compliant restrooms at Lions Park represent other CDBG projects that have been completed in Benson since 1982.

Prior to opening the public hearing, Community Development Program Manager Keith Dennis of Southeastern Arizona Governments Organization provided a presentation that outlined eligible uses for the funds and answered questions posed by council members.

“For the four-county region of Santa Cruz, Cochise, Graham and Greenlee counties, Southeastern Arizona Governments Organization helps administer the Community Development Block Grant across the 14 different jurisdictions — the counties, towns and cities in our region,” Dennis said.

SEAGO helps put together the grant applications to make sure they meet state standards, he added.

When considering eligibility requirements for the low and moderate income side of the funding criteria, Dennis said elderly persons and those with disabilities also qualify for CDBG purposes, regardless of income.

Low-to-moderate income thresholds also can qualify when considering projects that will benefit an entire community, such as improvements to a community pool, library or park.

Following the presentation, council members seemed most interested in using the funds for improvements to Lions Park.

Stating that Lions Park is the “heart of our city,” council member Barbara Nunn added that Benson is a poor community and the park is a way to join people together.

Council member Larry Dempster also mentioned Lions Park, noting that while there are already plans for the park, the additional $530,000 could be used for lighting, a community garden, more trees and a pickleball court, some of the ideas that were tossed around.

While discussing improvements to the park, Nick Maldonado mentioned the need for a better bridge over a wash that divides two areas of the park, something he believes is a safety issue.

During the presentation, Dennis spoke of other funding options that fall under state “special projects” and “colonias” programs.

A colonias is defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as “any identifiable community in the U.S.-Mexico border regions of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas” that have a lack of potable water supply, inadequate sewage systems and a shortage of decent, safe and sanitary housing, according to the HUD website.

In 1990 Congress passed a law requiring the four states to set aside at least 10% of their CDBG funds for colonias projects.

“These two funding sources are something that we would be interested in looking at in the future,” Konrad said. “At this time we don’t have any shovel-ready projects that would qualify.”

Benson City Council will be holding a second public hearing to gather input from the community and discuss potential CDBG projects. A date for the second hearing has not been set.

In other news

Benson will not be renewing its intergovernmental agreement with the Cochise County Tourism & Economic Council. The decision was made with a unanimous vote. Benson Tourism Supervisor Bob Nilson belives the $15,000 payment to belong to CCTEC does not benefit Benson and could be better spent on other promotional projects.

Upcoming meetings

The city will be holding a work session at 5:30 p.m. May 9 at the Benson Community Center, 705 West Union St. The work session will be followed by a regular meeting at 7 p.m.

There will be a special city council meeting at 7 p.m. May 23, also at the community center.