Benson Needs Leaders To Step Up

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Benson Needs Leaders To Step Up

by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News


If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
John Quincy Adams
Sixth U.S. President

When voters go to the polls in Benson this coming November they will be electing a new mayor and at least one new council member.

Mayor Gary Landmark and Council Member Stephanie Heinzig have announced they will not seek reelection in November. Council Member Jack Evenson is also up for re-election and has said he will seek a second term.

If Evenson were to lose, the council could see three of its five members new to city politics, but having a deciding vote in directing the city’s future for the next two years.

Those who are elected in November will have a crucial voice at a time in Benson’s history when it is facing some critical challenges. They could easily determine whether Benson is a progressive community or one that pulls into a shell.

There are many competing needs for the city’s financial resources. It has streets, sewers and water lines to maintain. It has an electrical grid of its own to serve homes, businesses and public needs. It has parks, a cemetery, swimming pool, golf club and civic center that all draw on its resources. It has a police department and fire department.

It needs to keep up its facilities. It is building a new police department; should it also have a new city hall?

Against these basics of city government there are the not so easily defined economic development needs of the community. What business gets a loan for a new start-up or an expansion? Should the city help finance a day care center so workers in both public and private sectors have somewhere to take their children? Adequate day care is a challenge in rural Minnesota and can influence where people choose to live.

Should the city back a senior living facility with bonding dollars? Keeping seniors in the community is important not just to their families, but to our local economy as well. Should it support recreational opportunities by working with Benson Public Schools on the north end of the Benson Civic Center?

How do we ensure our hospital stays strong – it is essential to the future of our community’s health.

Balancing its needs against its priorities is a constant challenge for Benson City Manager Rob Wolfington as he advises the council on what he sees as the realities that need to be taken into consideration as they make tough decisions.

Do we simply maintain the community we have, one that is steadily losing population and seeing more empty storefronts, or do we find ways to stimulate growth in the community? How do we make Benson a more attractive, welcoming place to live?

We have $20 million likely to come Benson’s way over the next four years for economic development. The first payment comes in June 2018 with the other three paid annually in the following years:
$4 million for fiscal year 2018;
$6.5 million for fiscal year 2019
$6.5 million for fiscal year 2020
$3 million in 2021.

Payment of these funds were part of the legislative agreement that will likely lead to Benson Power, LLC, closing next summer. With that closing we lose 45 jobs at the plant. Many businesses in the area earn an income serving the needs of the power plant.

Today it contributes 25 percent of the city’s real estate taxes to the annual budget as well as paying substantial amounts to the county and school district.

Benson Power 2017 Real Estate Taxes

Government    Amount
City of Benson    $404,058
Swift County    $200,421
District 777    $153,700
Total    $758,157

With the loss of the 45 jobs at Benson Power, we will be losing families from the community that have children in our school system, that shop at our stores and use the services provided by other businesses in the community. Back when bringing the power plant to Minnesota was being studied in the early 2000s, Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development estimated it would provide an annual economic boost of $8 to $10 million to the area.

Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission is studying the agreement proposed by Xcel Energy that would close down the power plant and will likely act on it by the end of the year. If it approves it, and there is a good chance it will, the payments to Benson will clear their final hurdle.

The new council we elect in November will decide how that money will be spent.

One of the primary challenges all small town communities face around Minnesota is workforce development. To have the best chance possible to keep and attract the workers that our local businesses and manufacturers need there are some basic challenges that have to be met:
 - Many workers can’t find the affordable housing they need.
-  Young people can’t find the day care facilities they need.
- Small towns don’t have the recreational facilities or entertainment opportunities of bigger cities.
- Educational facilities in small towns can’t compete with those in bigger cities.

The challenges we face as a community demand we have thoughtful leaders prepared to give the city the best chance possible to move toward a successful future. The wrong leaders will hold us back.

Starting Aug. 1 the two-week filing period for the council and mayor’s seats open – think about how you can serve your community’s future by serving on the council. Talk with those who you think would make strong leaders and urge them to run for office.

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