A road map has been laid for the City of Benton’s strategic plan. Now the council must prioritize which items to focus on first during the next four to five years.
A complete comprehensive plan for the city is still being worked on and will be finished in time for a public hearing on April 12.
Tad Long with the Kentucky League of Cities said during the information gathering process he and co-worker Bobbie Bryant spoke to over 100 members of the community asking for feedback, including a group of high school students. The plan gives recommendations on the economy, housing, tourism and recreation, and transportation.
The core values of the groups interviewed were that Benton is small and convenient, welcoming and friendly, and safe and secure.
Strengths identified by community members included the renovated H.H. Lovett Park and swimming pool, a “top notch” school system, thriving economy, new housing units and the new Marshall County Library branch, the Marshall County Children’s Arts Center and Marshall County Hospital.
Weaknesses included outdated and non-enforced code enforcement, utilities needing upgraded, lack of community pride, rundown and unkempt streets, sidewalks and properties in the middle of town, limited housing options and heavy, speeding traffic.
Opportunities for the city were identified as a need to get ahead of growth and development, more dine-in restaurants, hotels and condos, walking and biking trails connecting in a continuous loop, more activities for young people, re-envisioning H.H. Lovett Park, reorganizing Tater Day and creating nicer entrances into the city.
Threats to the community were outdated water and sewer system preventing economic development, unplanned growth, negative perception of Tater Day, loss of volunteer involvement, an aging population and the workforce keeping up with job opportunities.
The student input mimicked the community’s opinions with some additions. They voiced the need for more activities and gathering places geared to teenagers, a need to be part of the community through volunteerism and service and wanting internship and mentor opportunities.
Work on upgrading the water and sewer systems has already been began and Long stressed the need to educate the public as the plans are being made. He also recommended meeting with community leaders to work on first impressions.
The KLC’s focus recommendations for the economy list the central business district, engaging property owners, investigating youth programs and re-energizing Memorial Plaza at the corner of Main and W. 12th Street.
Being located in Marshall County next to Kentucky Lake is a large asset for the city. When determining the projects to focus on, Long asked the council to consider what would bring the recreational traffic and tourists at the lakes into the city.
Recommendations under recreation and tourism were to re-envision H.H. Lovett as a premiere art and music outdoor destination in the lakes region and the inclusion of walking trails with multiple trail heads leading to other areas in the city. Becoming a designated trail town could also include guided tours of historical buildings and teach skills such as using a GPS or compass. The creation of a dog park at H. H. Lovett park has already began and will be complete in the spring.
Under housing, the council should first take an inventory of all housing in the city and determine the condition of the properties. Recommendations were also made to identify citizen concerns, develop incentive programs to rehabilitate properties and determine the level of code enforcement, educate the public on it and implement it.
Finally, the strategic plan recommends renovations of Main and Poplar streets to include a bike lane and more visually appealing landscaping.
In other business, the council,
• Was updated by Benton Gas System Manager Todd Riley on the natural gas supply. While the production of natural gas in Texas is much lower, gas is still available, but at a higher cost. The city had asked residents to conserve natural gas so the city would not use up all the reserves and have to purchase the gas at a higher price, thus passing along those costs to the customer.
• Held first readings on three ordinances — two for zoning changes and one for amending water and sewer service charges.
• Approved a resolution requesting the General Assembly to pass legislation that addresses infrastructure needs and the need to provide more funding for street improvements.
• Awarded the bid for sludge removal to Greer Excavating.
• Approved using $75,000 in CARES act funding for the Small Business Relief Grants.
• And heard the monthly police report from Chief of Police Stephen Sanderson. During the month of January, the Benton Police Department responded to 764 calls for service, worked nine collisions, wrote 66 citations — 44 for traffic, 21 were criminal, one non-criminal — and worked 21 cases.