As children eagerly climbed onto new Community Park play structures, Benicians this fall got a tangible look at their Measure C tax dollars in action. Replacement of the obsolete Benicia Community Park playground equipment is the first project funded with money from the one-cent sales tax increase voters approved in November of last year.
Benicia residents will also soon see hundreds of potholes being filled and other street repairs being done throughout the city, the result of City Council action in October to launch that work.
An official opening of the new playground drew scores of children, plus local dignitaries. At the Oct. 20 event, children flocked to the new play structures following the symbolic cutting of the ribbon. Measure C has generated a little more than $1 million in sales tax proceeds so far with a total of $3.7 million expected annually. Funds from the now 8.65 percent sales tax go to projects designed to bolster and improve parks, streets and public safety.
Councilman Mark Hughes, for one, is pleased so far with Measure C allocations and efforts to keep residents informed of expenditures. “The official playground opening was really cool. There were lots of kids there. It’s a perfect example. What we said to the voters is that if you agree to this one cent sales tax we will be committed to spending it wisely and keeping you informed and that’s what’s happened,” says Hughes.
The new playground is more than new—it also reflects innovative designs, including features that foster cooperative play among children of all abilities, according to a Department of Parks and Recreation announcement. For instance, an AeroGlider, a modern twist on the traditional teeter-totter, is designed so that those in wheelchairs can use it. According to Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, a focus on sustainability resulted in the city using a vendor specializing in products made with recycled materials and without any known health hazards.
Additional Measure C-funded projects are in the pipeline for the remainder of the fiscal year. Next up is the street repair, replacement of the damaged First Street promenade safety railing, and downtown sidewalk work. The railing work is a bit behind schedule due to the need to redesign the work prior to soliciting bids, according to City Council staff. A decision to use higher grade stainless steel for the new First Street Promenade railing also led to a boost in cost, from $150,000 to $280,000. One big factor in the choice is that stainless steel is expected to withstand outdoor elements better and last at least 50 years.
Repairs to downtown sidewalks are also a bit behind schedule due to public works staff working on other projects, the report notes. Measure C was originally intended to pay for new police vehicle radios, but the department secured a Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative grant to pay for those. In early October, the council agreed to use Measure C, instead, for new police vehicle cameras. Those are expected to cost $23,610 more than the radios.
Both the police cameras and the railing work was expected to go before City Council for consideration in mid-November with sidewalk repairs following shortly thereafter, said Mario Giuliani, Economic Development Manager. More street repairs and public safety equipment are on the horizon next year, including pavement of an Industrial Way segment, purchase of a grass fire engine and replacement of a fire engine, plus a comprehensive plan for flood mitigation and storm water management. James Lemos pool improvements and a new safety crossing at the Benicia Middle School are also slated.
One city goal with Measure C projects is to keep voters informed of where and how their money is being spent. To that end, information is posted at Beniciameasurec.org, and regular City Council reports will also be made.
“The more projects we’re able to get done the more our citizens will realize the decision was a good one to vote for Measure C. The key, for me personally,” says Hughes, “is that we move forward, and as we make progress keep everyone informed.”