Progress is easily observed through visible actions, and we have many of those to share with the community; but most real progress begins with a solid foundation of strategic planning at its cornerstone. We have been doing a lot of that in recent years, and it is paying dividends for Benton County and the taxpayers.
2014 was a good year for the county. We have continued to weather the economic realities of the past several years that forced us into some new perspectives about how we conduct our business. The overall economic recovery has been steady but slow; and we know that we have to remain diligent and conservative in our management approach. We concluded our second two-year budget in 2014, a transition that has gone well overall. Our team has embraced the efficiencies and flexibilities that biennial budgeting offers. We are in good fiscal health, and well-positioned for the next biennium and the decades beyond.
We were able to celebrate several milestones and events with the community in 2014. After years of work, the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center is fully operational in Prosser, offering educational programing, tourist resources and meeting spaces in a beautiful setting facilitated by the Port of Benton. We dedicated a new trail on Badger Mountain that took more than 3,400 volunteer hours to complete and that added significant mileage to the hiking opportunities at that county park. Finally, after so many years of dedicated effort from our community, we were able to applaud Congressional action that will establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park featuring Hanford’s B Reactor, which will be preserved for posterity.
We look forward to continued accomplishments in 2015. Along with the national historic park, Congress also directed the transfer of 1,600 acres in the southeastern corner of the Hanford site out of federal ownership for private sector uses, and Benton County will be continuing the work with our partners — Richland, Port of Benton and Tri-City Development Council — to finalize this transfer by year’s end. Not far from the land transfer location, we look forward to completion of the Wine Science Center at the WSU Tri-Cities campus. The center will be only the second of its kind in the nation, and we are excited about the prestige, research and applications it will generate.
Benton County will also be completing some major upgrades on own own campuses in the next year. Our road crew shop in Kennewick has served us well for many decades but is showing the wear and tear of those years. Our Public Works department looks forward to opening a new facility at the mouth of Badger Canyon that will not only be a modern facility, but also be in a better overall service location. At the other end of the county in Prosser, we will be completing an overhaul of the courthouse’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. We look forward to completing restoration work on the windows, doors and facades of the 95-year-old registered building. Finally, we are working with Franklin County and the state Legislature on a program to do major renovations on the Juvenile Justice Center in Kennewick and hope to get started on that work this year.
It has been my pleasure to work with all of our elected officials and staff over the past year, and to be able to share just a few of the accomplishments that have resulted from their work and dedication to serving the citizens of Benton County. On a final note, on behalf of all of us here at the county, I would like to recognize and thank Barbara Wagner who retired at the end of 2014 after 24 years of service as Benton County’s assessor. We welcome Bill Spencer, who takes over as our new assessor, and we look forward to working with him and his staff in the years ahead.