The past year marked another milepost for the community and for Benton County on the long road out of the Great Recession. Through an improving local economy and sound management, we were able to turn more important corners. We look forward to further recovery in 2016.
For the larger community, three things stand out when we look back on the progress made in 2015.
The first was the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. So many years of work was finally rewarded in full when the National Park Service officially opened the doors on the park at B Reactor this past fall. This success is a testament to the vision that was held in tight focus for more than two decades, and the patience and unwavering commitment to inch toward the realization of that vision in what were, at times, incremental steps. We are proud of the role Benton County played on this team.
The second notable example of progress was beginning the implementation of measures funded by the passage of the Public Safety Sales Tax initiative by Benton County voters in 2014. Now that those funds have started to accrue, cities and the county are hiring more police officers and attorneys, and supporting other projects and programs related to crime prevention. Benton County will be issuing a call for additional projects from community sponsors in early 2016 that could be supported by these funds.
The third major item was the beginning of the reconstruction of the Interstate 82 interchange at Benton City, slated for completion in May. This is another example of a large project with many pieces that took years of commitment to bring to fruition. Funding, property acquisition and engineering all took time to get into place; and a big thank you needs to go out to our legislators, local proponents and Department of Transportation staff for all of their efforts. When completed, the new design will improve safety, access and circulation into town and onto the freeway.
The county also had several other notable accomplishments in 2015.
We completed a major renovation on our 95-year-old courthouse building in Prosser that included complete rebuilding of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system and exterior restoration treatments, including deep cleaning of all facades, new lighting and renovation of concrete and windows.
We built a new Road Department facility in the Cottonwood Springs area of Kennewick to replace the deteriorating shop in the South Highlands area. This will provide a more convenient location at which to more efficiently service and store our rolling stock.
In our ongoing efforts to upgrade the Benton County Fairgrounds, we opened the new main restroom building and developed an expanded camping area to better support the increase in larger events like Creation Festival that are not associated with the annual fair. We also renovated two antiquated playgrounds (Two Rivers Park and Vista Park), and the county was awarded matching funds for the purchase of properties on and around Candy Mountain for a new preserve similar to the park the county operates on Badger Mountain.
It is easy to see why we are optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead in 2016 when we reflect upon the progress made in 2015. We have a strong and well-rounded team, find ourselves on a solid fiscal footing and have important and exciting projects in the queue that will help us to improve and sustain our levels of service to our growing community. Thank you to all of our elected officials, administration and staff at Benton County, and to our community.