SAEDG would like to acknowledge the Cochise College Center for Economic Research for providing permission to publish excerpts from their 2015 Benson Economic Outlook Publication.
Benson is the fourth largest of seven incorporated areas in Cochise County. With a population of 5,105 as of Census 2010, Benson accounts for 3.9 percent of the county’s population. The Benson Census County Division (CCD), which includes the City of Benson, the unincorporated area of St. David, and surrounding unincorporated areas, had a combined population of more than 12,000 in 2010, according to Arizona Department of Commerce (ADOC) estimates. Benson is located 45 miles southeast of Tucson and 156 miles southeast of Phoenix. The city is located along several trade routes: Interstate 10, State Route 80, State Route 90, and the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad.
The City of Benson was incorporated in 1924. Long before its incorporation, Benson developed as a stopping point for the Butterfield Overland Stage mail delivery route. The Southern Pacific Railroad came to Benson in the late 1800s and continued to serve the area until 1997, when the line was purchased by Union Pacific Railroad. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Benson was the railroad hub of Southern Arizona. Benson’s culture is characterized by images of the Old West and the city’s traditional railroad heritage.
In addition to its designation as The Gateway to the San Pedro Valley, Benson is also known as the Home of Kartchner Caverns State Park. Located on 550 acres at the foothills of the Whetstone Mountains on State Route 90, the park offers picnicking, camping, hiking, walking, and the magnificent “still-living” caverns. On average, more than 145,000 people visit Kartchner Caverns each year.
Nearby locations of interest include Old Tucson’s Mescal movie site; the cities of Tombstone and Bisbee; Gammon Gulch Movie Set and Museum; the Amerind Foundation and Museum, which features remnants of prehistoric Native American cultures; the Holy Trinity Monastery; San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area; Fort Bowie National Historic Site; Fort Huachuca; Coronado National Memorial and Coronado National Forest; Cochise Stronghold; Texas Canyon; San Bernardino Wildlife Refuge; and Chiricahua National Monument and Chiricahua Mountains. In addition, there are numerous mountain ranges that provide rock hounding, photography, picnicking, hiking, camping, bird watching, and hunting opportunities. Embed links in this sentence: To learn more about Benson, visit the city's website or the Benson Visitor Center's website
The Benson Municipal Airport (FAA Airport Identifier E95) is a full-service, general aviation airport located on 140 acres approximately 3 miles north of the city’s center. The airport is at an elevation of 3,829 feet and serves helicopters, single-engine aircraft, and small multi-engine general aviation aircraft. The airport is owned and operated by the City of Benson and serves residents of Cochise County and eastern Pima County. The city has expressed a commitment to maximize utilization of the airport, and applied for and received more than $7.1 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and Arizona Department of Transportation between 1995 and 2008.
Southwestern Aviation is the airport’s fixed-base operator, providing AVGAS and Jet A fuel, car rental, flight training, and aircraft rental and sales. The airport has a single runway: Runway 10/28 is 4,000 x 75 feet, asphalt, with a single-wheel weight limitation of 12,500 lbs. The airport is located 120 nautical miles from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport, and 30.5 nautical miles from Tucson International Airport. For more information, call (520) 586-3262 or visit www.cityofbenson.com.
As part of its economic development efforts, the City of Benson has focused on enhancing services that contribute to the quality of life of local residents, seasonal visitors, and others who travel to or through the area. In 2010, the city council accepted the donation to the city of the $12.5 million, championship 18-hole San Pedro Golf Course, which the city now runs. The city’s Benson Area Transit system offers bus transportation in the city and surrounding areas. The city’s quality of life infrastructure also includes the Benson Library, which in addition to traditional library services also provides internet access. The city is home to Lion’s Park, Apache Park, and Union Street Park, which are managed by the city’s Parks Division. Park amenities include a swimming pool, lighted sports fields, a basketball court, horseshoe pits, a volleyball court, a skate park, walking trails, several ramadas, barbeque grills, a playground, and restrooms. The city’s Recreation Division works closely with local and surrounding public schools and sports leagues and provides a pool program including lap swimming, open swim, and swimming lessons for adults and youth. In partnership with the Benson Unified School District, the city’s summer recreation programs provide camps, activities, and trips.
In partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and with the support of special committees, the City of Benson supports a variety of annual special events, including the 4th of July Celebration, Butterfield Overland Stage Days, Christmas on Main Street, Bluegrass in the Park, and the Biker Rodeo. The city’s view is that investing in these special events pays dividends to its local merchants and contributes to the image of Benson, helping residential home sales and supporting the city’s workforce development efforts.
A primary function of the city’s Water Utility Division is the production and delivery of water that meets or exceeds water quality standards and in sufficient quantity to meet customer demands. The city has adopted an approach to water resource management that includes water conservation and the use of reclaimed water. In July 2007, the mayor and city council approved the city’s Water Conservation Plan. In October 2005, the Arizona Department of Water Resources issued the city the Decision and Order Number 21-401803 on the Designation of an Adequate Water Supply. As a result, the city was granted 12,784 acre feet of groundwater use per year. The city’s Capital Improvements Program has several water supply construction projects to meet future demands.
The City of Benson’s 2007-2011 Capital Improvements Program includes maintenance and new construction projects to support a wide range of services, from a new police station to major park expansions. One recently completed project is the new Union Street Park Pool at $550,000. On the maintenance side, the plan includes more than $200,000 a year in pavement preservation. Other projects include the $3 million reconstruction of Ocotillo Street from 4th Street to Union Street, the design of the wastewater treatment plant expansion, and several water projects.
According to the ACCRA Cost of Living Index (COLI), the cost of living in Cochise County was below the national average in 2010. The Council for Community and Economic Research in Arlington, VA administers the ACCRA COLI, which measures relative price levels for consumer goods and services in 318 participating areas in all 50 states. The average for all participating places nationwide equals 100 and each participant’s index is read as a percentage of the average for all places. The ACCRA index includes separate weighted sub-indices for grocery items, housing, utilities, transportation, healthcare, and miscellaneous goods and services.
The Cost of Living Index data indicate Cochise County’s cost of living in 2010 was 2.2 percent lower than the average for all participating places nationwide. This was down from 2009, when the cost of living locally was only 0.8 percent below the national average, and 2008, which saw local prices 0.2 percent above the national average.
The cost of living in Cochise County in 2010 was higher than in Tucson—a continuation of the trend that began in 2008. The cost of living in Cochise County was lower than in Phoenix, a reversal of the trend from 2009. In 2010, the cost of living locally was 1.5 percent higher than Tucson and 2.8 percent lower than Phoenix.
In 2010, all categories of cost were lower in Cochise County than nationwide except transportation, which has been on an upward trend locally in recent years. Transportation costs, which include gasoline and automobile maintenance, were 0.9 percent higher than the national average in 2008. This rose to 2.6 percent above the national average in 2009 and 4 percent above the national average in 2010.
Housing costs, which include home prices and rental rates, declined considerably in 2010 relative to national averages. In 2007, the cost of housing in Cochise County was 5.4 percent below the national average. This rose to 3.1 percent above the national average in 2008 and 4.1 percent above the national average in 2009. In 2010, the trend reversed with local costs falling to 0.6 percent below national averages.
Local grocery costs were 3.5 percent below national averages in 2010, a reversal from recent years. In 2007 groceries in Cochise County were 5.5 percent above the national average. This fell to 4.9 percent above in 2008 and 0.3 percent above in 2009.
Healthcare costs in Cochise County were 4.1 percent below the national average in 2010, down from 2.6 percent below in 2009. In 2008, local healthcare costs were 0.5 percent higher than nationally.
The local cost of miscellaneous goods and services was 4.5 percent below the national average in 2010. This was up from 2009, which saw local miscellaneous goods and services priced 5.3 percent below national averages.
The cost of utilities in Cochise County was 2.6 percent below the national average in 2010. This was up from 2009, which saw local costs 5.7 percent lower than nationally.
Statewide, there were seven places participating in the ACCRA Cost of Living Index in 2010. In addition to Cochise County, other participating areas were Flagstaff, Lake Havasu City, Phoenix, Prescott-Prescott Valley, Tucson, and Yuma. Of these, only Tucson had an overall cost of living that was lower than Cochise County in 2010. The highest cost of living in Arizona was in Flagstaff, which was 14.8 percent above the national average.
ACCRA Cost of Living Index data for Cochise County are listed under the Sierra Vista-Douglas Micropolitan Area, which is a statistical designation for all of Cochise County. Sierra Vista and Douglas are included in the title since they are the principal cities that meet the criteria for establishing Cochise County as a micropolitan statistical area. To qualify as a micropolitan statistical area, a location must be economically integrated and have at least one urban area with a population of at least 10,000, but less than 50,000. Locations with an urban area having a population of at least 50,000 are classified as metropolitan statistical areas.
(Note: Cost of living data are based on countywide prices; prices in many categories vary across the county.)
Benson is at an elevation of 3,580 feet. The average monthly temperature ranges from an average low of 28°F in December to an average high of 96°F in June. The record low of -7°F was observed in December 1978. The record high is 111°F, observed in June 1973. The average monthly precipitation ranges from 0.24 inches in May to 3.49 inches in July.
Benson is a winter refuge for people from colder climates, commonly referred to as “snowbirds.” Many of these winter visitors reside in RV/travel trailer parks. As of the 2005-09 American Community Survey, 9.3 percent of the housing units in Benson were classified under the category of “Boat, RV, van, etc.” compared to only 1.2 percent countywide. The presence of seasonal visitors residing in RV parks between October and March of each year is a unique characteristic of Benson that contributes considerably to the city’s culture, as well as its economy.
TRANSACTION PRIVILEGE TAX. Sales (or transaction privilege) tax rates in Benson vary based on the category of sale and amount of purchase. City sales tax is added to a base of 7.1 percent, which includes county and state taxes, for most categories of sales. Effective June 1, 2010 with the passage of Proposition 100, Arizona’s rate increased from 5.6 to 6.6 percent for a period of 36 months. On June 1, 2013, the state rate reverts to 5.6 percent. The county rate is 0.5 percent for most categories of sales. The general sales tax rate in Benson is 2.5 percent, for a total (city, county, and state) tax rate of 9.6 percent. For retail sales on single items costing more than $5,000, the city sales tax is reduced to 1 percent, for a total tax rate of 8.1 percent. An additional tax of 2 percent is added to hotel/motel stays, for a total tax of 11.55 percent (Note: The state and county combined tax for hotel/motel stays is 6.05 percent). Construction contracting in the city is taxed at 4 percent, for a total rate of 11.1 percent.
PROPERTY TAX. The combined total of all primary and secondary city, school district, county, state, and special district property taxes for property located in Benson was $10.7173 per $100 assessed value as of August 2010 (rates are established the third Monday in August each year). This was down from $11.6123 the year prior. The property tax levied by the City of Benson for 2010-11 was $0.4577 per $100 of assessed value, the second lowest rate of the seven incorporated areas of Cochise County (behind only Sierra Vista).
In Arizona, assessed value is based on an assessment ratio of the property’s value. The state uses the following assessment ratios:
- 20 percent: Mines and mining claim property, and standing timber; local telecommunications service, gas, water, and electric utility company property; pipeline company property producing oil; gas property; and commercial and industrial real property not included in other classes.
- 21 percent: Railroad operating property, private car company property, and airline flight property.
- 16 percent: Agricultural real property, golf courses, and vacant land.
- 10 percent: Owner-occupied residential property and leased or rented residential property.
- 5 percent: Noncommercial historic property, foreign trade zone property, qualifying military reuse zone property, qualifying enterprise zone property, qualifying environmental technology property, and qualifying environmental remediation property.
- 1 percent: Possessor interests and improvements to commercial historic or historic residential rental property (for up to 10 years).
The crime rate in Benson in 2008 was 32.6 crimes per 1,000 residents, down considerably from 53.5 in 2006 and 50.3 in 2007. From 2003 through 2006, the city’s crime rate increased each year. The year 2007 saw the first decline in several years, and was the city’s lowest crime rate since 2004. The crime rate in 2008 dropped even further.
The crime rate reflects data reported in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Report and includes violent crimes (murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault), property crimes (burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft), and arson, which is reported separately.
The FBI issues the following caution when using crime rate data: To assess criminality and law enforcement’s response from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, one must consider many variables, some of which, while having significant impact on crime, are not readily measurable or applicable pervasively among all locales. Geographic and demographic factors specific to each jurisdiction must be considered and applied if one is going to make an accurate and complete assessment of crime in that jurisdiction. The U.S. Census Bureau data, for example, can be used to better understand the makeup of a locale’s population. The transience of the population, its racial and ethnic makeup, its composition by age and gender, educational levels, and prevalent family structures are all key factors in assessing and comprehending the crime issue. Understanding a jurisdiction’s industrial/economic base; its dependence upon neighboring jurisdictions; its transportation system; its economic dependence on nonresidents (such as tourists and convention attendees); its proximity to military installations, correctional facilities, etc., all contribute to accurately gauging and interpreting the crime known to and reported by law enforcement. The strength (personnel and other resources) and the aggressiveness of a jurisdiction’s law enforcement agency are also key factors in understanding the nature and extent of crime occurring in that area. For example, one city may report more crime than a comparable one, not because there is more crime, but rather because its law enforcement agency through proactive efforts identifies more offenses. Attitudes of the citizens toward crime and their crime reporting practices, especially concerning minor offenses, also have an impact on the volume of crimes known to police.