The signs that welcome you to Benham say "The Little Town That International Harvester, Coal Miners and Their Families Built!" Benham was a coal camp with some of the best schools, housing and entertainment anywhere.
We are trying to build on our past to create a better future.
In the 1990s, following the leadership of my dear friend and former mayor, Betty Howard, we created Coal Miners Memorial Park and with the help of the state renovated our old theater. At the same time others were creating the Benham School House Inn in our old school and the Kentucky Coal Museum in our company store.
Since October when the city council appointed me mayor, volunteers have reopened the old Benham Meat Market as a vintage clothing and odds-and-ends store. The "This N' That" now contributes about $500 a week to our city. Volunteers have also had the first of many community events at the Betty Howard Coal Miners Memorial Theater. We are grateful for the more than $300 raised that will help Benham wipe out our city debt.
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We have many more hopes and plans. Our urgent goal is to get the city accounting practices current and up to date. Sadly, we inherited a large debt and have not had a city audit for more than two years.
To help, one of our residents has volunteered to serve as a city manager.
Some states allow small cities to share a city manager. If we could do this in Kentucky, towns like Benham could have a better chance at professional and qualified management.
During our first 100 years Benham was helped by many who did not live in our beautiful town. The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth are working with us to reduce our energy costs.
Benham is one of 46 cities in Kentucky that have a city-run electrical system. The Benham Power Board has identified customers with the highest bills. After an energy audit, one of our homes is now being made energy efficient. This will show others how we can save.
The next step, through grants and loans, managed by the Benham Power Board, will enable homeowners to get an energy audit. After this, they can decide on the best steps to take to reduce their electric bills.
Let's say the savings will be $100 a month. After the upgrade, the customer will receive a monthly bill that is reduced by $25. They will pay their bill plus an additional $75. After they pay off their low- or no- interest loan their bill will be at least $100 a month smaller.
Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, MACED and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are also working to reduce how much Benham pays for electricity. We are also looking into ways to create our own energy by using our creek and solar.
Benham can have a brighter future. We can do this by following the old mountain saying, "Many hands lighten the load."