By Marty Russell
A task force formed almost two years ago to recommend whether Tupelo should build a new municipal government office complex voted unanimously Thursday to ask the city council to approve a $9 million, 60,000-square-foot structure to be built on Main Street between Front and Commerce streets.
City officials said the project could be built without a tax increase after task force members also voted unanimously to recommend that it be financed by a general obligation bond issue.
The city council is expected to vote on the proposal at its April 2 meeting.
Task force chairman Jack Reed Sr. said his committee’s work was essentially finished after Thursday’s vote and that the project included everything city officials had requested.
“Each department head has signed off and approved what you see,” Reed told the 12 members of the task force present at Thursday’s meeting where the plans were unveiled.
The complex would house all of the city’s departments with the exception of Public Services’ and Water and Light’s maintenance and storage facilities. It was originally proposed as a means of consolidating all of the city’s departments into a single facility while addressing the shrinking space needs of city offices.
Finance Director Lynn Norris presented the task force with three options for financing the project which would require $7 million for actual construction and another $2 million for property acquisition and professional fees. The cost does not include furnishings for the completed structure which could take two years to construct once approved.
Although the city owns most of the fairgrounds property on which the facility would be located, it would have to acquire several existing buildings fronting on Main Street on the block that contains Warehouse Gym.
“We’re working on it,” Joe Benefield, the city’s chief operations officer, said of the property acquisition. “We already have some property owners on the dotted line and we have some gentlemen’s agreements with others.”
The three options Norris presented for financing the project included:
n Issuing $9 million in general obligation bonds to cover the entire cost.
n Issuing $7 million in general obligation bonds and using $2 million from the city’s $8 million reserve fund.
n Entering into a certificate of participation agreement whereby the city would essentially lease the facility until it is paid for.
Norris said any of the three options could be undertaken without a tax increase based on projected growth in sales and property taxes but recommended financing the entire project through a bond issue in order to avoid using the city’s reserve funds.
Norris said the city currently has $26 million in bonding capacity meaning it could borrow up to that amount. He said a general obligation bond issue would not affect the city’s ability to issue revenue bonds if a pending annexation is approved because those bonds are repaid by utility revenues and do not count toward the city’s bond capacity.
The building itself would be three stories tall and topped with twin domes similar to courthouses.
“We wanted it to have a town square type feeling,” said architect Gus Staub, who designed the structure.
The limestone and brick building would actually be two buildings linked by an archway that would serve as a drive through for the Water and Light Department’s collections office.
The smaller of the two buildings would contain the police station and city court and could be closed off from the main building at night for security.
The first floor of the main building would contain offices for the mayor, chief operations officer, Water and Light Department, tax collector and personnel.
The second floor would house the Planning Department and Parks and Recreation Department while the third floor would contain the city council board room and the Budget and Finance Department.