CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories
CITY HALL SUPPORT SOUGHT
By Philip Moulden
A leader of a task force that recommended construction of a new City Hall complex in Tupelo urged business leaders Monday to get behind the effort to assure its success.
“If it’s going to be successful, it’s going to need the support of every one of you here,” businessman Jack Reed Sr. told directors of the Community Development Foundation.
Reed chaired the citizens committee that proposed the $9 million, three-story, 60,000 square-foot complex after an extensive study of existing city office facilities and future needs.
“After careful consideration of each (department) we determined they were not adequate and they were not efficient,” Reed said of the six separate buildings now housing city offices. He said the nearly 100-year-old existing City Hall was unfit.
“If you walked through (the present) City Hall like we did, you’d be embarrassed. I mean really embarrassed,” Reed said.
A petition drive was begun last week by Ward 5 City Councilman Tommy Doty to force a referendum on the proposed funding for the complex after the entire City Council voted 6-3 to issue general obligation bonds to pay for the complex.
Doty contended the city cannot afford the additional debt and argued that taxpayers should get to vote on the question.
If 1,500 registered Tupelo voters sign the petitions, the bonds could only be issued if three-fifths (60 percent) of referendum voters approved. Any election would likely be set for August.
“There’s going to be an election, I’m convinced,” City Council President James Williams, a project supporter, told CDF members. “It’s going to take everyone in this room … to pass the bond issue.”
“We’ve got to get out and beat the bushes to get this vote passed,” added At-large Councilman Paul Eason.
City officials believe the bonds can be paid off without a tax increase, although they acknowledged that would also preclude a tax decrease.
City Finance Director Lynn Norris said an anticipated 4.5 percent growth in sales tax revenues, the payoff of $351,000 in lease debts, reduction in other bond debt of $169,000, and possible use of some of the city’s $8.7 million reserve fund would cover the anticipated annual bond payments for five years. Thereafter, payments on other retiring bonds could be used to cover the City Hall bonds, he said.
“We’re very comfortable (with the finance plan) right now,” said Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Joe Benefield, who noted that the city’s reserve fund has been growing at almost $1 million a year for several years.
Reed noted the task force, composed on appointees by the City Council and mayor, gave unanimous support to the recommendation, although Doty’s appointee was not present at the vote.
“Never did we take action without the unanimous consent of everybody who was present,” Reed said.
Reed said the proposed “traditional” design, despite initial objection of one member, also drew the backing of all members present. The panel also worked hard to keep costs down and construction costs should fall well below the current averages, Reed said.
“The task force certainly wanted a City Hall complex that was suitable for an all-American city, for the city of Tupelo,” Reed said. “We think it is efficient, functional and will serve the city well for many years to come.”
Mayor Jack Marshall noted the city owns roughly 100 acres – potential prime downtown property – at the location that is awaiting development. The complex would take only about four acres.
Investors from Jackson, Memphis and elsewhere have voiced an interest in developing the area – one is proposing a major housing development – but are waiting to see what commitment the city will make, Marshall said. He predicted private investment of $60 million to $70 million in the fairgrounds area in 10 years.
“That person doesn’t want to put that quality of housing around all that junk, and that’s what it is now, junk,” Marshall said.