Council OKs 10-mill Major Thoroughfare Program

TUPELO – With the city’s blessing Tuesday, efforts to renew the Major Thoroughfare Program now can proceed to the next step.
The City Council this week approved the full recommendations of the MTP committee, including its list of proposed road-improvement projects and its funding from a 10-mill property tax.
Tuesday’s vote was the council’s last chance to reduce the MTP’s millage rate for its next five-year phase. The council’s next vote on the MTP – which is April 5 – simply sets the date of the special election for residents to vote the program up or down.
The election tentatively is scheduled May 3.
However, not all council members voted for the renewal. Council President Fred Pitts and Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings both voted against the plan, saying the city has more pressing needs than easing traffic flow.
“I cannot in all good conscience sit here tonight as an elected representative of the city of Tupelo and representing Ward 2 and turn my back on the needs in our neighborhoods and our community just for the sake of more five-lane roads,” Pitts said during an emotional speech in which he choked up at least once.
Pitts and Jennings said the city should spend some of the tax millage now dedicated to the MTP and use it on a sweeping plan to revitalize neighborhoods. Their comments echoed earlier urgings by Mayor Jack Reed Jr., who said Tupelo’s middle-class decline in the past decade is the city’s biggest concern; not roads.
It was announced Monday, however, that Tupelo can finance the revitalization plan with a municipal bond; it doesn’t need MTP money.
“I appreciate your passion and conviction, and your beliefs and your vote,” Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington told Pitts. “But one of the reasons Tupelo has been number one is because of programs like this. As Tupelo continues to grow, we’ll continue to need to build roads.”
Whittington, like several of his colleagues, said the city can fund both the MTP and the revitalization plan.
“We’re very pleased with the decision of the council,” said MTP Committee Chairman Greg Pirkle. “It’s consistent with what we’ve been hearing from the public, which is that they want to continue to the full millage rate.”
If voters approve the successful road-improvement program, it’ll renew it another five years and keep in place the 10-mill property tax that generates about $4 million annually. The money will fund several highly anticipated road projects, including the widening of South Gloster and East Main streets, as well as Eason Boulevard.
Killing the program would end its 20-year span, halt its future road projects, and drop city property taxes to 22.47 mills – the lowest in Lee County after Shannon.
Currently, the owner of a $150,000 house in the city pays roughly $487 annually in municipal property taxes. If the program failed, the same owner would pay about $337 annually.
The MTP currently is in its fourth phase. It’s responsible for previous road projects like the widening of West Main and North Gloster streets, as well as Coley Road and Cliff Gookin Boulevard. It’s also now building a new road in west Tupelo commonly referred to as the northern loop.
“I’ve seen what it’s done over the last 20 years,” said Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan. “That’s the program that sets Tupelo aside. We live off sales tax revenue, and the potential growth out there for the Phase 5 plan; if we kill it, Tupelo will take a big hit.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.

At a glance
Major Thoroughfare Program Phase 5 list of priorities

-East Main Street
5 lane from Highway 45 to Highway 6: $3.1 million
5 lane from Highway 6 to Willow Road: $1.7 million

– South Gloster Street
5 lane from Garfield to Highway 6: $4.3 million

– Eason Boulevard
5 lane from Veterans Boulevard to Briar Ridge Road: $1.9 million

– Thomas Street Extended
3 lane from the new Highway 6 to Cliff Gookin Boulevard: $2.1 million

– North Gloster Street at the mall
Right hand turn lanes: $1.5 million

– West Jackson Street
3 lane from Coley Road to Air Park Road: $3.9 million

Traffic signal at Air Park and West Main: $75,000

– Veterans Boulevard
5 lane from East Main Street to Highway 78: $3.7 million

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal