Council unlikely to split road funds in Tupelo

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The City Council likely won’t reduce Major Thoroughfare Program funding despite repeated requests by Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and others to do so.
The council is the last stop before the Major Thoroughfare Program goes on a May 3 special election ballot.
Its members must approve, reject or amend a proposed ordinance to renew the program another five years – along with the 10-mill property tax that funds it. They’re set to make that decision March 22.
Ten mills generates about $4 million annually, which the MTP committee spends on improving the city’s most heavily traveled streets.
This week, though, most council members hinted they’re unwilling to change the ordinance. During a discussion at a Monday work session, many said doing so would further complicate an already confusing process.
They made the comments less than a week after a packed public hearing where residents on both sides of the debate pleaded their cases before the council.
Reed and about a half-dozen speakers voiced support of the funding split during a March 1 public hearing at City Hall. They applauded the MTP for having improved streets the past two decades but said other more urgent needs now demand the city’s attention and funding.
About a half-dozen others argued against reducing the program’s funds, saying more work remains to ease traffic congestion – especially as Tupelo’s retail business continues to grow.
“To say we’ve resolved all the problems we have with the streets we’ve built at this point is far from true,” MTP Committee Chairman Greg Pirkle said during the work session. “We’ll never be finished.”
Some contend the back-and-forth has confused residents as to the city’s true intentions for the MTP and whether it’ll have enough money to complete its proposed road projects. Projects include the widening of East Main, South Gloster and South Thomas streets, as well as widening Eason and Veterans boulevards.
Road improvements and neighborhood revitalization both “are very important, but we don’t want to confuse the citizens and then they end up not voting for anything,” said Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis.
For weeks, city officials have debated whether to fully fund the program or divert some of its money to other projects, like neighborhood revitalization or a college tuition guarantee plan.
Special committees assembled by the Community Development Foundation to study those alternative proposals will report their findings the day of the council’s anticipated vote.
The program has been renewed each time since its 1991 debut, but council President Fred Pitts questioned whether it would happen again this year. It requires at least 50 percent plus one vote to pass.
“Has your committee given any thought on what you might come back with, as far as an additional proposal, if it doesn’t pass?” Pitts asked Pirkle during the work session.
Pirkle said he believes the committee would disband if residents failed to renew the program.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.