EDITORIAL: Jobs Investment

By NEMS Daily Journal

Lee County’s administrator on Wednesday began preparing a more detailed explanation of financing for the Board of Supervisors’ long-anticipated participation in a $5.4 million expansion of the Renasant Center for IDEAs, following an unexpected halt in progress Tuesday.
The issue of the county’s full participation needs a thorough revisiting at its special Feb. 24 meeting. We hope the supervisors reaffirm their previous support so that this jobs-producing project and the federal grant to help pay for it aren’t lost.
The Renasant Center, opened in 2006, is a successful public-private small business incubator in downtown Tupelo. It has incubated nearly two dozen new small businesses and business service and advocacy groups, resulting in about 300 new jobs.
The Board of Supervisors delayed moving forward on rebidding a contract for the expansion on concerns expressed by District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan and District 5 Supervisor Joe McKinney that the $75,000 annual debt service could eventually drive a tax increase.
The delay is surprising. The supervisors and Community Development Foundation jointly announced their partnership in support of the project last summer.
County Administrator Sean Thompson said on Wednesday he started working after the Tuesday meeting to more fully explain the county’s financial position and answer concerns about adequate funds to pay the debt service for presentation at the special Feb. 24 supervisors meeting, where a vote is expected.
It’s also possible that revenue for the debt service could be derived from the sale of county-owned properties with no strategic value.
Lee County’s $1.35 million investment would be matched with $1.35 million from CDF and $2.7 million in federal funds through the Economic Development Administration.
Lee County, it should be noted, has a long history of partnerships and joint ventures with EDA and other federal agencies for capital projects producing a jobs-creation impact.
Thompson said he could assure supervisors that no new taxes would be needed for at least two years. That position is reasonable and conservative.
The county has committed to using $75,000 annually from growth in revenue driven by the county’s expanding assessed property valuation base, which leads to increasing tax revenue without a tax increase.
CDF President and CEO David Rumbarger said Phase II construction at the center would create more than 200 jobs, followed by additional jobs grown in the incubator.
At the bottom line, the question is whether Lee County can afford not to invest further in a proven jobs creating center.

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