Lee County leaders eye road bonds

county_lee_greenBy Joe Rutherford

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lee County’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday extensively discussed taxation and the necessity of adequately funding road maintenance countywide, agreeing to provide themselves with road priorities by district by Sept. 30.

The work session didn’t result in votes on anything, only the verbal agreement to provide highest road maintenance and repair priorities, looking toward a possible bond issue referendum in 2015.

District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan wasted no time after routine business concluded and the work session started to tell his colleagues there’s only one way to get more money for necessary road maintenance – raising taxes either through a bond issue or with a direct property levy.

Morgan said he was not advocating for a specific tax increase.

Board President Darrell Rankin, District 3, and Bobby Smith, District 2, both agreed, as did District 4’s Tommie Lee Ivy and District 5’s Billy Joe Holland, but no specifics were offered.

Charting a path for road maintenance has been on the board’s radar for several months because as labor and material expenses have risen, a reserve of funds accumulated in the early years of the 21st century diminished, and taxes haven’t been raised for 14 years.

Board attorney Gary Carnathan reminded the supervisors that bond issue income is not subject to a 10 percent increase in income limit applying to raising the regular ad valorem tax.

A bond issue based on 7/10 of a mill in new taxes would produce $510,000 for what’s called the bridge fund, but less $349,000 in road funds because state law requires a diversion in income to municipalities that does not go into the county’s road fund. Municipalities are entitled to a diversion in proportion to their tax value to the county.

District 2’s Smith said he believes voters would support a tax if the county proves it can deliver on its road commitments.

“We don’t get sales taxes. Our revenue doesn’t fluctuate. I can’t help but believe that if we spend wisely the people will support it,” he said.

Morgan noted that having a bond referendum is somewhat like Tupelo’s voter-driven Major Thoroughfare Program, which is approved for five-year cycles and has been highly successful.

The board took no votes, but the developing consensus suggests the earliest action would come in September 2015 because of time constraints and a Sept. 15 deadline to approve the 2015 fiscal year budget.

joe.rutherford@journalinc.com