Tupelo transit dream fades with harsh funding reality

TUPELO – The city’s chances of running a public bus system dimmed this week when municipal leaders refused to increase transit funding.
Tupelo’s proposed FY11 budget allots $75,000 for public transit, but it’s a fraction of the cost to run a bus system. A recently commissioned study estimated those costs at roughly $430,000.
During a budget hearing Thursday, City Council members Nettie Davis of Ward 4 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7 lobbied hard for an increase. Otherwise, they said, it closes the door to the possibility of a municipal transit system.
“What can you do with $75,000?” said Davis. “You keep saying we don’t have money, but we have money for other things you want to do. We just haven’t put forth any effort to put money into this public transportation thing.”
Jennings said the city always seems to find money for projects unless they benefit the poorest and least vocal residents. It’s for this group, he said, that he’s fighting.
But other council members cited the city’s tough financial position as an obstacle to the program.
Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington and Ward 3′s Jim Newell said they can’t support public transit until Tupelo balances its budget. The city has dipped into its rainy day fund the past years and will again in FY11.
Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan said Tupelo must rein in personnel costs before funding public transit. He recommended stripping all of its money from the budget this year.
And council President Fred Pitts called it “a bottomless pit.”
“Whether you spend a dollar or a half million dollars,” he said, “you’ll spend it every year and it will never get better. You’re serving a small minority.”
The council has until Sept. 15 to adopt its budget, which takes effect Oct. 1. It’s unclear whether the $75,000 will stay put and, if so, how it will be spent.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal