Voters OK roadwork in Tupelo

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The city will get another round of sweeping road improvements after voters Tuesday overwhelmingly passed the next phase of the Major Thoroughfare Program.
More than 2,430 municipal residents – about a tenth of registered voters – cast ballots in the special election. Of them, nearly 83 percent voted to extend the road-improvement program another five years. Seventeen percent voted against it.
It’s the second highest voter approval percentage since the MTP started in 1991; five years ago, it had passed with more than 85 percent of the vote.
“We are very excited,” MTP Oversight Committee Chairman Greg Pirkle said after ballots were counted at City Hall. “This is confirmation that the people of Tupelo still strongly support the thoroughfare program, they still believe in Tupelo and the economic development we can expect in the future.”
The win means improvements to key streets like South Gloster and East Main can move forward. Both thoroughfares had been scheduled for widening during the current phase until cost overruns on other projects bumped them to the next round.
It also paves the way for other work, like right-hand turn lanes along North Gloster Street near the mall, and an interchange where the new state Highway 6 will cross South Thomas Street, which also will be widened.
In all, the projects selected for Phase 5 will cost an estimated $22.4 million. They’re funded by a 10-mill property tax that has been in place since the program began two decades ago and which would have disappeared had voters opposed another round.
Ten mills equals $1 for every thousand dollars of assessed property. Someone with a $100,000 house, for example, pays $100 toward the program.
The city’s total millage is 32.47.
“I voted for it, and I’m glad it passed,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr. “This will let us complete the economic cross that I think is critical to the fairness of every part of the city. The committee has already said it’d make completion of South Gloster an East Main streets their priorities.”
Reed initially had recommended cutting MTP funding to five mills and using the rest for neighborhood revitalization. His request came after the MTP committee already had committed two mills from its upcoming phase for smaller city street work.
Confusion and debate ensued, ultimately leading the MTP committee to rescind its two-mill commitment and nearly postponing this week’s election. The chaos caused some committee members to worry whether they’d receive enough support for a win.
Longtime committee member Betty Wood said she was surprised and relieved to see nearly 83 percent voter approval.
“Never lose faith in people,” Wood said after the results came in. “We can go forward with the work now.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.