By NEMS Daily Journal
The May 3 referendum on approving Phase 5 of the Major Thoroughfare Program comes from the City Council to voters after the most significant controversy in the program’s 20-year history, but approval of the special 10-mill property tax levy remains in Tupelo’s long-term best interests.
However, after voters approve this phase, discussion should begin immediately about how the MTP should look beyond Phase 5, which would end in 2016 and largely complete the program’s original vision. That discussion should include, at a minimum, consideration of diverting some of the MTP’s future resources to specific city neighborhood streets and thoroughfare maintenance.
The City Council and many citizens debated whether the full 10-mill levy should be devoted solely to more street construction, or if it should be divided and revenues applied to city street maintenance and neighborhood renewal, and to a scaled-back thoroughfare plan.
The Daily Journal editorially supported a division of the revenues absent any other plan for badly needed city revitalization, but the council rejected that proposal. The ballot issue on May 3 will include only thoroughfares, nothing else.
Four council-sanctioned task forces, with the support of the Community Development Foundation, proposed a broad renewal initiative separate from the MTP that would not require a tax increase and could be financed with bond issues and revamped rental property permit fees. Those issues are still in process, and they should be brought forward to implementation.
If Phase 5 were defeated at the polls, eliminating the special 10-mill levy when Phase 4 concludes, that millage would not necessarily then be shifted to community renewal plans and policies.
The City Council’s earlier actions suggest that opposition to using special millage for the renewal priorities would continue, and MTP’s defeat could heighten divisions in the city, which would not be to Tupelo’s advantage. No new thoroughfares would be built and some projects would not be completed without the millage.
Tupelo also urgently needs to adopt the CDF-guided renewal plans for a complete reinvigoration of the city – its neighborhoods, middle class and the Tupelo Public Schools. Tupelo must tackle all the issues simultaneously because they are interconnected.
If voters approve the successful MTP program on May 3, it will renew for another five years and keep in place the tax that generates about $4 million annually. The money will fund several long-anticipated road projects, including the widening of South Gloster and East Main streets, as well as Eason Boulevard.
The MTP has built projects like the widening of West Main and North Gloster streets, as well as Coley Road and Cliff Gookin Boulevard.
It’s also building a new road in northwest Tupelo commonly referred to as the Northern Loop that would connect Coley Road Extended and Barnes Crossing Road, providing access from the west and relieving pressure on U.S. 45 and North Gloster Streets.
Tupelo’s quality of life and prosperity depend on far-sighted, comprehensive action to reclaim what’s been lost in middle-class flight, to build for future growth in the city and the region (the larger Toyota impact has not been fully felt, but it will begin soon), and to add new strength to the city as a magnet for commercial, industrial, manufacturing and retail investment.
The Daily Journal more than 20 years ago was an advocate for the Major Thoroughfare Program before it had a name because of the success that even then was apparent in the project-specific 1987 Statewide Highway Program. That plan’s completed four-lane highways interconnect with most of the city’s major thoroughfares.
Both the 1987 program and the MTP in concept had detractors because nothing like them had ever been attempted, but leaders and voters with vision and commitment won out. The same spirit and commitment must be applied to Tupelo’s neighborhood, school, housing and residential street issues.
There is no Santa Claus to take care of Tupelo if it is unwilling to meet its own needs. CDF, as for the past 63 years, has laid out the plan that can meet Tupelo’s needs, and the thoroughfare program’s results are proven.
The city must reunite and move ahead in the 21st century as we did in the 20th.