EDITORIAL: Tupelo's crossroads

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo’s Major Thoroughfare Program, a voter-approved, tax-funded street construction and enhancement program, requires difficult choices in coming weeks and months because it faces potential funding shortages – and some leaders want to divert its resources elsewhere to city needs.
The most pressing decision is weighing the choice between delaying a project that hasn’t started or delaying a key link in a major project under construction.
The cost of an essential bridge at the Natchez Trace Parkway for the new “Northern Loop” connecting McCullough Boulevard and U.S. 78 in western Tupelo to the Barnes Crossing Road commercial area has jumped beyond original projections. One round of cost-cutting has been superseded by the necessity of another round – and a possible delay in construction until a Phase 5 of the MTP is approved, which is politically likely in 2011 but certainly not assured.
The other choice would delay widening on South Gloster Street, a long-sought improvement in an area of Tupelo trying to revitalize its strengths and future prospects.
Neither delay would be popular within its constituencies in the larger community.
Full and open discussion is important when issues appear to be at odds and especially when those questions involve decisions with citywide impact.
The overall positive side is that everything under discussion involves growing pains.
• How will Tupelo handle its growth demands?
• How will Tupelo pay for the inevitable cost increases required in a growing city?
• What, if anything, could be done to create middle ground that would in effect buy time and help the overall financing options?
A fully honest conversation should include discussion of how much tax revenue would be needed to do what’s necesary for thoroughfares, secondary streets, neighborhoods, annexation expenses and general quality of life.
A fully honest political discussion should include weighing the willingness of Tupelo voters to shift their priorities to fund secondary streets, neighborhood enhancement and quality of life with a special tax that must be renewed every five years. One of the elements not openly discussed is how much, if at all, the absence of congressional earmarks will affect the city’s ability to raise revenue for special needs like bridges and thoroughfares.
It will be impossible, at least for a time, to operate under the assumption that ‘‘we can work with the congressional delegation” to earmark some funds, which for decades was a reasonable and effective tactic. That source of already appropriated money now is under sway of the president.
All cities come to crossroads; Tupelo has arrived at one requiring serious deliberation.