Lee County’s Board of Supervisors continues its official discussions about financing the adequate maintenance of the 800-mile public road system for which it is responsible mostly with local tax revenues in all five supervisor’s districts.
Supervisors, at Monday’s regular meeting, set another working meeting Aug. 19 to discuss long-term and short-term road maintenance and construction needs, and almost every Lee County resident, regardless of where they live, has an above average interest on those roads’ upkeep because they are important connectors.
County Administrator Sean Thompson said Tuesday the board faces a situation brought about gradually by both earlier fast growth in revenue and a parallel growth in population and the need for road maintenance.
Thompson correctly noted that Lee County’s supervisors have done a good job building and maintaining roads, but that as road maintenance costs rise and the growth in revenue slows the pressure on finances increases. The National Association of Counties has reported, “The cost of construction and materials increased by 44 percent between 2000 and 2013, more than the 35 percent rise in the overall rate of inflation.”
Lee County’s costs have risen that much and more in almost all categories.
Lee County was among the first of Mississippi’s counties to commit to paving all public roads, which was an inarguably correct decision for economic development, safety and quality of life. The standard has been set higher than average, and it will be difficult to allow the standard to slip.
Thompson noted that taxes aiding revenue for road maintenance and building haven’t been raised in 14 years, and Thompson did not advocate that as a solution.
However, at some point when widespread essential maintenance exceeds revenue, some kind of revenue enhancement should be considered.
Alternatives to property tax increases could include a coordinated push by supervisors statewide for more no-strings-attached revenue from the state’s tax revenue stream, which has run ahead of appropriated needs and is predicted to continue growing.
Continuing work for economic development – jobs-producing investment – in areas where property taxes would help the county maintain services, is a method to gain several kinds of benefit.
Limited or diminishing funds also requires careful prioritizing of road maintenance spending based on condition, importance, traffic count – every reasonable quantifiable factor but not political preference.