OUR OPINION: Supervisors wisely consider priorities for county roads

Policy decisions in board of supervisors’ politics across Mississippi is a nuanced skill because the office is like the U.S. House of Representatives – close to the people, with voters having face-to-face contact possibilities on an almost routine basis.

Supervisors, with expected political acumen, keep their ears close to the ground when discussing top-tier issues like taxation.

Taxation was on the Lee County Board of Supervisors table Tuesday morning in an official meeting that included a lengthy, nonvoting work session with all the attention focused on how to generate adequate funds for countywide road maintenance. It is not the first discussion about those issues and won’t be the last. But it was significant because all the supervisors acknowledged the necessity of more revenue and that the only route open to counties to increase millage either directly or indirectly is issuing bonds, which have more financial flexibility than regular property taxes because no limits are placed on amounts of increase, as opposed to ad valorem taxes, which can produce only 10 percent revenue more in any fiscal year.

The county supervisors’ candor in discussing taxation related to road maintenance adequacy was commendably forthright. Discussions were sharp, sometimes energized and not without differences among the five members.

However, disagreement did not become anger, and discussions will continue toward a possible referendum for road maintenance some time in calendar year 2015, effective for the 2015-2016 budget cycle.

Supervisors significantly agreed to bring to the board proposals for road maintenance and repair priorities by Sept. 30, becoming a basis for deciding which roads most need rehabilitation and how much the costs will be.

Choosing priorities and addressing those most pressing issues first is a reliable way to begin a long-term approach. Phil Morgan, District 1, even said a system of bonds approved by voter referendum is in some ways like the Major Thoroughfare Program used by Tupelo.

Several supervisors have said maintaining roads to which Lee Countians have become accustomed can be a powerful persuasion to raise new tax revenue.

Counties, in fact, have severely limited options for raising new money, including additional local property taxation from year to year.

What’s discussed more than a year out from a suggested possible date of September 2015 seems like a long time, but given all the pressing issues in county governance those months will fly.

As supervisors noted in discussions among themselves, maintenance and repairs are behind the curve, so time is important.