OUR OPINION: Infrastructure needs must be addressed

By NEMS Daily Journal

Voter rejection of special tax levies for street and other infrastructure improvements in two Northeast Mississippi cities this month isn’t particularly surprising in light of the current pervasive attitude that recoils at tax increases for any reason.
But the problems the revenues would have addressed remain, and Saltillo and Corinth will need to find solutions or face bigger problems and greater expense in the years ahead.
Corinth residents this week rejected with a 69 percent “no” vote a proposed five-year, 12-mill tax that would have funded a variety of capital improvements, including street paving, drainage work, property cleanup and other projects. Two weeks ago, Saltillo voters by almost as large a margin – 66 percent – said no to a five-year, 8-mill tax designed to pay the bulk of the costs of three major road widening projects.
Saltillo’s proposal bore a greater resemblance to Tupelo’s highly successful Major Thoroughfare Program, whose 10-mill, five-year tax now routinely gets voter approval in excess of 80 percent. STEP – the Saltillo Transportation Enhancement Program – featured priorities developed by a specially appointed citizens committee and approved by the Board of Aldermen. The projects weren’t those normally associated with a general operating budget; they were major improvements designed to combat current traffic congestion and prepare for future traffic growth.
Saltillo finds itself at a point where its growth is outdistancing its capacity to accommodate that growth. Tupelo was in the same situation in the early 1990s when the first Major Thoroughfare vote was taken, and there’s no doubt that much of the development that has occurred in the city since would not have happened without the program’s improvements to the city’s traffic flow and capacity.
Traffic, drainage and other infrastructure challenges inevitably follow growth, and continued growth and quality of life for those already living in a community require a long-range plan and vision. At some point, community leaders and elected officials will have to come together again and develop a plan that the people can get behind.
Corinth hasn’t had the same rapid growth as Saltillo, and its needs result more from pressures on the everyday budget to pay for basic needs. But it, too, will need to reassess and determine where to go from here.
Putting off necessary improvements to streets and other essential city infrastructure is never cost-efficient. The costs always rise, and the choice always comes down to paying now or paying more later.
The sooner Saltillo and Corinth can devise alternative, acceptable solutions to the needs they face, the better off their residents and taxpayers will be.