OUR OPINION: Saltillo street program awaits voters’ decision

By NEMS Daily Journal

Saltillo’s important vote today on self-funded street and road improvements presents an opportunity for the growing, thriving north Lee County town to make the decision every expanding community faces: Assuming responsibility for the growing pains that come with success.
The Saltillo Transportation Enhancement Program, designed by a citizens’ committee, would place a five-year, 8-mill levy on all taxable property in the city to partially fund $2.556 million in street safety and traffic flow improvements. All the money collected from the STEP levy would be used for the street program, the same funding model used by the successful Major Thoroughfare Program in Tupelo.
Tupelo, 20 years ago, found itself in the enviable position of having outgrown its major street system because of population growth and the daily surge of commuting employees of businesses and factories in the city limits.
City leaders knew no pie-in-the-sky was on its way to fund the kind of traffic arteries needed, so the proposal was a 10-mill tax in five-year increments to pay for necessary improvements and new construction. The program is in Phase 5, and growth has followed the improvements.
Saltillo, because of growth, finds itself in a similar situation: Old streets are both overloaded and increasingly dangerous in the areas of new growth and, especially, school construction.
The 8-mill tax increase will raise most Saltillo residents’ property taxes 30 percent or less, but some owners won’t pay more because of senior-citizen and homestead exemptions.
The tax increase will fund three road projects:
• Congestion at the intersection of Cartwright and Mobile streets by adding a turn lane from Mobile Street onto Cartwright Street.
• Widen the oldest Highway 45 from a two-lane to a five-lane road where it meets Highway 145 next to McDonald’s.
• Widen Highway 145 to three lanes from Mobile Street to Pannel Drive. The project is estimated to cost $1.9 million. It’s possible that project could receive state participation.
Suggestions that the improvement be funded with a sales tax aren’t likely because sales tax cannot be added without legislative approval, and it is infrequently allowed at the municipal level.
The street improvements, however, would almost surely lead to increased sales tax revenue for Saltillo because new growth would draw additional trade and residents, as has been the case in Tupelo.
Saltillo’s citizens have a great, affordable opportunity to fund enhancements, and it will be the fastest way to build needed streets.