OUR OPINION: Street maintenance presses for action

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Tupelo City Council’s intensifying discussion of adequate street maintenance funding parallels the longtime situation within the Mississippi Department of Transportation: Roads, once built, must be maintained, and as costs rise upkeep costs more.
Tupelo’s street maintenance budget issues aren’t the same as the Major Thoroughfare Program, which is funded by a special 10-mill, voter-approved property tax levy. Most of the MTP roads and streets built during the past 20 years don’t need yet require major maintenance.
The street maintenance budget is a line item in the annual operating budget, and its funding has actually declined since a 2007 peak of almost $1.7 million. The 2012 maintenance budget is $954,614, and the 2013 budget approved last week is $800,000.
Council President Fred Pitts, Ward 2, is among the elected officials most vocal in pushing for a maintenance budget adequate to the need.
Pitts’ concerns, those of some other council members, Public Works Director Sid Russell and many Tupelo citizens are justified, especially in light of the recently implemented annexation, which added miles of streets to the maintenance loads formerly borne by Lee County’s maintenance budget.
Russell cited the overlay of Mt. Vernon Road, a major city residential route extending into populated and farming areas outside corporate limits in Lee County. The road overlay started at the bridge over U.S. 78 and extended southeastward to Mount Vernon’s intersection with McCullough Boulevard. The section of Mount Vernon beyond the overlay to the new city limits sign at the intersection of County Road 1740 is longer than the recently paved stretch. That pavement now falls fully under the city’s maintenance budget rather than partially under Lee County’s responsibility, as was formerly the case.
Some of the county roads annexed into the city arguably have been better maintained generally than some city streets.
Pitts earlier had said he thinks it reasonable to take money from the $16 million rainy day reserve fund and use it for street maintenance. Some city officials, including Mayor Jack Reed, Jr., believe a lower figure – about $10 million – would be an adequate reserve.
Serious discussions have been promised in coming months. It seems reasonable that a long-term, larger, more adequate maintenance budget would be achievable by the start of the 2014 budget cycle – if not before.
Good streets, not just major thoroughfares, bear on Tupelo’s ability to market itself as a good place to live as well as a good place to do business.