CATEGORY: EDT Editorials
Tupelo’s voters, based on unofficial verification, have exercised their right to petition for a referendum on a proposed bond issue to finance construction of a new City Hall, plus the purchase and development of property adjoining it.
About 2,700 signatures on petitions turned in Tuesday to City Hall almost certainly will be certified with the required 1,500 registered voters. The referendum would require 60 percent approval to issue $6.5 million in bonds to build a new City Hall and $2.5 million to purchase adjacent property and prepare a valuable, city-owned 35-acre tract (part of the former fairgrounds property on which the City Hall would be built) for private-sector development. The City Council voted 6-3 April 2 to issue bonds to finance the project.
It’s important on the front end to clearly define the issue:
– The building of a new City Hall is about maintaining Tupelo’s momentum as an undisputed regional center. It’s about providing sufficient and efficient space for virtually all city departments in one place, with adequate but not excessive room for growth. It’s about presenting a magnetic and inviting presence of city government in the city’s center for the 21st century rather than the present horse-and-wagon-era City Hall.
Americans long have supported public buildings reflecting the strength and vigor of our democratic system in City Halls, court houses, capitols, public libraries and public schools. Tupelo can’t point to that kind of landmark presence for city government because it operates out of a City Hall that is unattractive, inadequate and threadbare.
– The City Hall issue isn’t about controversy involving any other project. It isn’t a referendum about Mayor Jack Marshall’s administration or the City Council. That political referendum rolls around, as scheduled, in the 1997 citywide elections.
– The City Hall debate isn’t about new taxes because none would be required to build it. Tupelo’s extraordinarily strong sales tax revenue stream is sufficient, by conservative projections, to underwrite and pay off the proposed bonded indebtedness.
– The City Hall issue isn’t about a proposed new thoroughfare plan. That’s a separate, vitally important question.
The foundation for building a new City Hall rests indisputably on a hard study of the facts by the committee.
Committee Chairman Jack Reed, widely respected in the private sector and tireless in his work to sustain Tupelo’s growth and progress, started with the committee working on the City Hall project from the ground up:
– The committee examined all the city’s currently occupied offices.
– It considered how to maximize efficiency for taxpayers/consumers, provide more space for existing and reasonably projected city needs, and fully tap the unique private-sector potential in the 35-acre Ward 5 fairgrounds site and out toward the East Heights area.
– It rejected more expensive sites in the same area.
– It rejected larger and more expensive designs and cut projected costs before making its recommendations.
– The 59,520 square foot building would place in one structure widely scattered, crowded operations occupying 41,241 square feet. It would provide for forseeable growth and badly needed, flexible space for public meetings related to city government.
– The building’s projected usefulness is calculated at between 50 and 100 years, making it an exceptionally cost-efficient investment.
Facts, not intra-governmental politics or anger about other projects, need to guide debate. If the facts are allowed to speak, we believe the case for a new City Hall will become convincingly clear.
All that having been said, it is also clear that widespread concern and anger about the Ridgeway subdivision cost overruns and three investigations into that issue, make balanced debate about a new City Hall all but impossible.
We believe the Council should reverse its decision to issue bonds for the project and recommit the City Hall issue to the citizens’ committee for further study, consideration and, if needed, revision.
Raw politics and unrelated issues politics shouldn’t kill good ideas. The issue of a new City Hall can be revisited when clouds hanging over the current City Hall have been cleared by the conclusions of thorough and unfettered investigations.