Discussions also indicate that a $500,000 college-tuition assistance program for Tupelo students will not happen, at least this year. We continue believing the idea has strong merit and would act as a magnet for families with school-aged children to live in Tupelo by reducing the cost of the final two years of college.
Other items in the budget apparently require clarity and more explanation.
Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell raises a reasonable question about why routine maintenance expenses and/or repairs would be placed in a capital expenditures budget rather than in the operating budgets of individual departments.
Concerns include using the proceeds of bond sales to pay for the questioned items rather than using the municipal operating budget, whose source is mainly sales and property taxes, and whether the budget is truly balanced if those items are shifted to another category.
Capital budgets historically are financed by bonding, especially when, as in Tupelo's case, the city has a strong bond rating, and in the context of low interest rates. Capital projects aren't necessarily large, but most large, long-term infrastructure and facility commitments come with substantial price tags.
The council certainly has the prerogative of examining which items should be included in the capital budget, and there may be some shifting that needs to be done. But the concept of a five-year capital budget is sound as a means of planning and prioritizing city needs.
The operations budget as presented by the administration would not require a tax increase and would not require spending from the city's $17 million reserve fund. Operating expenses, like a proposed first-in-three years raise for municipal employees, would be paid through operating funds.
Tupelo took a hit during the worst of the recession, but it managed its money well enough to avoid laying off the municipal work force and neglecting essential services.
Capital spending, it is widely agreed, is an investment for the future - street overlays lasting years, new facilities to last many decades, and on a larger scale, state and national highway systems. In that sense, the budget proposed is standard public finance.
We hope additional discussion can clarify the questions raised as the Sept. 15 deadline for adopting the 2012 budget approaches.
In any case, the City Council has the authority to amend the budget should adverse circumstances require it. The proposed budget addresses the city's priorities without undue risk.