Tupelo public transit project future still uncertain

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town_tupelo_greenBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mayor Jason Shelton said Tuesday his Fiscal Year 2015 budget recommendation will not include funding for a pilot public transportation project.

Shelton included exploring public transportation as part of his platform when elected a year ago but says more details should follow before proposing tax dollars to the effort.

The mayor’s statement in an online interview streamed live on DJournal.com comes a day after city officials met with residents to discuss two proposals for a year-long pilot project. Two businesses responded a few months ago to city requests for proposals earlier this year for a temporary public transit project.

Both proposals appear unacceptable – one based on expense at $813,600 a year, while the other, a four-page document, lacked specifics other than the $222,000 cost for 18 months.

Council members and the mayor have acknowledged a need for public transit in the city but haven’t reached consensus on financial feasibility and long-term sustainability. The council also hasn’t approved a specific type of public transit system route, such as a fixed or flexible route.

“With those type of complex issues, I don’t think the right approach would be simply to include it as a line item in the budget,” Shelton said.

Shelton later clarified he will not oppose transportation funding in the budget if the City Council approves support prior to receiving his budget proposal. He plans to present his budget proposal likely in August. The council must approve the financial document by Sept. 15 to comply with state law.

“I’m not opposed to transportation being in the budget, I just don’t intend on pushing for that within the budget,” Shelton said Tuesday evening.

Among ideas discussed Monday, the group mentioned four options: reject the proposals and start the process anew, negotiate with one of the companies, ask the council to provide an estimate of funds likely available for a pilot project, or request the city include a line item for the pilot project in the 2015 budget.

Council members and the mayor have acknowledged a need for public transit in the city but haven’t reached consensus on financial feasibility and long-term sustainability. Federal Department of Transportation resources funneled through state government could pay the bulk of costs. However, state officials have estimated Tupelo’s startup costs for a transit program to cost just more than $100,000.

The city’s resident-led transportation committee will meet later this month.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com