Comparing the city’s infrastructure woes with the race to the moon, Clarksdale’s mayor said Monday it will be up to voters to approve an estimated $5 million bond package this summer.
Clarksdale residents will be asked on Aug. 6 to decide whether they will be willing to pay more on their property tax to pay for a new bridge, as well as new sidewalks and streets, and stop flooding in several flood-prone areas.
During Monday’s meeting of the board of commissioners, a prioritized list of five projects were presented that totaled $8.25 million. However, after allowing for $3 million in funding from the Mississippi Department of Transportation and a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant, the city’s share would be $4.91 million.
To pay for the urban renewal bonds that would cover the cost of the work, the tax for Clarksdale property owners would go up, said Nnamdi Thompson, a member of the Government Consultants group.
For a property owner with a home valued at $50,000, they would be asked to pay $25 more in property taxes per year, Thompson said. For a $100,000 property, that increase would be $50. And for someone with a $200,000 home, the increase would be $100.
For those who own property that is not occupied by the owner, the increase would be even more: $37.50 annually for a $50,000 property; $75 for a $100,000 property; and $150 for a $200,000 parcel.
Clarksdale Mayor Chuck Espy said while the city is not required to have a bond package approved by voters, it was the desire of the city commissioners, as well as his own, to take the issue before city residents and let them decide if they want to fund the necessary improvements.
The mayor said the city is “behind in the race to the top in the state of Mississippi.”
“We have other cities that are competing with us for quality of life dollars and we are not in the lead. We have to do necessary items that would put Clarksdale first and on top,” Espy said. “We are making this commitment to move forward in Clarksdale’s future, to pay for the necessary infrastructure items that must happen, to make sure that Clarksdale is first.”
Espy said he was inspired by the actions of President John F. Kennedy as documented in the book “American Moon Shot” by historian Douglas Brinkley. This year marks the 50th anniversary of man first setting foot on the moon.
“A lot of people laughed in that room when Kennedy said he was going to put a man on the moon. His quote was ‘We choose to go to the moon in this decade and we do other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard,’” Espy said as he looked around at his fellow commissioners.
“And I ask all the citizens of Clarksdale, within that same spirit, to stand with the five of us as we bring forth a comprehensive plan. We have done our due diligence, we have done our homework and now we are ready to go to work.”
The proposed projects, in the order of their priority, are:
1. Replacement of the Second Street bridge (which has an estimated $3.8 million project cost);
2. Fixing the drainage problems around the Sasse Street area ($800,000);
3. Building a ring levee around the flood-prone Pearson Street area and installing a pump to pump out flood water ($2,025,000);
4. New sidewalks and lighting ($1.1 million); and,
5. Street rehabilitation throughout the city ($500,000).
Failing to make the list of projects that would be paid for under the urban renewal bonds that voters would approve in August is widening Friars Point Road from two to three lanes at its intersection with Lee Drive to where it becomes three lanes near Coahoma Community College.
That project, just by itself, would cost an estimated $3.6 million, said Vincent Malavasi, an engineer and vice-president of the Neel-Schaffer firm in Southaven.
“There’s a whole lot more project than money,” Malavasi said.
Espy said that those living in other flood-prone areas of the city shouldn’t feel that they were being excluded. He pointed out that the city will continue to seek out other funding sources to fix flooding problems in areas such as around the Greenbough Nursing Home.
Thompson said state law limits the amount of debt that a city may accrue. Under the 20 percent of the city’s assessed tax value guideline set by the urban renewal bond, that number for Clarksdale is $15.8 million.
Currently, the city of Clarksdale has a total of $3.55 million in debt from general obligation bonds that were passed in 2011 and earlier this year. Thompson said the 2011 bond is scheduled to be paid off in 2026, while the 2019 bond carries a very low interest rate of 2.58 percent.
“You can actually have, under state statute, approximately 12 million dollars outstanding,” Thompson said, noting that is far less than the nearly $5 million bond package voters would consider in August.
Trey Hairston, a member of the public finance, tax incentives and credit markets group at the Butler Snow law firm in Jackson, said the next step will be for the city to put together an urban renewal plan at its next meeting. Both the Clarksdale Planning Commission and Quality of Life Commission will have input on the city’s urban renewal plan and whether the proposed projects fit the guidelines. There would be a public hearing held May 13 in which city residents could speak in favor of or against the plan.
“It’s an aggressive schedule, but I think it’s conservative enough to allow the mayor and board to ask any questions, as well as any citizens,” Hairston said.