The Meridian City Council voted 4-1 Thursday to authorize the issuance of up to $12 million in paving and infrastructure bonds in one or more series.
The plan is to start with the issuance of about $6 million in bonds, said Council President Kim Houston of Ward 4.
“When it comes back up again, we may not need the other $6 (million),” she said, following the vote. “We might just do $2 million. We might do $4 million, but we’re putting some parameters in place to make sure that we’re doing what we said we were going to do as we move forward to make our city better.”
Houston said the goal is that each year the council would set aside about $1 million that would normally go into reserves and use it for paving, to continue to fund the bond.
Council member George Thomas of Ward 1 said he would not vote to issue more than $6 million in the first issuance.
“This money would give us a quick start,” Thomas said. “It won’t fix nearly everything, but at least give us a start to at least contract for those major thoroughfares that we desperately need repaired.”
Council member Weston Lindemann of Ward 5, who voted in opposition, has repeatedly questioned the need for bonds.
“Why borrow that when we have $4 million in this current year’s budget and we could easily budget for October 2020 through September 30, 2021 an additional sum that would allow us to pave the exact same amount of streets that we would if we just simply borrowed this money here today?” he asked.
“The idea that somehow this last bond issue will be the one that gets us in a positive direction paving long term when every other bond issue that’s been used for paving has not accomplished that, to me, is ridiculous.”
Lindemann said later that he planned to run for mayor because it seemed to be "the only thing to get something done with the level of impact I'm looking to have."
Public Works Director Hugh Smith has said the bonds would not cover everything he'd like to see done, but they would help pay for equipment, paving, improvements to traffic lights and school crossings and the study of some intersections.
Internet sales tax proceeds could be used to pay debt service on the bonds, he said.
The city council also held its first work session for the 2021 budget Thursday.
The proposed $36 million general fund budget reflects an increase of 2.4 percent from the 2020 budget. The rate of inflation for the 12-month period ending in June was 0.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It includes some increased costs for benefits, utilities, repairs and equipment, Chief Financial Officer Brandye Latimer said.
The current budget draft does not include a general fund transfer for the Lakeview Municipal Golf Course, the Mississippi Children's Museum - Meridian or the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience, but that could change, Latimer said.
General fund transfers for the golf course, children's museum and The MAX were not included in the final 2020 budget, but the council authorized a contribution of $75,000 for the children's museum in February 2020.
Three years ago, the city made a commitment of $1 million to be paid over six years, according to Elizabeth Wilson, the museum's executive director.