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COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) — Columbus is closer to approving funding for a $5 million street, drainage and sidewalk improvement program that could start by late summer.

The City Council approved a modified bond issue plan Tuesday night on a 4-2 vote. Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin were the two opposing votes.

Both said they favored waiting 30 days to review the modified plan and to get answers — such as the list of projects — to questions raised by taxpayers during a forum last week.

Gavin also questioned up to 10 percent in fees that would be paid bond attorneys, engineers and project managers to handle the deal. Mayor Robert Smith tried to point out the total is less than what previously has been paid when Neel Shaffer was the city engineering firm by including paving set up costs and other fees that pushed the total to 16 percent. But others said some of those costs will come up in this plan either way.

But Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box and others noted that in the next 30 days, those questions and others can be addressed before the City Council gives final approval at its March 20 meeting. During that 30 days, Neel Shaffer Engineers are to develop a master plan of projects to be covered by the roughly $4.5 million that will be left for actual road and sidewalk work.

“I think we’ve come a long way tonight in getting those questions answered and in the next 30 days, we’ll get more, such as the list of streets,” Box said.

The revised plan cuts the bond issue from 20 to 15 years, likely saving taxpayers thousands of dollars in long-term interest costs. Bond attorney Steve Eads said the interest rate likely would fall from 3.45 to 3.11 percent ith the shortened term. He also said the city ran a slight risk of rates rising higher if the schedule is delayed.

The proposed property tax hike of less than two mills would be unchanged. And under the way the bonds would be structured, starting in three years, the city would have as much as $300,000 to set aside for annual road maintenance. It doesn’t have such a fund now.

“Instead of having to let problems build up, the city would have an annual fund set aside for street maintenance,” Eads said of the payment structure, which depends on some current bond payments ending in 2016 and being redirected to other areas.

Opponents have 30 days to get 1,500 signatures to call a referendum before the council makes a final decision May 20.

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