By Emily Le Coz | NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A bold plan to reverse middle-income exodus to the suburbs dominated political discourse in early 2011 but ultimately fell flat by summer.
Hatched first by Mayor Jack Reed Jr. in the wake of disappointing census numbers, the plan envisioned a neighborhood renewal effort using diverted Major Thoroughfare Program funds.
But it soon expanded to include a college tuition guarantee for graduating high-schoolers, a city-backed down-payment loan for homebuyers, a higher business license fee for landlords and a city-funded home-improvement grant for existing residents. The multi-pronged approach was assembled by local business leaders and backed by the Community Development Foundation.
It would have cost taxpayers $15.7 million with an estimated return of $61.1 million over five years. Tupelo Chief Financial Officer Lynn Norris said a city bond issue would fund a majority of the cost without requiring a tax increase or Major Thoroughfare money.
But the plan quickly divided the community and the City Council, many of whose members argued Tupelo’s problems resided within the public school district and not the neighborhoods.
Others called the proposal a government giveaway whose outcome couldn’t accurately be predicted. And landlords complained the city was saddling them with an unfair tax.
The plan was debated and nitpicked and reworked during a series of council work sessions, but a consensus continually eluded decision-makers. The issue was repeatedly tabled without a vote and finally removed from the table altogether.
Reed did get a portion of his plan: The council recently approved $600,000 for neighborhood improvements in Fiscal Year 2012, and landlords will pay slightly higher fees to fund more code enforcement.