Citizen redevelopment panel remains in doubt

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – With further skepticism and hesitation with a citizen-led committee responsible for spending taxpayer money, some Tupelo City Council members say they won’t support it at today’s meeting.
A majority of the City Council still remains critical of Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s efforts to give a group of citizens – the executive committee of the nonprofit Neighborhood Development Corporation – authority to negotiate with property owners and make final financial decisions related to the redevelopment project aimed at improving a blighted area along West Jackson Street from North Gloster Street to Joyner Avenue.
As part of the redevelopment plan, the city would have an agreement with the Community Development Foundation, which would channel the city funding to the NDC committee.
Councilman Willie Jennings of Ward 7 said he wasn’t prepared to support the proposal on the agenda for today’s council meeting.
“I want to take it a little bit slower,” he said Monday during an agenda review session. “It might pass without my vote but I’m not ready to vote on it.”
The City Council approved in September close to $3 million in redevelopment funding.
After acquiring a few properties as part of the redevelopment plan, Reed has pressed the council to approve a citizen-led part of the effort to allow bankers and commercial real estate agents to use their expertise. This volunteer group would negotiate purchase of up to 22 “substandard” properties with a budget of nearly $2 million.
Using funding approved annually by the City Council, the NDC committee would also help the city transition the property to private builders and investors for construction of new houses, along with helping leverage funding from area banks to the project.
Council members Nettie Davis of Ward 4 and Mike Bryan of Ward 6 said they supported the concept of the redevelopment program but not allowing the committee to make spending decisions without their approval. Councilman Jim Newell of Ward 3 has said he’s opposed to the committee spending taxpayer money without approval.
The chairman of the NDC committee said it wouldn’t likely participate if the city doesn’t grant authority to spend the money.
Reed said the City Council would have oversight and representation related to the committee by appointing a non-voting member and receiving monthly reports. He said citizen participation “adds value to the whole project and adds banks giving some of their own money.”
robbie.ward@journainc.com