By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Tupelo Water & Light billing and collection offices will likely relocate in early 2014 to a downtown two-story former bank building at Court and Main streets.
The Tupelo City Council will meet at 3:30 p.m. for a special called meeting Monday related to the city spending more than $1 million to purchase the former M&F Bank’s main Tupelo building at 333 Court St.
The official agenda for the City Council only lists “executive session.”
Mayor Jason Shelton confirmed Friday the meeting will involve acquiring the downtown M&F Bank property, among the three Tupelo bank locations closed in November resulting from the merger with Renasant Bank.
Johnny Timmons, director of Tupelo Water & Light, said moving city utility’s customer service offices should open at the new location by Feb. 1.
“It’s already built for what we need,” Timmons said.
The current location for customers to pay city utility bills is a short distance away at 320 Court St.
City attorney Ben Logan worked Friday to finalize closing papers for the property acquisition.
At least one other local government office eyed the site as a location for expansion. Lee County Tax Collector Leroy Belk had mentioned in recent months interest in moving the former bank, but county negotiations for buying the building fizzled out.
Timmons said he began looking a decade ago for alternative options to the customer service current location, a facility cramping workers interacting with the public.
“We have two employees per office with desks butted up together,” Timmons said. “We literally have people hanging over the counter because there’s nowhere for them to wait.”
Timmons and Shelton both said moving to the former bank location will save significant costs compared to building a new facility. Among other amenities at the new site, two cars also can use drive-through options simultaneously, a change to the single, narrow drive-through at the current location. It also will have offices available for employees to meet privately to discuss service or billing-related issues.
Altogether, the new building will provide the city department 11,118 square feet of space, nearly evenly split between the two floors.
Timmons said customer billing and other records maintained in TW&L’s operations and maintenance office at 320 North Front St. will occupy the second floor.
Plans haven’t been revealed for the utility’s current billing and collections facility after services relocate next year.