Council divided on capital plan details



By Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Expect serious debate related to Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton’s proposal to add $2.1 million in new funding to the city’s big-ticket, five-year capital project plan.

Shelton officially unveiled to the City Council on Tuesday his idea to use $5.1 million of the city’s $18.5 million reserves to pay off debt, freeing up more annual tax dollars for long-term projects.

Shelton’s proposal enhances capital project funding annually beginning in fiscal year 2015 with $431,500 and up to $1.1 million in 2017. The five-year plan now includes $10.8 million worth of projects.

No date exists yet for when the council will vote on these additions, but it will likely happen in the next few months.

With more money for projects, some council members will advocate to use it for projects in their city wards while other council members believe the city shouldn’t spend money on what they describe as “wants,” not needs.

Matters such as whether to build a splash park at a particular city park in the coming fiscal years already has caused pointed comments among council members.

Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings said he has pushed for improvements to Theron Nichols Park for years and doesn’t want to wait until the 2016 fiscal year for the city to fund $400,000 for a spray park there. Shelton’s plan calls for spending the same amount for a spray park at City Park on Joyner Avenue, meant to add a water element to the park which had an operating swimming pool until recently.

“I was under the impression that we would try to do both of them in the same year,” Jennings said of the splash parks. “We can move money around and do both of them this year.”

Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington isn’t so keen on that idea, pointing to the city’s $12 million Aquatic Center that opened in December as enough taxpayer expense right now related to water-related parks and recreation.

“We’re talking about $800,000 worth of splash parks,” he said. “We’ve splashed enough this year.”

Jennings said he’ll continue to push to add the splash park to Theron Nichols Park as soon as possible.

Council members just received specifics of Shelton’s plan this week and said they plan to take time reviewing it, along with considering possible tweaks, before voting on allocating additional funding for specific projects.

Councilman Buddy Palmer of Ward 5, serving his first term in city government, said he will continue to evaluate the plan but seems likely to support funding for city parks.

“Parks are a very important part of our city structure,” he said. “But as for whose park goes first, I don’t have a dog in that hunt.”

Council President Nettie Davis said she understands Jenning’s desire for projects in his ward, along with other requests not included in Shelton’s plan, such as Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell wanting beautification funding for Highway 6 entering south Tupelo, which isn’t included in the capital project plan.

“I want us to be very careful to make sure we’re considerate of all areas of the city,” Davis said.

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