Debate continues on funding Tupelo tourism projects

I'm a journalist focused on government, policy, politics and people.
I find what matters and bird dog it like nobody's business.

Tupelo StockBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo City Council’s hesitancy this week to write a check for planned tourism projects suggests a split among elected city leaders in deciding which taxpayer-funded checkbook they prefer to use.

Do they use the capital projects account or ask the Convention and Visitors Bureau for its taxpayer-funded account to foot the bill?

Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan prefers using the account funded by a special 2 percent tax from every time Tupelo restaurant patrons pay their checks and hotel and motel bills.

Mayor Jason Shelton wants to use an account generally set aside for taxpayer projects involving purchase of land, construction or other long-term investments.

Current tourism projects include adding two pavilions to Elvis Presley’s birthplace in east Tupelo, along with a statue of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll on the property and handicap-accessible walkways connecting them to existing attractions at the site. The other project involves display of a F-105 Thunderchief aircraft and construction of a miniature Vietnam Wall Memorial at Veterans Park, also in east Tupelo.

Along with taxpayer dollars, both projects will require private support, while funding for the birthplace additions could come from state tax dollars.

No matter the city bank account used to help pay costs for these projects, all Tupelo elected officials have assured the public they support them. They said they know the importance of encouraging more city visitors to spend the night, shop and explore dining options.

“Rest assured, these things will get funded one way or another,” Bryan said Wednesday.

Shelton emphasized more than half of city revenue to pay for police, fire department, parks and recreation and city street paving comes from sales taxes paid each time Tupelo cash registers ring up a sale.

“We’re facing increasing competition from surrounding areas and the Internet,” Shelton said. “These projects are specifically designed to get people to Tupelo, Mississippi.”

Bryan, Shelton and the six other City Council members will have an opportunity next week to keep debating in public which checkbook they prefer using for tourism-related projects. Shelton confirmed Wednesday they’ll discuss Monday how to fund $250,000 toward the two specific tourism projects. The City Council decided Tuesday to postpone funding the projects until leaders have a few more conversations about which city account should pay for the projects.

Bryan emphasizes his desire to use the CVB’s bank account.

Shelton agrees CVB money could pay part of the bill if the majority of the appointed seven-member CVB board also supports the idea.

Neal McCoy, executive director of Tupelo’s CVB, confirmed Wednesday the tourism organization funded through tax dollars has already budgeted for the current fiscal year $100,000 toward the birthplace project and $25,000 to the Vietnam Memorial effort.

“We haven’t had any conversations about upping that with anyone,” he said. “At this point, we haven’t had any new conversations.”

robbie.ward@journalinc.com