EDITORIAL: Healthy debate

By NEMS Daily Journal

The ongoing City Council debate over the various components of the proposed Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan is proceeding as good policy formulation should.
Questions are being asked. Critiques are being aired. Adjustments and alternatives are being proposed.
This week’s discussions on increased landlord fees and a college tuition guarantee proposal – two of the plan’s four parts – are cases in point.
Raising fees on landlords was proposed as a way to fund more code enforcement officers and pay for demolition of dilapidated structures. When landlords and others suggested that the initial proposal raised fees too high and failed to distinguish between good and negligent landlords, City Development Services Director BJ Teal returned with a new proposal that took those concerns into account.
Similarly, when some saw the proposal to guarantee four years’ tuition at state universities to high school graduates in Tupelo as overly ambitious or at least partially duplicative of an existing two-year community college guarantee, supporters remained open to alternatives. Those include adding the junior and senior years at a state university to the already existing guarantee for the first two years at Itawamba Community College – referred to as “two plus two” – or funding the last two years at a university even if the student didn’t attend community college, which was tagged “zero plus two.”
In short, consensus on an acceptable plan has been the goal, and while not fully achieved, progress has been made toward it.
The early contentiousness in the Tupelo plan debate seems to have given way to a more productive discussion. A majority of the council appears inclined at this point to support its major components, once the details are agreed upon.
We have said repeatedly in this space that Tupelo’s current challenges – stalled population growth and median income, older neighborhoods in decline, the impact on the school system – won’t be reversed without concerted and focused action. The four-part plan that emerged from city leaders’ discussions and the input of committees coordinated by the Community Development Foundation would constitute an appropriate, measured response from city government. In addition to the landlord fees and tuition guarantee, it includes incentives for home purchases and renovations.
Action well in advance of the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, would give Tupelo a good start in what must become a sustained effort to reverse recent trends.
Any debate as important as this one has to proceed with a sense of urgency but also with a full public vetting of all the issues involved. That is happening with the Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan, and it’s a healthy thing.