EDITORIAL: Re-starting Tupelo

By NEMS Daily Journal

The City Council’s vote on Tuesday night tabling action on the Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan did not kill the possibility of implementing effective programs to revitalize the city’s middle class, but it places additional responsibility on the council to come to a consensus or offer an alternative to the plan that had been under development for months.
The 5-2 vote to table reflected what Council President Fred Pitts described as lack of consensus “across the board” – agreement that seemed within reach only days ago.
The opponents of the plan who spoke in the public forum part of the Tuesday meeting, including former Mayor Ed Neelly, were unrelenting in their criticism of the plan’s affordability and some were insistent that the real problem driving Tupelo’s middle class erosion is lack of discipline in the Tupelo Public Schools.
The City Council’s authority does not include school governance. Its members can have opinions, and it can pass resolutions, but the board of trustees of the Tupelo schools, and every other district statewide, is the governing authority for schools. The council’s role in reversing negative trends in Tupelo is to construct policy where it has statutory authority while understanding that declining neighborhoods have an impact on school performance and perceptions.
The damage done to neighborhoods and the attractiveness of living in Tupelo has unfolded in full view of present and past elected officials and civic leaders. It was not until 2010 Census figures tangibly measured Tupelo’s disturbing trends that elected officials and the private sector began to act.
Those facts – stagnant population growth and median income level, increasing proportion of housing in rental property, and deterioration of housing stock – are visible and measurable. The city’s response must be toward resolving those issues under its umbrella as the school board undertakes the internal strengthening that must be implemented to restore the schools’ achievement and stature. Finger-pointing and isolation of the problem is not helpful; the solutions must be collaborative and comprehensive on several fronts.
As for affordability, Chief Financial Officer Lynn Norris holds to his view that relying on Tupelo’s bonding capacity can pay for most of the reinvestment program’s projected $15 million cost – without raising taxes.
The Tupelo Promise Commitment would enhance the other initiatives by providing junior- and senior- year university tuition at Mississippi public universities for all academically qualified high school graduates in Tupelo. Tuition ranges from about $5,000 per year to $5,500 for undergraduates. The prospect of saving all or part of that expense arguably would be an incentive to live in Tupelo.
Tupelo has fallen off its pace, and it must boldly respond.