EDITORIAL: Start the process

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Tupelo City Council last week set a timetable leading to a referendum on Phase 5 of the Major Thoroughfare Program amid continuing discussions about the MTP and well-founded concerns about neighborhood revitalization, strengthening Tupelo’s public schools, and sustaining the citywide tax base.
The discussion’s next formal setting is a public forum on March 1, followed on March 22 by a decision on what’s to be included in Phase 5 of the MTP and the setting of a referendum on May 3.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s proposal for an All-America City Plan that would drop MTP funding to five mills in the next five-year phase, and have the City Council adopt a five-mill levy for neighborhood revitalization, would leave the tax rate unchanged from a 10-mill thoroughfare program. It has stirred wide comment and has passionate supporters, but also significant opposition, based primarily on its reduction in thoroughfare millage. The Reed proposal would pay for the completion of South Gloster Street and East Main Street improvements with MTP taxation, but not additional thoroughfare work.
All elected city officials acknowledge that Tupelo’s middle-class erosion, clearly confirmed in the 2010 Census, is a major problem, and some council members – including Council President Fred Pitts – are strong advocates of the mayor’s All America City Plan. It represents the kind of bold thinking Tupelo must apply to the most urgent issue before the city, and no one has put forward an alternative to meet the problem head-on. It’s clear that middle-class flight is the same kind of urgent issue for Tupelo today that traffic flow was 20 years ago when the Major Thoroughfare Program was initiated, and it deserves similar priority.
That said, the issue of neighborhood revitalization is too important to get dragged down in disagreement over thoroughfare millage. If a consensus cannot be reached by the March 22 deadline that guarantees completion of South Gloster and East Main widening projects while allocating sufficient millage to fund neighborhood revitalization, funding for neighborhoods can’t be allowed to die with that disagreement. All elected city officials have a responsibility to see that it doesn’t, whatever the funding mechanism.
Mayor Reed and the council should act now to appoint a citywide committee, including a specified number of appointments from each of the city’s seven wards, to identify neighborhood revitalization work within the scope of the Tupelo 2025 Comprehensive Plan. A deadline for a report should allow time for final council discussions to build consensus, but inaction is not an option.
If consensus is reached on the thoroughfare millage-neighborhood revitalization combination, that’s all to the good. If not, and the election is again for a 10-mill road plan, a neighborhood revitalization committee’s work would still be in progress. Momentum could still be generated to have a plan no later than summer for a bond issue or other funding mechanism. Either way, getting a group working now on recommendations is vital.
Tupelo is losing its middle class to suburbs and unincorporated areas. Demographic factors in the flight of families threaten the success of public schools and the ability of the city to attract new residents, especially young middle-class families with children.
All Tupeloans should remember that the city’s progress has grown from a consistent future focus: strong schools, safe and pleasant neighborhoods, and good jobs to attract ambitious young families. It is an effort repeated for generations, and any slackening in the effort to maintain those qualities of life will dim the future.
It is especially important for young families who live in Tupelo to express their views about neighborhood stability and attractiveness, linked to school quality, at the March 1 meeting. Positions on some goals previously adopted may need to be adjusted, but Tupelo has shown through its 141 years that it has the will to shape a positive destiny.

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