By NEMS Daily Journal
A flurry of activity in recent weeks hasn’t yet produced a consensus on how to reverse Tupelo’s middle class erosion, but the good news is that the ideas are coming.
It’s easy to criticize the way the process is playing out, with new elements and connected initiatives emerging for discussion as they are formulated and before every detail is complete. But the city leadership, both mayor and council, now publicly recognize the necessity of action soon, and an appropriately increased sense of urgency is in the air.
It’s inevitable under the circumstances that the policy development will seem a little messy, even chaotic, at times. Both the All America City Plan and the Tupelo Promise proposals put forward by Mayor Jack Reed Jr. were potentially tied to the May 3 election on Phase 5 of the Major Thoroughfare Program and thus required an accelerated timetable for consideration.
It’s also easy, in retrospect, to say these proposals should have been formulated much earlier, and it’s true that Tupelo has waited too long to address a problem it has seen coming for years. But that’s hardly an excuse for further unnecessary delay, especially given the hard facts revealed by the new Census, which has been the impetus for action.
The most recent development came Monday when the Major Thoroughfare Committee declined to recommend placing on the May 3 ballot the Tupelo Promise initiative, which would add a new 5-mill tax levy to pay tuition at state public universities for Tupelo High School graduates. It could still be voted on later if the City Council chooses.
Lots of questions remain to be answered about the tuition proposal, but those answers can be developed in relatively short order and consideration given to what would be an innovative approach to retaining and attracting middle class students to Tupelo’s public schools. In addition to being an incentive for families with schoolchildren to stay or locate in the city, it would also be a reason for students to complete school – which dovetails with efforts to reduce the high school dropout rate.
But as the mayor emphasized, the tuition proposal is one element of a more comprehensive approach – the All America City Plan – which also seeks solutions for revitalizing city neighborhoods and reducing blight, keys to retaining a stable middle class. The Community Development Foundation staff is assisting the city in developing the details.
Reaching consensus on a plan to reverse middle class erosion should be top priority for all elected city officials, working deliberately but speedily to put a plan in place and, where necessary, to take it to the voters. Debate over the shape and details of the plan is appropriate and healthy, but political infighting that leads to inaction is unacceptable, given the high stakes for Tupelo’s future.