By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Other city and county elected officials have joined Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton and Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson’s interest in exploring a shared police and sheriff’s department facility, an effort to see if an intergovernmental partnership could save tax dollars.
Members of the Lee County Board of Supervisors and the Tupelo City Council said Thursday they’d like to pursue an idea to partner on building a law enforcement facility together.
Board president Bobby Smith said the shared facility is something he has supported for seven years or longer. Discussions earlier this year led to city and county officials meeting with an architect to further advance the project.
However, former Mayor Jack Reed Jr. decided against the idea, choosing instead to focus on a Tupelo Police Department headquarters on downtown property at Franklin and Front Streets donated to the city through an FBI investigation, land designated for law enforcement use.
Smith said he welcomes the return to discussion for a joint facility.
“It makes a lot of sense,” he said. “It seems like there could be a lot of common ground.”
Tupelo Councilman Markel Whittington of Ward 1, a proponent of opportunities for the city and county to partner, agrees. He said “synergies” could exist between both entities.
Johnson has mentioned possible cost savings between the police and sheriff’s departments, such as consolidating positions of record keeping.
Elected officials in Tupelo and Lee County have said new law enforcement facilities are a top priority. All elected officials contacted by the Daily Journal to discuss the possible partnership said taxpayer savings must exist to justify the joint effort.
“There’s a lot of synergy in sharing costs in a facility,” Whittington said. “Having said that, savings have to exist between both parties.”
Councilman Lynn Bryan of Ward 2 said he’s also open to considering a joint facility.
“I think that we should look at all possibilities, the pros and cons of each, and make a decision based on facts that is best for the taxpayer,” he said.
Mike LeBlanc, a Louisiana-based architect who met earlier with city and county officials on the project, said a shared facility could bring considerable cost savings that come from the public safety entities in the same facility. LeBlanc’s firm, MWL Architects, designed the Alcorn County Justice Center, which includes sheriff and police departments, along with a jail, courts and emergency management offices.
LeBlanc said space needed for a Tupelo and Lee County facility would likely require at least 15 acres, much more than the 3- to 4-acre site donated to the city of Tupelo for police headquarters. He also estimated the cost for such a facility in the $18 million to $22 million range.
Tupelo Police Department Capt. Bart Aguirre, who will officially be sworn in as police chief next week, said he’s open to the idea of a shared facility.
Johnson has said previous discussions for a shared facility involved including the Lee County Jail and municipal and justice courts.