After passing the budget, Tupelo leaders ready to tackle goals

Tupelo StockBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – After approving the city’s $37.1 million budget for the next fiscal year, Tupelo City Council members and Mayor Jason Shelton have plenty of thoughts on what to do next.

Council members managed to avoid a prolonged battle with Mayor Jason Shelton by going along with his idea to switch from contracting legal services to hiring a city attorney, a position included in the budget. But not all council members believe the discussion of city expenses should end.

Some councilmen say the city should evaluate each department to see if employees, equipment and others things related to efficiency and productivity can improve.

Some council members want the city to begin identifying more neighborhoods in need of redevelopment, similar to the nearly $3 million Jackson Street redevelopment project. But Shelton isn’t convinced the city should be in the “real estate business,” a way he describes the Jackson Street project.

And don’t forget the list of 13 proposed goals city elected leaders identified last weekend during the final leg of a city retreat. Council members and Shelton plan to refine these goals and use them as a roadmap for how to proceed until this group’s term ends in 2017.

But before council members begin to sink their teeth into goals, City Council members wait for Shelton to nominate city department heads, leaders who will help accomplish short- and long-term goals.

“The most important thing is we need to know who the appointments are and get those positions in place,” said Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell. “Those appointments have got to be made, so we need to know who they are before we can start this process.”

To sum things up, city leaders are ready to plow forward to help Tupelo achieve a higher quality of life. Shelton calls these goals all an effort to make the city a place more attractive for young, middle-class families.

Shelton said he’ll begin nominating department heads around the Oct. 1 City Council meeting. He plans to have a city attorney candidate for the council to approve and has said he’ll likely have changes in some city department positions. Sid Russell, director of public works, announced recently his plan to retire in October.

As for goals he wants to pursue, Shelton said creating an environment in the city for middle-class residents to buy desirable, affordable housing ranks at the top. He said he plans to continue holding forums for segments of the community to contribute ideas toward making houses more affordable and creating more demand in the city.

One goal from the retreat is to create a housing advisory council by the end of the year. Generally, all proposed goals from elected city leaders can be grouped into categories related to improving neighborhoods, increasing communication between the city and residents and finding ways to make City Hall more “customer friendly.”

Among short-term goals, Council President Nettie Davis said changing first impressions for City Hall visitors ranks toward the top. Council members have discussed unlocking the front door, adjusting police security located at the back entrance and placing a current employee nearby to provide information for people in the building.

“We want to make City Hall a friendlier place,” Davis said. “This is a goal that could be achieved by making some quick adjustments.”

Other goals, however, will take more time and money. Most council members have said their top priorities involve protecting and improving neighborhoods affected by neglect and in danger of losing value.

Councilman Lynn Bryan of Ward 2 said goals such as building a new police headquarters have funding already in place but need action on behalf of city officials.

“We need to get down to making things happen in the city,” he said.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com