By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mayor Jack Reed Jr. is proposing expanded street paving and a pilot neighborhood revitalization project to put the city’s excess reserves to better use.
“We’ve talked about finishing strong,” said Reed, who gave the Tupelo City Council an overview of his priorities for the last six months of the term at Thursday night’s council work session. “We want to leave the city in a better place.”
Reed announced in November he would not seek re-election this year.
Spending an additional $1 million would allow the city to overlay 22 streets identified as being most in need of repaving by the city public works department. The city’s routine allocation – $800,000 – would cover the first six on the list.
“Those streets are ready to go to bid,” Reed said.
At the work session, Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington suggested evaluating roads in the annexed areas for inclusion in any expanded overlay program.
The neighborhood redevelopment pilot project would pull $1.8 million from the unrestricted reserve funds as part of a $2.9 million project that Reed believes will uplift that neighborhood, stabilize adjacent neighborhoods and have positive effects across the city’s economy.
“We could have a pilot project that would turn around an area in the heart of the city,” Reed said.
The city is making steps to revitalize areas with decaying properties.
“We’ve gotten a great response to demolishing blighted properties,” suchas the Trace Inn, Reed said.
In a Friday interview, Reed said it was too early to publicly identify the pilot project neighborhood.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the council is slated to discuss property acquisition in executive session.
“I think this is a real investment in Tupelo, Mississippi,” he said.
If the pilot project is approved, the city would use the funds to purchase properties, demolish unsalvageable buildings, improve the utilities and infrastructure and create design standards to guide new construction and renovations.
Reed is proposing the money from the unrestricted reserve fund would be paired with $500,000 from the Tupelo Water and Light reserves and a portion of the money the council has already allocated for demolition of blighted properties over three years.
After the city cleans up the properties, private developers would be able to purchase lots. Reed envisions a resident-led group would oversee the neighborhood redevelopment as the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency oversees Fairpark.
The tipping point for these kind of projects seems to be about 30 percent of properties in a neighborhood.
“Once we get the ball rolling enough, the private sector will come in,” Reed said. “If it works, it absolutely can be reproduced in other parts of the city.”
The city has built up $18.3 million in unrestricted funds. Last year, the council added to the fund thanks to balanced operations budget.
Municipal finance experts generally recommend cities keep reserves equal to the quarterly operations budget, Reed said.
For Tupelo, that’s about $8.5 million.
“We basically have $10 million more in savings than the recommended amount,” Reed said.
In past years, the large reserves would have allowed the city to generate revenue through interest.
Currently, the reserves are earning 0.12 percent interest.
“They’re earning virtually nothing,” Reed said.
After accounting for $3 million needed to cover any gaps between expenses and revenue for the Major Thoroughfare Program and retaining a conservative $10 million reserve balance, the city has approximately $5 million available for investment, he said.
“Our most important need is residents – homeowners,” Reed said. Investing in streets and neighborhood development will make Tupelo more attractive to young families. “It’s our biggest challenge and our biggest opportunity.”