Reed proposes balanced budget, tuition assistance

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mayor Jack Reed Jr. on Monday proposed a balanced budget for the city’s upcoming fiscal year that includes employee raises and funding for a tuition assistance program.
It’s still in the discussion phase, though, and could change before the City Council adopts the overall budget by the Sept. 15 deadline. It will go into effect Oct. 1.
“I feel really good about this,” Reed said. “We’ve worked really hard to achieve this.”
Reed presented his recommendations during a two-hour work session at City Hall. Council members had a chance to ask questions and make comments. They’ll resume those talks at another work session later today.
“The biggest change was that street overlays were moved from the general fund budget into the capital fund budget and will be paid for out of bonds,” said council President Fred Pitts. “Most of us believe that’s the right way to do it.”
Other capital fund projects include vehicle and equipment purchases, as well as several recreational improvements and facilities – such as the $11.3 million aquatic facility.
The capital fund budget lays out big-ticket expenditures for the next five years. It also is under consideration and not yet final.
Reed’s budget remains roughly in line with the current fiscal year spending plan, which was set at $34 million. It assumes no health insurance hikes and also estimates a modest 1 percent rise in sales tax collections.
“I think that’s pretty conservative,” Reed said. “We had a 2.44 percent sales tax revenue increase so far this year.”
The spending plan also avoids dipping into the city’s rainy day fund, from which it has had to borrow the past few years to make ends meet – much to the dismay of council members Markel Whittington of Ward 1 and Jim Newell of Ward 3. Both have repeatedly cautioned against using municipal reserves. Tupelo has about $17.6 million in its rainy day account.
If leaders adopt the plan, city employees could look forward to either an across-the-board raise of 3 percent, or individually determined merit-based raises.
Six new patrol officers and a full-time position in the Development Services Department would be hired.
Reed also proposed creating an annual $600,000 fund for drainage and street improvements, as well as property acquisition, demolition and neighborhood grants.
And he wants to start an annual $500,000 fund for a college-tuition assistance program similar to the Tupelo Promise he had lobbied for earlier this year. Graduating high school seniors could seek city assistance in their junior and senior years of college as long as they applied other funding first and maintained a 2.5 grade point average.
The city’s fixed annual allocation “would be divided among the number of applicants.” Reed said. “It would still be something that would help people try to make an important dent in a big student loan. It’s from the general fund, not from a bond.”
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com

Highlights
– No dipping into the city’s rainy day funds

– A 3 percent cost of living increase for city employees

– Six new patrol officers for the Tupelo Police Department

– One new full-time employee in the Development Services Department

– An increase in rental inspection fees from $10 per unit to $25 per unit

– An annual $600,000 fund for drainage and street improvements, as well as property acquisition, demolition and neighborhood grants

– An annual $500,000 fund for college tuition assistance for graduating high school seniors in their junior and senior years of college