By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Mayor Jason Shelton told the Tupelo Rotary Club on Monday that there aren’t any easy answers on how to solve critical challenges facing the city.
He acknowledged key issues related to declining middle-class neighborhoods and concerns about the city’s public school system. But Shelton said people shouldn’t expect easy answers from him.
“It’s something we’re all going to have to work together on,” he told members of the civic group. “There’s not a simple answer or a silver bullet.”
The 2010 Census showed little growth in the city, leaving many community leaders to seek solutions to convince more people to live in the city as smaller surrounding communities showed significantly higher rates of growth.
Concerns about declining neighborhoods led the previous City Council to approve nearly $3 million for redevelopment of the West Jackson Street area, which includes plans to demolish some houses to make room to build new homes in the “middle-income” price, something Shelton described as $100,000 to $200,000.
During his campaign for mayor, Shelton said he supported the West Jackson Street efforts but generally opposed city-led redevelopment efforts that involved using tax dollars to buy property. Instead, he said he favored using tax credits and incentives to improve existing property, but gave few details.
Shelton also acknowledged hearing many concerns about discipline problems in the Tupelo Public School District. He said he believes public worries could be based more on perception than reality.
“When you go through the schools, it’s nothing like you hear on the street,” said Shelton, a graduate of Tupelo High School.
Shelton said he would like to see more businesses and organizations adopt classrooms to help the community see firsthand successful students in the district.
After hearing the new mayor respond to questions about the city, members of the group said they felt encouraged.
Bill Waters, an engineer whose daughter attended high school with Shelton, said he thinks the new mayor will help find solutions to the challenges facing the community.
“I’m very optimistic he’ll prove to be an excellent mayor,” Waters said.