Tupelo considers bigger Elvis payments

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The city might nearly double its funding to the Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum, which already receives $27,500 in taxpayer money each year.
The tourist destination’s executive director, Dick Guyton, asked City Council members Monday for a $24,000 increase to offset rising operating costs.
“From 2004 to 2011,” Guyton said, “utilities increased 14 times, maintenance increased five times … and insurance has almost doubled.”
Prior to 2004, the city had paid the park’s utilities and insurance costs and also staffed the grounds with a full-time maintenance worker. But that changed when the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation took a more active role in overseeing the park; it hired its own maintenance worker and took over all payments. For its part, the city committed to a $2,291 monthly stipend to the foundation.
Money comes from the Community Services fund within the general fund budget.
“It’s almost a necessity that we consider this additional amount,” said Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis, noting the birthplace’s major impact on local and state tourism.
Council members, who met at an informal work session and not in an official capacity, didn’t commit to the increase. But it could come later in the form of a budget amendment.
Council President Fred Pitts proposed raising the funds by $10,000 this spring and boosting it again when setting the Fiscal Year 2013 budget in September.
Additional funds will become particularly important when the tourist spot completes its $6.3 million expansion.
It will add a 125-seat indoor theater/event center, a 75-seat mini amphitheater, a 350-550-person mega amphitheater, a picnic area and improvements to the overlook.
“We’re going to have a lot more out there to maintain, a lot more to use an irrigation system on, and a lot more for a maintenance man to take care of,” Guyton said.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com