By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Per-hour costs for outside legal services for the city of Tupelo might soon increase.
City attorney Ben Logan told City Council members Monday that the law firm Mitchell McNutt & Sams has requested a new contract charging $20 more an hour for city legal work, bringing the total charged per hour to $150.
The council likely will vote on the proposed new contract this month.
“I’ll have the contract for you before the next meeting,” Logan told council members during a work session.
The existing agreement with Mitchell McNutt & Sams charges $130 per hour if a partner in the firm handled the work and slightly less for an associate attorney, along with additional charges for paralegal work.
Before this fiscal year, the city had contracted with the law firm to handle city legal matters for 36 of the last 40 years. Mayor Jason Shelton made hiring an in-house city attorney a sticking point in the 2014 fiscal year budget approved in September.
Shelton told council members that switching to an in-house attorney to handle many city legal issues would either save in legal costs or at least not cost more. The City Council approved a $90,000 salary for a city attorney in the current budget, along with $60,000 for outside legal work. An employee already with the city works as Logan’s assistant.
In an example of outside legal work, attorney John Hill of Mitchell McNutt & Sams has represented the city recently in hearings related to annexation plans for the town of Sherman. As mayor of Sherman, Logan faced a conflict of interest and couldn’t represent Tupelo in the case.
Guy Mitchell III of the firm said Monday after the council’s work session that the new contract still provides a discounted rate for legal services compared to other clients.