Tupelo neighborhood associations called 'golden opportunities'

TUPELO – On Monday, the eve of their third meeting as an administration, Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and members of the City Council launched into unsolicited praise for the community’s numerous neighborhood associations.
Reed termed them “golden opportunities” for residents to enhance their quality of life; Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings called them the city’s best partners for crime prevention and trouble shooting; Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis said they’ve beautified the community.
Why all the fuss?
In the past decade or so, the number of Tupelo neighborhood associations has grown from a handful to more than a dozen, with several more preparing to form.
During that time, they’ve leveraged their power to get grant money, city services and special favors to gradually better their areas.
“All of them can claim success in lower crime rates and getting some kinds of improvements from the city, whether it be sidewalks or better lighting,” said Zell Long, the city’s Community Development director, who acts as municipal liaison for the residential groups.
“The main benefit is that we provide access to all city departments,” Long said. “If there’s a concern about drainage, we’ll have someone from Public Works there. We can even bring MDOT.”
Tupelo now has 14 neighborhood associations, each representing homeowners, renters and businesses within a defined boundary. They’re different from homeowners associations in that participation is voluntary, and there are no assessments, dues or covenants.
Most of the city’s neighborhood associations meet monthly. And most have busy agendas including a police report, guest speaker from the city, updates about area projects and an airing of concerns.
“Residents feel more informed about what’s going on,” said Missy Reid, president of the South Thomas Street Neighborhood Association. “We have guest speakers at most of our meetings from different departments … to get word out about services in the city of Tupelo that don’t cost a dime.”
The city Police Department also assigns each neighborhood association an officer to attend meetings, develop a rapport with residents and share tips and concerns. As a result, crime has plummeted in certain parts of town.
“We can never forget that one of the most important things in a neighborhood is having the crime watch,” said Haven Acres Neighborhood Association President Ophelene Moore. “It has reduced the crime activity … around 90 percent.”
Haven Acres was one of three Tupelo neighborhood associations to participate in Tuesday’s National Night Out, an annual crime-and-drug prevention event to strengthen police-community partnerships. Southern Heights and Willis Heights also participated this year.
Crime prevention and access to city government aren’t the only perks for neighborhood associations. City grant money also is available for beautification projects, block parties and other needs.
The City Council launched the grant program two years ago with an annual contribution of $30,000. Neighborhood associations can apply for up to $2,500 annually, and many have taken advantage of it: Joyner and South Thomas Street have planted gardens; Mill Village purchased banners; Park Hill established a community grove; Wilemon Acres will hold a block party.
On Monday, Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell suggested increasing the grant fund next fiscal year in anticipation of more neighborhood associations forming. At least three more are considering it, including The Villages and Lakeshire.
That would be a good thing, said Jennings, adding that neighborhood associations perform a vital role for the city by identifying problems.
“We help each other,” Jennings said.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com. Also read her blog, The Government Grind, at NEMS360.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal