Tupelo plan comes in increments

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – One year ago, Mayor Jack Reed Jr. lobbied for a sweeping program to revitalize Tupelo’s aging neighborhoods.
Called the All-America City Plan, it would transform blighted areas into family-friendly havens with $10 million diverted from the Major Thoroughfare Program.
It never happened.
Neither did a more elaborate proposal dubbed the Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan. It called for $15 million in bond money to improve housing and incentivize families to live here.
But while both initiatives failed, their intentions survived in a series of smaller efforts. In the end, they may achieve the same goals and cost taxpayers slightly less.
“It seemed like it was smarter to get these things accomplished in a different way,” Reed told the Daily Journal on Friday. “And a big majority of the council has passed these things. It hasn’t been the mayor forcing these issues.”
Among the most significant of these steps was a five-year, $24 million capital project plan funneling bond money into three main areas: park upgrades, recreational amenities and neighborhood improvements.
Neighborhood improvements get $3 million over the five years; parks and recreation get $14.3 million, most of which funds a new aquatic center. Remaining capital money supports road maintenance, and vehicle and equipment purchases.
The City Council approved the plan in September and issued the first bond, worth $3.9 million, three months later. With it, officials purchased three dilapidated properties for $376,000 in the residential Clayton Street area to be demolished and transformed into a neighborhood park.
It’s the first step in what Reed hopes will be a citywide effort to revitalize older neighborhoods and attract more families. And it mirrors the All-America City Plan in almost every way, albeit with less funding.
The city also approved a new Rental Housing Ordinance to crack down on blighted rental properties and hold landlords more accountable while charging them higher fees. Landlords pay the city $25 per unit annually and submit to regular inspections that, if failed more than twice consecutively, will cost increasingly more money.
Council members approved that ordinance in November, and it went into effect this year. Fees collected from the effort fund an additional code-enforcement officer.
The Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan also recommended a new rental ordinance. And it also set higher landlord fees to fund more code officers. It would have generated an estimated $850,000 annually; the current plan will raise about $150,000 but achieves the same goal.
In the meantime, the Development Services Department got serious about code violations. It launched a summer-long blitz targeting every neighborhood and every infraction.
And, thanks to a recent council decision, its code enforcement officers now have police powers. They can issue citations on the spot instead of filing affidavits and waiting for the court to act.
That should increase the number of tickets and force more residents to comply with codes, a top priority of this administration since 2009.
Other ideas pitched in the original plans, though, haven’t reappeared. The city won’t offer low-interest home loans or home-improvement grants, nor will it send graduating seniors to college tuition free.
But academic achievement remains a source of concern for city leaders, who have long said Tupelo’s future hinges on the success of its public schools. Though the municipality has little formal interaction with the Tupelo Public School District, Reed said he’s encouraged by the search for a new superintendent.
Former Superintendent Randy Shaver abruptly left in April at the urging of City Council members. Many said they were dissatisfied with what they deemed a lack of discipline and academic achievement.
The district actively sought Shaver’s replacement since then and has narrowed its search to three candidates.
A decision is expected within this week, and the new hire will start July 1.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com