Tupelo plan unlikely to pass

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The city’s bold initiative to revitalize Tupelo with a series of taxpayer-funded incentives and increased landlord licensing fees appears unlikely now to pass.
It’s been nearly six months since the unveiling of the Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan, but the $15.7 million proposal has been indefinitely tabled after failing to garner enough support.
Now, city leaders are trying to fund some of the plan’s recommendations as separate programs in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2012 budget. Not all will pass.
“The plan as it was presented as a package doesn’t look like it will pass,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr., one of the plan’s most ardent advocates. “But there are lots of parts with lots of consensus on them, so let’s look at them one at a time and see how we can pay for them. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”
The original plan called for a four-pronged strategy to retain and attract middle-income families to Tupelo. Among its recommendations: a low-interest loan program to help homebuyers with down payments; stronger code enforcement funded by higher landlord permit fees; a matching grant for homeowners improving their properties; and a program to pay college tuition for graduating high school students.
Despite support from the Community Development Foundation, Reed and City Council President Fred Pitts, not all council members agreed with the proposal. They likened it to a government handout, a sentiment shared by many in the community.
Reed tried to save the college tuition program by funding it in the city’s upcoming budget. He penciled in a $500,000 line item for it, but council members want it removed.
Two other recommendations from the plan could remain. Reed presented a capital projects plan that includes $600,000 for neighborhood revitalization. It would fund street and sidewalk improvements, as well as landscaping and demolition of dilapidated structures.
Council members haven’t voiced opposition to that recommendation during any of their numerous budget talks since August.
The city’s proposed budget also includes anticipated revenues from an increased landlord license fee – though the fee hike isn’t as high as the one recommended in the Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan. It proposed charging landlords $240 per rental house or $120 per apartment unit.
Municipal leaders now are considering a modest increase from the current $10 per unit to $25 per unit. But it won’t go into effect without an amendment to the existing ordinance.
The budget itself must be adopted by Sept. 15. It goes into effect Oct. 1.
Once it’s passed, Pitts said he’ll delve back into the original plan to see what other measures could be teased out and implemented.
“If we could get $1 million set aside from the rainy day funds to offer down payment assistance, that’d be good,” he said. “We’re making less than 1 percent on our money now. If we loaned it out, that money would come back at 2.5 percent (interest). I’m not going to give up on it.”
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com