By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A City Council decision to table the Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan leaves the $15 million initiative in limbo with no end in sight.
But Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said he’s not giving up.
“Our challenges still remain, and we’ll just keep trying to work toward a solution that will be successful,” Reed said in a phone call to the Daily Journal.
He was out of town and didn’t attend Tuesday’s council meeting, where members voted 5-2 to table the plan after hearing from a half dozen residents at City Hall. The speakers, who included former Mayor Ed Neelly, urged the group to either scrap the entire proposal, postpone a decision or hold a public election on the matter.
It’s unclear when the council will revisit the plan. Council President Fred Pitts said he won’t hold another work session on it until late July at the earliest.
“I had rather it not been tabled,” said Pitts said after the meeting. “But, you know, we really haven’t got a consensus yet across the board.”
Until the meeting, council members had been prepared to vote on the plan. They had spent about one hour hashing out final details in a work session earlier that day, and no one had recommended its postponement.
The four-part plan, which was unveiled in March, aims to revitalize the city through a series of strategies including a home-loan program, a home-improvement grant, higher rental fees on landlords and a college tuition guarantee.
It was spearheaded by Reed and fleshed out by nearly four dozen community leaders organized through the Community Development Foundation. CDF President and CEO David Rumbarger had little to say after the vote.
“We’re at the service of the council,” he said. “If they ask us to, we will continue to work with them. (But) at this point I think it’s their plan and obviously they need to take some ownership of it.”
Earlier in the day, CDF Planner Jon Milstead had urged the council to adopt the plan. He said it would renew neighborhoods and spur economic growth.
“Some have stated that this plan is risky,” Milstead told the council, “but everybody needs to understand that doing nothing is just as risky.”
Ultimately, the pleas of residents appeared to delay the vote.
Many who spoke cited concerns about the city’s ability to afford the measure, and some doubted it’d deliver the anticipated results of revitalizing Tupelo and stabilizing its middle class.
“Will this really cause anybody to move to Tupelo?” Neelly asked. “Is not our schools the 800-pound gorilla in the room? The schools must get a handle on discipline.”
Tupelo’s public school problems – real or perceived – have prompted many families to relocate to the suburbs, an issue that has concerned council members, but one which they’ve been unable to tackle.
Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington made the motion to table the plan, and it was seconded by Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis. Without further discussion, the vote passed.
Only Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan and Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell opposed tabling it.
Newell said after the meeting he was ready to vote down the plan, which the council had discussed and amended for months.
“I think it needs to go in the shredder, and we need to start over with a new plan,” Newell said. “You can only tweak a plan for so long.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
– The council voted 5-2 to table a decision on the Tupelo Neighborhood Revitalization Plan.
Here’s how they voted:
Ward 1 Markel Whittington – FOR
Ward 2 Fred Pitts, president – FOR
Ward 3 Jim Newell – AGAINST
Ward 4 Nettie Davis – FOR
Ward 5 Jonny Davis – FOR
Ward 6 Mike Byran – AGAINST
Ward 7 Willie Jennings – FOR
Neighborhood Revitalization Plan
– Strategy 1 – A low-interest loan program to help homebuyers with down payments. Borrowers can get up to $50,000 from the city and pay it back over 15 years at 2.5 percent interest.
– Strategy 2 – A matching grant for homeowner improving their properties. Owners of older homes in urban renewal overlay districts can get up to $7,500 matching grants for structural, plumbing, electrical, mechanical, gas, roof, flooring, kitchen and bathroom improvements.
– Strategy 3 – A rental license program where landlords pay annual fees to help fund code enforcement. The latest proposal called for $25 annual license fees and $50 inspection fees.
– Strategy 4 – A program to pay college tuition for graduating high school students.
Tupelo graduates can get two years of city-funded tuition assistance their junior and senior years of college as long as they apply all other aid first and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.