TUPELO – City Council members continue to juggle their attention between immediate demands of the upcoming fiscal year budget they must pass in less than three weeks and long-term goals.
They started last week with a meeting to discuss the $32 million budget and ended with a retreat aimed at focusing on goals they want to accomplish for the next four years.
This week will have a similar pattern with the council meeting Tuesday for a budget session and a gathering on Sept. 7 to wrap up its goal setting.
Mayor Jason Shelton’s goals for his first budget in office include balancing the city’s expenses and income without dipping into city reserves or selling bonds. Long term, he and council members say they want to help shape the city into a financially sound community where more people want to live.
Discussions among city elected leaders in recent weeks have many long-term and immediate goals overlapping. They all want to make the most of limited city resources funded by city property and sales tax.
Many unanswered questions linger about the city’s Development Services Department. Shelton campaigned months ago on making that department more customer-friendly and loosening up restrictive city ordinances. At the same time, some
City Council members have spoken about the increased need for code enforcement throughout the city, especially residential areas, an issue that has resonated for years with elected officials.
Uncertainty has some city employees wondering what approach they should take with new city leaders. BJ Teal, director of development services, used part of her time speaking to the City Council and mayor during the retreat to ask for guidance.
The last slide of her PowerPoint presentation delivered a straightforward message to the elected leaders:
“The Department of Development needs your guidance on the future level of code enforcement that you deem appropriate at this time!” it read.
Shelton said when first elected that much of his political campaign revolved around issues faced in the Development Services Department, but he hasn’t yet announced any plans for policy shifts aside from asking employees in the department to be more customer-friendly.
Teal seemed to respond to this request during the city retreat by saying the department needed another administrative position to help achieve customer-friendly goals.
“We need someone managing the calls and complaints and being more personable to our complaints,” she said.
While elected officials didn’t speak directly to Teal during her presentation, at least two council members – Jim Newell of Ward 3 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7 – said later in the retreat they hoped to add new code enforcement officers to the department, funded through the additional $150,000 in rental fees generated this year after changes to Tupelo’s rental registration and inspection ordinance.
“We’ve got to establish some immediate goals with code enforcement,” Newell said at the retreat.
However, adding new city personnel is at odds with some council members who complain about the cost of city employees in the overall expense of city government. Shelton also wants to add a city attorney to the payroll, hoping to decrease overall costs paid currently to outside law firm Mitchell, McNutt & Sams.
Also looming among immediate concerns are repairs needed at the Tupelo Regional Airport.
City leaders have met in closed session to discuss at least $700,000 and up to $1.2 million needed to fix the airport taxiway but haven’t taken action. No funding for the airport repairs is included in Shelton’s proposed budget.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about the airport,” Josh Abramson, airport executive director, told Shelton and City Council members at the retreat. “It requires money, staffing, contracts and equipment.”