JASON SHELTON: Budget is conservative, product of much thought

Today at 4 p.m., the Tupelo City Council will vote on my administration’s proposed 2014 budget for the City of Tupelo. As promised in the T.U.P.E.L.O. P.L.A.N., I am fighting for “Low Taxes, Limited Spending & Less Regulation.” I am very proud to have presented one of the most fiscally conservative budgets in recent memory.

Based upon flat revenue projections, we have compiled a budget that includes no new taxes, no new debt and does not dip in to the city’s reserve funds, while protecting city services and the five-year capital improvement plan. I am also proud that the proposed budget does not include any new spending projects or expansion of the city’s personnel budget other than the creation of an in-house legal department which will save the taxpayers money on legal representation.

The suggestion of this move came after much thought and deliberation and with a full understanding of the fact that the law firm of Mitchell, McNutt & Sams has been a great community partner to the City of Tupelo for many, many years. I have nothing but respect and admiration for this firm, which has an outstanding reputation and has produced multiple presidents of the Mississippi Bar Association, judges and other community leaders and consider myself a personal friend of many of the firm’s attorneys and employees.

In some of the debates and media coverage of the budget discussions, a crucial part of my proposal for legal representation is being overlooked. My proposal is for the creation of an in-house legal counsel position at City Hall, with Mitchell, McNutt & Sams remaining as the city’s outside legal representation. This option, I believe, is the best of both worlds, in that the taxpayers save money and maintain legal representation with a keen institutional knowledge of our wonderful city.

I fully expect the new position to be a benefit to the city, but pledge to conduct an honest evaluation in the next budget process and if it is not successful, we can eliminate it at that time. If we do not try new things, we will never know if we can do better. We simply do not move forward by standing still.

The debate has largely centered on the roles of the mayor and council members under the Mayor/Council form of government. The appointment of a position in our form of government is made by the mayor and approved by the City Council. I stated, and stand by the fact that I would veto any effort to use the budget process to circumvent the appointment process and require me to appoint any particular person or entity.

I remain optimistic that the budget will pass today and that both the mayor’s office and members of the council can continue to focus on promoting the city of Tupelo. After three days of a board retreat spearheaded by Council President Nettie Davis, I am firmly convinced that every elected leader for our city cares deeply about the people they serve and that our best days are still ahead of us.

Our public schools are off to a great start this year and are fulfilling the Tupelo Public School District’s motto: “Where Excellence is Tradition.” I am very proud that the city of Tupelo is hosting a “Teacher Appreciation Day” on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. to support our educators. I hope that you can make it out to Tupelo’s front porch on Saturday to show your support for our dedicated educational professionals.

Through CREATE, the G.I.F.T. (Getting Involved for Teachers) Initiative is off to a great start and is promoting a Tupelo Public School District car tag to raise funds for this great effort. I proudly supported this initiative in the ”Public Schools & Public Safety” portion of the T.U.P.E.L.O. P.L.A.N. and continue to do so.

I will also continue to call upon the “Tupelo Spirit” – our special blend of civic cooperation, can-do attitude and innovation – as a source of inspiration for going forward. We have a proud past and promising future and it is my sincere desire that the mayor and council can work together to better our “All America City.”

JASON SHELTON is in his first term as Tupelo mayor.