OUR OPINION: Healthy discussion needed about big Tupelo projects

Debate within the Tupelo City Council about Mayor Jason Shelton’s capital spending plans – and other issues – indicates not just disagreement but a healthy consideration of the important, expensive issues requiring a full airing before any decisions are made.

Shelton this week proposed to add $2.1 million to the city’s five-year capital spending plan, plus use $5.1 million from the city’s generously funded reserves to pay off debt, in turn freeing up annual tax dollars for more long-term projects.

The five-year capital plan is set at $10.8 million, and a council vote is required to approve the mayor’s proposal. A vote one way or the other is expected in the coming months of the 2014 budget year, which ends Sept. 30.

A plan could be approved on a less than unanimous vote, but after a reasonable time for debate and consideration of differing opinions, consensus would be desirable so that in coming years members can come back to the policy and budget table ready to move on.

It’s reasonable to hope that council members and the mayor can agree to the degree that a timetable fairly matches priorities across the city, even if what’s known so far has to be adjusted or tweaked, as some have suggested.

The disagreement about the timing of splash pad construction in two Tupelo city parks is an important issue in several neighborhoods because they’re expected to become major warm-weather recreation opportunities, primarily for children.

The splash pad around the Frances Reed Memorial Fountain in front of City Hall in season is in constant use as long as the lights and pump are running, and a similar splash pad in Veteran’s Park has been a big draw.

The next pools are slated for Theron Nichols Park in south Tupelo and one in City Park on Joyner Avenue to replace the former City Park Pool, which was closed when the new $12 million Tupelo Aquatic Center opened late in 2013. The center’s first competitive swim meet is this weekend.

Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Palmer said he remains in support of parks funding but had no preference about which of the next two planned splash pads is built first.

Perhaps, in the tweaking that’s been discussed, there’s room for an agreement that can build the splash pads at the same time.