As a basic matter of principle, Tupelo and Lee County governments should always be looking for opportunities to do things together. Combining operations or sharing resources and facilities in ways that increase efficiency and save money should always be on the table.
Overlapping local governments create too many opportunities for duplications and inefficiencies that waste taxpayer dollars. To a degree, local government in Mississippi is set up to be inefficient and sometimes even competitive at the taxpayers’ expense. Witness the long and expensive annexation battle between the city of Tupelo and Lee County.
For Tupelo residents, the cost of duplicative operations and services is even higher since they pay both city and county taxes and often find themselves on the short end of the stick of county services.
For all these reasons, renewed discussions about the possibility of a joint city-county law enforcement operations center are appropriate and welcome. Anytime the county and city can come together to talk about common interests and explore ways to work together sure beats the kind of protracted battles seen too often in the past.
Law enforcement is a logical place to look for efficiencies, and at the moment facilities improvement is a pressing need for both the city and county. Tupelo has long needed a replacement for its cramped, outmoded police headquarters. Space in the county jail, which also houses city inmates, is inadequate.
For whatever reason, previous discussions about a joint city-county complex that would house both the police and sheriff’s departments, a new jail and possibly even courtrooms didn’t prove fruitful, but a new city administration has agreed to reopen the discussions.
The critical element to consider as these talks progress is whether combining these operations makes practical sense on more than just the surface. First, will it save money? The architect who worked with Corinth and Alcorn County in creating their joint regional facility estimates a cost to Tupelo and Lee County of $18-22 million. How does that compare with the total cost of Tupelo proceeding with plans to build a new police headquarters on downtown property it got from the feds and a separate new or expanded county jail and related facilities?
A key item is land. The architect says it would take up to 15 acres, nearly five times what Tupelo has set aside for its police headquarters. Is there land available at an appropriate location and an affordable price?
And there must be assurances that beyond land and construction costs, long-term operational efficiencies can be demonstrated.
Many questions remain to be answered, and the more public and transparent the discussions, the better.