OUR OPINION: Long-term outlook right for police HQ

Tupelo’s long-overdue new police headquarters is set to become a reality soon. The cost remains a question, and the recent news that the price could rise as high as $11 million raised eyebrows – notably those of Mayor Jason Shelton, who said it shouldn’t go any higher than $10 million.

The first proposal came in at $8.8 million, but Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis, Police Chief Bart Aguirre and architects were told to make sure that the facility was sufficient to accommodate the city’s needs for at least 25 years into the future. They came back with a $10.1 million project, then discovered they’d left out some necessary expenditures and upped the price to between $10.5 million to $11 million.

We’re all for fiscal prudence, and if there are unessential extras that can be sacrificed without restricting the facility’s capacity to accommodate growth, they should be eliminated. But underbuilding would cause more problems than spending an extra 5 or 10 percent – not immediate problems, but problems down the road when the necessary additions and improvements will be more difficult and expensive.

Tupelo taxpayers are getting a good deal on this project from the start.

The four-acre property at the corner of Front and Franklin streets where the Milam Manufacturing plant once stood was donated to the city, along with $1.5 million in cash, by federal authorities after it was seized in a six-year-long investigation of a contraband cigarette operation in the building.

The availability of the land and the financial benefits of that transaction made a briefly discussed joint venture with Lee County, which hopes to expand the county jail, less attractive.

Now the county Board of Supervisors is planning on updating a 2009 plan for such an expansion.

Both the police headquarters project and the jail expansion speak to anticipation of future needs rather than simply accommodating current requirements. With people scattered in multiple buildings and its central headquarters grossly inadequate, just meeting today’s needs would be a big improvement for Tupelo police. But it can’t stop there.

The most financially prudent thing Tupelo can do at this point is to build a facility that will be adequate for the long haul. There must be an assumption that Tupelo will grow, and that the growth will necessitate a larger law enforcement operation to keep up with it.

If preparing for that growth requires spending a little more money to get the facility right, then so be it. Future city leaders and taxpayers will be thankful that choice was made.

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