OUR OPINION: Proposed capital project funds need clarity

The Tupelo City Council’s suspension – not necessarily repeal – of funding for two east Tupelo development projects provides a needed pause to reassess what should be in a capital projects budget, and in a larger view, in what proportion Tupelo taxpayers should support some kinds of projects through the city’s spending.

The 5-2 vote to suspend movement toward a miniature Vietnam War Memorial in Veterans Park and a walking trail at the Elvis Presley birthplace gives the council an opportunity to re-examine what’s been placed or projected to be placed in a capital projects budget.

Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan made the motion to suspend because he said the capital plan has become a “slush fund” for worthwhile projects, which he said actually delays their implementation and completion.

Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Palmer said the suspension is a “total dishonor” to veterans, which is certainly not the intent nor should it be the inference taken from an examination of budget priorities – what is a proper expenditure for the city’s capital budget and what might better come from some other source.

The council’s willingness to suspend the projects from the capital spending budget suggests more clarity is needed about what’s expected and from whom for projects like the Vietnam War Memorial and the Elvis Presley birthplace trail, both fitting naturally and appropriately in the category of economic development and tourism, which is why they are included in the Convention and Visitors Bureau budget.

The Vietnam memorial small replica certainly would honor veterans, but drawing people to the city is also economic development. The trail, honoring the heritage of Elvis Presley, Tupelo’s most famous son and a veteran of the Cold War era, is even more primarily a tourism and economic development issue.

The memorial wall and the walking trail both could lend themselves to substantial private-sector financial support (philanthropy) and/or to a public appeal for monetary gifts, but those proportions and specifics aren’t spelled out and need to be. It’s a reasonable expectation that the council understand fully to what extent it would be making a commitment in the current fiscal year and ahead, and where all funds for projects would be derived.

The 5-2 vote supporting Bryan’s motion for a hiatus indicates a clear majority wants to clear things up, not necessarily kill the projects and certainly not to dishonor veterans. This issue can be resolved with healthy open-session discussion.

Click video to hear audio