OUR OPINION: Tupelo must take balanced approach

The new Tupelo city administration, just a month and a half into the four-year term, will get down to the substantive work of setting priorities over the next few days and weeks.

The city must adopt a budget for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins Oct. 1 of this year, by Sept. 15. Mayor Jason Shelton already has indicated he plans to present a balanced budget proposal to the council that includes no new bonded indebtedness and does not use reserve funds. He wants to replace the contractual arrangement with the city’s law firm with an in-house legal department, but otherwise plans no increase in the city’s workforce and no raises for employees.

Council members likely will meet this week to discuss the budget. Several of them have their own ideas that might conflict with what Shelton proposes, including a possible reduction in city personnel.

On Aug. 22-23, the mayor and council will hold a retreat at Tombigbee State Park to set goals for the four-year term. It’s no surprise that key issues likely to be among the city’s top goals for this term were topics in a similar retreat at the beginning of Mayor Ed Neelly’s term eight years ago. Chief among these are neighborhood revitalization and code enforcement.

This central issue to Tupelo’s future lingers because the last two mayors and councils have been unable to agree on an overarching plan to address it. Progress was made near the end of Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s administration with funds committed to the West Jackson Street neighborhood redevelopment project, but that only will begin the work that needs to be done around the city.

The budget, obviously, will have a major impact on this and other initiatives the city undertakes. While fiscal prudence is a must, city officials also need to balance responsible financial management with effective reinvestment strategies to sustain the city’s long-term viability.

That includes reversing neighborhood blight and decline and ensuring that existing codes are enforced to make neighborhoods more attractive and livable. And it certainly means maintaining a high level of city services – police and fire, sanitation, streets, parks and the other basics – without which a city’s quality of life will suffer.

The choices won’t be easy, but Tupelo is at a point in its history where mustering the political will to do the things that need to be done is imperative.