• The People Challenge: Tupelo has had virtually zero growth in the past decade (+335 people). Lee County grew by 9.4 percent (+7,160 people).
• The Money Challenge: Tupelo's sales tax revenues have dropped to 2006 levels. Of Tupelo's property tax revenues, one third comes from the Major Thoroughfare Program. (10 mills of 30 mills). The MTP began in 1991 and comes before the citizens for a vote every 5 years. This is the renewal year.
• The School Challenge: Community questions concerning school discipline (black and white students) and a divergence in our schools' racial composition from our city's racial composition are beginning to erode our community's long-standing belief that "we are all in this together."
• The Jackson Challenge: Despite its close proximity to the Nissan plant, Jackson has had a decade of middle income flight, white flight, commercial flight, an almost all minority public school system, significant infrastructure problems, and higher taxes for the fewer residents remaining.
• My analysis of these facts: If we do nothing differently we are on a quick path toward becoming like Jackson. But, I believe that future is not inevitable, if we have the determination, the wisdom, the creativity, and the boldness to respond.
With the guidance of our nationally renowned Community Development Foundation, four citizen committees are developing strategies designed to retain and attract middle-income homeowners to Tupelo. Their reports are due March 21. They are exploring "The Tupelo Promise" (a four-year college tuition guarantee program); a "Fast Start" home loan assistance program to help make buying a home here more competitive; strategies to effect neighborhood revitalization and code enforcement efforts per our city's 2025 Comprehensive Plan.
Our Tupelo Public School District is immediately addressing community concerns of discipline. It is also creating innovative plans such as offering Advanced Placement opportunities in every classroom, beginning in kindergarten.
Let me be clear: I am for continuing the MTP. But to do so and to address our other needs without any net new taxes, I have suggested continuing MTP for the next 5 years at the level of 5 mills, or one-half of its previous amount. That would complete South Gloster and East Main. In my opinion the other listed MTP projects are less critical to our city than turning around our middle income exodus and revitalizing our neighborhoods.
However, I recognize some (perhaps many) citizens would like "to do both" : pass the 10 mills for MTP and invest in projects to save our middle class. If the citizens will let their City Council members know that they support both, I, too, would support both.
But we cannot ignore our other challenges.
After all, people are Tupelo's greatest assets.
Jack Reed Jr., is mayor of Tupelo. Contact him by email at email@example.com.