In the past year, it reduced its number of full-time employees from 478 to 452, with the largest cuts coming from the Public Works Department. Most staff reductions occurred through attrition; others through termination.
"We're exactly where we need to be," said Public Works Director Sid Russell, whose staff shrank by 20 percent. "We knew we could perform and maintain the same level of service with fewer people who were more qualified and better cross trained."
The trend will continue citywide until personnel costs consume no more than 55 percent of Tupelo's general fund budget. Last fiscal year, employees cost taxpayers $21.5 million in salaries, benefits and overtime.
That amounted to roughly 65 percent of the city's $35 million general fund. Nine months into the current fiscal year, personnel accounts for 58 percent of the general fund.
"It's improving," said Tupelo Chief Financial Officer Lynn Norris, who launched the rallying cry for reduced personnel costs during last year's budget session.
Each summer, the mayor and CFO prepare an annual budget for the City Council, which then spends most of August and early September tweaking it. It's adopted no later than Sept. 15 and goes into effect Oct. 1.
Personnel costs years ago consumed less than 50 percent of the general fund budget, said Norris, who was the city's CFO for more than a decade before a stint in the private sector. He returned as CFO nearly two years ago.
But those costs slowly ballooned through the years due to staff increases and an abundance of overtime, especially in the Fire Department. Norris made it his mission to rein in personnel spending; he had the support of numerous City Council members, including Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington and Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan.
As a result, staffing cuts and overtime reduction have been top of mind for all municipal department heads.
Fire Chief Thomas Walker, for example, restructured his staffing schedule this fiscal year to trim nearly $300,000 in overtime. He also eliminated one fire inspector position from his roster.
"It didn't affect operations," he said.
An economic upswing also could bring personnel costs back down to the 55 percent mark, Norris said. Sagging sales tax collections in recent years fed less money in the city coffers, despite level - or rising - employee expenses.
This year's general fund, for example, was budgeted at $1.6 million less than it had been last year.
But "as the economy improves," Norris said, "your revenues go up and your cost of operations (percentages) go down."
Sales tax revenues have risen lately, and Norris said he hopes it continues. So far this fiscal year, Tupelo has earned $12.6 million from collections. That's versus $12.4 million this time last year.
Budget talks are set to gear up again next month, and personnel will be at the forefront of discussion. Department heads already are analyzing their numbers and determining staffing needs.
Some positions, though, can't be cut, said Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis, who said he's ready to allocate more money for code enforcement. About two full-time code enforcement officers patrol the city regularly. Davis said Tupelo needs more.
"If we have codes on the books, we need to enforce them every day," he said. "And if we don't have the personnel to do it every day, then we need to address that."