TUPELO • Despite some concerns over hourly wages, members of the City Council largely support a proposal from Mayor Jason Shelton’s administration to pick up litter throughout the city with temporary workers.
Members of the Tupelo City Council convened a work session on Tuesday afternoon to hear from the key figures that would help implement what city officials are calling “Project Solution.”
The project calls for a public-private partnership between the city and Express Employment Services, a local staffing agency. The agency would hire the employees, and the workers would be supervised by a municipal court official. The city is proposing to spend around $30,000 to fund the program.
City leaders proposed hiring around four to six temporary workers for approximately $9 an hour for around five hours a day, four days per week. Lewis’ early plan is to employ the workers for a minimum of 120 days with the option of renewing the program.
Council members Markel Whittington and Travis Beard both said they thought the part time workers should be paid more – possibly $15 per hour – for a job that requires people to work outside and pick up trash.
“I think you’re way too low. I don’t think you’re going to get anybody,” Whittington said. “I think we need to hit it, hit it hard, and get it done and make it attractive enough for people to get out there and get it finished.”
Beard said if city officials shorten the work day to four hours a day, shorten the program period to a minimum of 90 days and pay the workers $15 per hour, then the program would still cost around $30,000.
Despite these concerns, both officials said they are supportive of the program and that something needs to be implemented to clean up litter.
Jim Goodwin, the co-owner of Express Employment Services, told the council finding a pool of applicants to pick trash up for the proposed $9 an hour rate will be difficult, but he believes he can find applicants for the job.
“I think we can find the people, we’ve talked to enough people and we have enough social media tools that we can reach thousands of people in a week as part of our normal communication,” Goodwin told the Council.
Apart from the questions about wages, Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan raised concerns about the need for long-term efforts to combat litter. Bryan said he fears the city will be plagued with litter again in a matter of weeks once the workers pick up a majority of the trash.
“We need to come up with some type of campaign or something to educate people,” Bryan said of the litter problem.
Bryan said a constituent told him the city should have some type of mascot, similar to Smokey Bear, to bring awareness to litter and inform citizens that littering is wrong.
Don Lewis, the city’s chief operations officer, told Bryan that there is a plan in the proposal to educate people through the Keep Tupelo Beautiful organization.
One of the groups of people the city is looking to employ through the program are homeless citizens to help transition them back to the workforce. However, a barrier homeless people often face is getting access to a government-issued ID, which is often required for employment.
Hannah Maharrey, the director of Mississippi Balance of State Continue of Care and Sarah Ekiss, the Northeast Mississippi coordinator Mississippi United to End Homelessness, will partner with the city to help get homeless citizens IDs and recommend homeless people to the staffing agency for employment.
“We’re going to make sure they have all the documentation and identification to be hired,” Maharrey said. “And also help with their background check and their resume.”
The outreach advocates said they would only be able to provide services to people who are currently clients of MUTEH and praised the city for attempting to implement the program and believe it could lead to full-time employment for some homeless citizens.
Since the program wouldn’t be a permanent job, Ekiss said she hopes the staffing agency will recognize various job skills in the homeless citizens and eventually place them with long-term employment opportunities.
While the city is hoping to hire homeless residents, they would not be the only people eligible for employment, and anyone could apply for the job through the staffing agency. The potential program is still in the early planning stages and will be discussed in future meetings.