TUPELO • With the City Council set to vote Thursday on the final version of Mayor Jason Shelton’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, there are several notable items in this year’s budget and many important differences from the previous year’s budget.
Shelton has repeatedly told the Tupelo City Council and the Daily Journal he intends to advocate for a budget that does not increase taxes, meets the demands of the city and does not increase the city's debt.
Below are the major items listed for the proposed budget:
A 3% raise for city employees
Shelton’s administration has proposed giving all city employees a 3% salary increase. This increase excludes elected officials.
Many council members praised this decision and said have said the raise is needed. Council members Buddy Palmer, Mike Bryan and Willie Jennings have openly said the raise is needed and they are glad this year’s budget includes the raise.
“I was really tickled to death with the pay raise,” Palmer told the Daily Journal. “It certainly was needed.”
The last time the City Council voted to give city employees a raise was in 2017 where nearly all city employees received a 1% salary increase for fiscal year 2018.
Tupelo Transit set to be renewed
Shelton included the renewal of public transportation in the budget after announcing to Council members his administration has had conversations with several businesses about offsetting some of the costs of the transportation system.
The total cost for renewing the public transportation system is approximately $160,000 with officials estimating they could receive around $50,000 in sponsorships for the program.
Don Lewis, the city’s chief operating officer said the sponsorships are not set in stone, but he is setting the $50,000 as the desired goal. One of the potential sponsors is Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi, a longtime supporter of public transit.
“We’re continuing to consider ways to support Tupelo Transit,” said Kathryn Ragsdale, the manager of corporate communications for the company.
Aeveral Council members were initially skeptical about renewing public transportation because of some low ridership numbers early on.
However, Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington said he will vote to renew the program because he thinks the program is affordable, but he does not want the program competing with local taxi companies.
“It’s a need we can fill and it's not going to cost a tremendous amount of money,” Whittington said. “I think we can get more and more participation from the private sector.”
A combined $10.5 million capital plan and bonded project plan
On recommendations from department heads, Shelton’s administration submitted just over $3 million in a capital plan for various projects in the city. A capital plan is a portion of the city’s budget that is allocated toward long-term or bigger-ticket investment projects, such as constructing a new sidewalk or purchasing a new vehicle.
A majority of the items included in the capital plan are street repairs and overlay, neighborhood revitalization efforts and purchasing new police vehicles.
Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan said he agrees with the capital plan, but wishes it included funds for a mast arm to be constructed on the intersection of West Main Street and Thomas Street.
“We’ve got some projects in the capital budget we really need to do,” Bryan said. “Later, we’re bonding some projects and that’s fine. Good structured debt is not bad.”
In January, the city is expected to vote on whether or not to adopt approximately $7.5 billion in bond debt to go along with the capital plan. Shelton is proposing the council do this at a later date to wait until some current debt is paid off.
Some of the items in the bonded project list include the construction of a new fire station, implementing a new drainage system for the city and renovating the Bel Air Center.
Plant a Seed program to be distributed differently
The funding for a program which places college and high school students in city departments for young adults to learn skills will be restructured. The funds for the city’s Plant a Seed program will now be disbursed to individual city department depending on how many students are working for a department. Previously, all of the funding had gone to the city’s human resource department.
City officials said the heads of city departments will be responsible for managing the funds.
Many council members have signaled support for the budget and said they intend to fully support it. The Tupelo City Council is set to vote on the final version of the budget on Thursday, Sept. 12 at 4 p.m.