Tupelo, MS – The serious mood at most Tupelo City Council meetings was more festive than usual Tuesday, March 3. At least four times more citizens than usual showed up. Council members, city department heads and other key city workers posed for photographs with Mayor Jason Shelton before the meeting started. Then Shelton, who referred to himself as “Tupelo’s head cheer leader,” gave his annual State of the City address.
State of the City
Mayor Shelton took the podium, recognizing the council members, the department heads, and his family. He said that without these people, Tupelo wouldn’t be able to thrive as it has. Shelton began by saying “We have a lot to brag about,” and said that “the State of the city is very strong.” He then said that the city is celebrating 150 years of success due to the “Tupelo Spirit.”
Shelton focused his address on what he called five key pillars of success for the city. These pillars are financial strength, economic development, infrastructure, quality of life, and public safety.
Shelton spoke about the financial stability of the city, and its people. He said that, for the past seven years, tax receipts were higher than ever, and property values have risen in the same time frame. The mayor said that these are ways to measure that the city is on the right path.
Shelton spoke about the roll-over policy started by the city council in 2013. The policy allows for excess funds to be put into the city’s capital plan. He said that in 2019, 2.9 million dollars was transferred into the capital plan.
Since 2013, the city has used 40 million dollars in bond proceeds. Shelton quipped that this seemed like a lot, but that 39 million has already been paid back. He then said that this was done with no tax increases.
Shelton bragged about the fact that Tupelo had just been named the number two micropolitan in the country, and then said that the city has been named in the top ten for economic development in the country. Shelton said commitment to public-private partnerships, along with the city being in a public and commercial construction boom, have allowed for the economy to grow.
The mayor then said that he and the council have been working to attract young, working class families and millennials to the city. In 2019, 161 new single family homes were built in Tupelo with the average price of just over $150,000. This is the highest number of new homes in over a decade.
Shelton mentioned that the city could expect 150 to 200 million dollars in private investments in housing over the next two years. He spoke about Gateway Landing, a 240 unit apartment complex that will attract younger couples to the city.
The mayor talked about the economic development of the downtown area, using the partnership with Hyperion Technology as an example. The partnership will turn a vacant downtown building into a high-tech business with 25 high-paying jobs. He said he is hopeful that more growth will happen in the future with the business.
Fair Park was compared to a country singer that has been working in Nashville for thirty years, and is suddenly famous. A 2.5 million dollar public investment, and a 15 million dollar private investment have been made for Fairpark Tower, which is the headquarters for several businesses.
Shelton then said he is excited about the proposals for fifty new homes that will be located in Fair Park, bringing in 50 million dollars in investments downtown.
The mayor said commitment of infrastructure is the basic function of any city. He mentioned that the Tupelo Regional Airport has had a great deal of success in the past year. He mentioned that the airport has supported two presidential visits, and the airport has had airfield enhancements, safety improvements, and continuing reliable jet service.
The next topic about the state of the city was Shelton discussed was the city’s drainage. In 2019, the city compiled and studied 22 drainage projects. The Tupelo Drainage Plan has outlined 20 million dollars in projects that the city feels necessary for future success. Shelton said that these drainage needs will be addressed with help from state and federal agencies. The mayor then assured that the environment and natural resources will be protected.
The Tupelo Major Thoroughfare Program was Shelton’s next topic. He said that it is the only municipal road program in the state. Over the program’s 30 year lifespan, 110 million dollars have been invested, in addition to over 40 million dollars that was matched by the state and federal government.
Shelton then thanked the people of Tupelo for the support of the program, saying that in 2017 phase 6 of the program was voted into action. In this phase, a quarter of the proceeds of the have gone to street maintenance. The mayor said that phase 7 will be up for a vote in the spring, and urged citizens to continue their support.
Tupelo Water and Light was mentioned, with Shelton saying we tend to only think about this department when we are in the dark. He said that without the work that Tupelo Water and Light does, it would not be possible for the “big boys” such as, Toyota and Grammar Industries to be located in North Mississippi.
Quality of Life
“Quality of life is the ability to enjoy the place you call home,” was the starting point as Shelton moved onto his fourth pillar. He said that we live in a mobile society, meaning that we are not tied to where we grew up, or the places we work. He said Tupelo has to make sure that the city is a place where people want to live.
The Visitor’s Bureau has brought over 70 events to the city, which resulted in roughly 20,000 people visiting. This brought nearly 40 million dollars in economic impact.
The Bancorp South Center had a record year last year, with overall ticket sales of over 33 million dollars. The arena also hosted its first ever presidential visit. The arena held 46 total events last year and brought in over 12 million dollars to Tupelo. The Bancorp South Center is currently being renovated in order to attract larger events.
Shelton spoke about the parks in the city. These parks had received several awards, including the 2019 Healthy Heroes Award, and the 2019 Healthy Hometown award, which totaled over $80,000 in grants. Shelton said 270,000 people visited the parks last year alone.
Shelton referred to the Tupelo Aquatic Center as a “shining star” in the Parks and Recreation department. In 2019, the center hosted 8 different meets. The income for the facility last year was over $287,000, prompting Shelton to say that the facility has gone a long way to pay for itself. The center has brought over 5.7 million dollars in revenue for the city.
Shelton said the Elvis Presley Birthplace was his personal favorite city park. Around 100,000 people visit the park yearly, which makes it a major financial contribution to the city
Shelton spoke about the beautification of Tupelo. Project Solution, designed to keep the city clean, will allow the municipal system to offer an opportunity to work off fines instead of paying. The city, working with MUTEH, an anti-homelessness group, will also pay area homeless to help clean the city.
Shelton’s final pillar of success was public safety. He said that it would not be possible to have the other pillars if it were not for public safety. Shelton said that he and his wife both learned first-hand, the lengths that Tupelo first responders were willing to go to in order to ensure public safety.
Shelton addressed the recent outbreak of the coronavirus. He has appointed Chief Walker of the Tupelo Fire Department to serve as Incident Command to watch the outbreak. Walker is monitoring the Center for Disease Control and the Mississippi Department of Health. He is tasked with placing protocols dealing with the threat of the virus in Tupelo. Shelton said that he and the city council are committed to keeping the city as safe as possible.
Mayor Shelton closed by thanking the members of the council, the business owners, and the citizens. He finished by saying that “The state of our city is stronger than it has ever been.”
State of the Schools Address
Shelton introduced Tupelo High School Senior Avery Tate, who gave the State of the School Address. Tate is a member of the Mayor’s Youth Council, a 4.0 student, and a member of several clubs at Tupelo High.
Tate said the school system is academically sound, and that enrollment is up, at over 7,000. She discussed several other Tupelo Public School programs and highlighted their success.
- Middle College: Tate spoke about the newly formed partnership with Itawamba Community College that allows students to receive a high school diploma, as well as, earning an associate’s degree at the same time. This program allows students to enter into college as juniors, rather than as freshmen.
- Project Search: A partnership between the school system and the North Mississippi Medical Center allowed 9 students with developmental and cognitive disabilities a chance to take part in internships at the hospital. The program allows for training for medical related jobs. With this training, students will have the chance to join the workforce after school.
The next regular meeting of the Tupelo City Council will be at 6:00 PM, Tuesday, April 7.State of the City address, State of the Schools address, Tupelo MS City Council