Starkville aldermen will ask state for SPD funds

Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

Starkville aldermen will go after $2.4 million from state legislations to fill funding gaps for planned Starkville Police Department renovations. A revised design presentation was given before the unanimous vote at Tuesday's meeting.

Project construction could start as soon as July, Mayor Parker Wiseman said last week.

The request will be made immediately and the city would hear back by the "middle of April," he said. In order to bring the building up to code and to preserve the building's historic landmark status, project costs would total around $5.4 million.

Architect Gary Shafer presented two possible renovation plans at the Feb. 16 meeting with budgets totaling $3 million and $4.5 million. The plans set up the option for the project to include a host of design components.

The revised budget would include youth court services, a new second floor for administrative staff, plumbing, electric and fire protection code updates along with a host of exterior work including paving and striping with protected parking and a new sally port.

"We are pursuing something that would be a first class design," Shafer said.

The roof would be completely replaced under the revised plan of $5.4 million and include ADA accessible entry in the redesigned front plaza.

"This design would give us a great facility," SPD Chief Frank Nichols said. "It's time to stop talking about this."

Sanitation Request

Aldermen denied a request for proposals to privatize future trash and recycling pickup services in a 4-3 vote.

Ward 2 Aldermen Lisa Wynn brought the resolution forward but did not offer any explanation to the public or aldermen as to why the item was tacked onto the agenda after being questioned.

Currently the Sanitation and Environmental Services Department produces over $792,000 in annual revenue from commercial garbage pickup services and operates on about $309,000 in annual expenses, leaving around $483,000 in annual surplus.

This surplus helps fund a large part of the department's sanitation services, Wiseman said.

The department currently has 45 workers tasked with trash and recycling services. The request for proposals could have threatened their jobs, officials said.

"We have folks who go into work with a sense of pride," Wiseman said before the vote. "They provide a service to the community that is more than just a job."

With the department operating better than ever, the need for proposals was unfounded since the department wasn't operating on a budgetary deficit, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said.

"When I saw this my heart hurt," said Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn before the vote. "How do you think they feel? They feel their jobs are in jeopardy."

Fines Contract

After a lengthy discussion relating to the amount of unpaid Municipal Court fines, aldermen voted 6-1 to close debate after nearly two hours into the meeting.

Wynn questioned court staff why the body hadn't used American Municipal Services—currently under contract with the city—to pursue fine collection.

Under the agreement from 2010, the court would relay unpaid fines and assessments to AMS and the company would pursue defendants via mail or phone to secure overdue funds.

The service would tack on a 25 percent fine increase, something most people with delinquent fines couldn't afford, according to Municipal Court Administrator Tony Rook.

The court currently has $1.9 million in delinquent fines, but the number was not representative of a major problem and was common throughout court systems in the U.S., Rook said. Of that number, 65 percent of the fines would be collected by the city and the remainder would be sent to the state for future assessment.

"That amount is not stagnant, we are constantly collecting on that amount," Rook said. "Fines are assessed immediately upon conviction however, payments are made very slowly. Most of the payments come in in small amounts. Some defendants have trouble paying fines."

Some of the fines on the registry span over the course of 20 years since debt to the court is not written off, Wiseman said.

Wynn drew issue with the use of two non-contracted firms by the court—Court Progressive and Court Care—for probationary services and fine collection.

The two private probation companies were more effective, Rook said.

"I am thankful our court system is using prohibition as a tool to collect fines where people can't pay the full amount when they are convicted," Wiseman said. "They are given an opportunity to pay over time."

The contract for AMS has specific language to use the collection agency, but Wiseman noted the contract was written to allow flexibility for court staff to collect fines.