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By NATHAN GREGORY
The approval of a 20-year lease plan for a new municipal complex was a hot topic among citizens at the Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday.
The plan, which the board passed in a 4-3 vote at its June 5 meeting, involves a public-private partnership in which the city will use a combination of budgeted funds and projected future tax revenue to make payments for construction of the complex and conversion of the current city hall into an expanded police station.
While there were citizens who openly supported the plan, a majority spoke against it.
âI feel for some reason there is not enough information out to the citizens to know how we feel about it,â said Ward 2 resident Kay Evans. âI donât have a crystal ball. I donât know the city is going to prosper. Does that leave us then as taxpayers responsible if the money is not there?â
Ward 5 resident Mike Allen said priority needs to be given to the police station and not a new city hall.
âWith the police station, I donât think thereâs any doubt in anybody in the city of Starkvilleâs mind that we need some relief there. I think itâs time we split the two issues. The municipal complex can be taken separately, but the police department, we donât need to be playing politics with. We need to deal with that issue timely,â Allen said.
âWhen you lease a car and you donât make the lease payments, it doesnât count against your debt, but bad things are going to happen if you donât pay your lease. How are we going to fix (drainage issues) if we have already essentially taken all our growth over the next 20 years? We know the citizens by and large are opposed to it. We feel like itâs been shoved on us without much public knowledge.â
Ward 1 resident Marnita Henderson echoed Mike Allenâs opinion that an improved police department facility should be the main focus.
âNobody does not agree that we need a new police station. Nobody doesnât agree that we need some fixing up of this building. We began many years ago trying to get a new police station. Itâs been turned down and turned down,â she said. âSuddenly weâre spending $6 million on a city hall and the police have just about been forgotten. Theyâre the ones we started out being concerned about. Theyâre the ones that are really in such dire straits. Thereâs not anybody that does not support a police station, but I think weâve got the cart before the horse.â
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, who was one of the three votes against implementing the plan, said heâs gotten more phone calls regarding the decision than he has in his three years as an elected official.
âEvery one of (the callers) âŠ was against the idea of a municipal complex by just board decision. This is a representative democracy âŠ but I personally wouldnât let seven people control the vote on this. This is the one most divisive issue in the city and has to be voted on by the people,â Carver said. âI think youâre making a grave mistake if you proceed with this. If youâve got no doubts about the project âŠ put it out for a public vote. To form a corporation to do a government matter like this is probably not the best procedure and protocol. I know this is one of the last ways we can probably do a municipal complex, but just because you can do it this way doesnât mean itâs the right way.â
Ward 2 resident Milo Burnham said he saw no need for a citywide vote on the complex.
âAs far as people voting against it or having spoken, I donât see it as the fact that they said ânoâ to a municipal complex. They said ânoâ to a tax increase,â Burnham said. âThis is creative. This is something we need, and I donât think we should have to vote on it. We donât vote on the annual budget, you vote on it. I donât think you want the people out here voting on the city budget. You would have gridlock; youâd never have consensus. We donât need to vote on this, we just need to move forward on it.â
Ward 4 resident Bill Poe was another supporter.
âI moved to Starkville 57 years ago âŠ I want to say what you did two weeks ago is one of the greatest things that has happened since Iâve been here. It is a win-win situation for the city and its citizens,â he said.
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said heâs gotten near-unanimous approval from his constituents.
âThereâs been one or two Iâve heard against it, but those are one of 100 or more that have let me know throughout town how great this is. This was not a last-second cause,â Dumas said. âWe had a very public discussion about a release of a (request for proposal) for a public-private process back in January where we talked specifically about a public private partnership related to the construction of a municipal complex âŠ This is a process that affects ad valorem taxes not one bit, and itâs a fantastic project.â