Starkville officials discuss plans to expand parks

Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

The Starkville Board of Aldermen discussed potential plans to fund Parks and Recreation improvements and expansions at the work session Friday afternoon. The potential plans include a $1 million bond appropriation for constructing the Cornerstone Park athletic complex and a 20-year, one percent tax levy for further parks construction, improvements and operations.

Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A.’ Perkins and Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller were absent from Friday’s work session. Perkins was not present due to legal obligations and Miller was not present due to a family-related matter.

During the work session, the board discussed approving a resolution that will request a $1 million bond appropriation by the Mississippi Legislature and decided to put the item on Tuesday’s consent agenda.

“This might be a good year for us to ask for an appropriation from the state,” Mayor Lynn Spruill said during Friday’s meeting.

Although appropriation funds from the BP oil spill benefited many areas in Mississippi, Starkville did not receive funds. In addition, Starkville has not seen appropriation funds in a long time, which may help it receive this appropriation request.

“It gives us a better chance at getting (the appropriation) because we have not been the recipient of any appropriation funds from the legislature in a long time,” Spruill said. “It’s not gonna hurt us. If we don’t get it, we don’t get it.”

If the legislature approves the resolution, Starkville will receive whatever amount legislature is willing to appropriate to Starkville. Spruill estimates, if approved, Starkville could receive the appropriation when legislature becomes effective July 1. Any funds Starkville receives would go toward the Cornerstone Park athletic complex off Highway 25.

The board also began a discussion for a potential one percent tax levy on food, beverage and hotel costs for further parks construction, improvements and operations — which would need to withstand a referendum by Starkville’s electorate. The potential levy would increase the current two percent food and beverage levy to three percent and would add a one percent tax levy to Starkville hotel costs.

“This (tax) will be one percent that will not divide up,” Spruill said. “by virtue of the resolution, this goes directly to construction, maintenance and operations (for parks and rec).”

“In the resolution, I’m going to ask for 20 years so that we can use it to pay off bonds,” Spruill added.

Ward 3 Alderman David Little voiced his support for the levy during the meeting.

“I think this is a good thing,” Little said. “It should generate more than $1 million a year, we’re anticipating, and it’s going to up each year.”

Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk agreed with Little about the food and beverage tax reliability.

“It’s been steadily going up,” Sistrunk said. “Even when our other sales taxes have sort of flattened out, this has continued to increase.”

Spruill said the tax has steadily increased since 1994 and she agrees with Little that the levy would generate an extra $1 million for parks.

“Right now, we get about $2 million from food and beverage. So you cut it in half and I’d say you’d probably get about $1 million,” Spruill said.

Spruill said she believes the tax would be “painless.”

“Instead of paying $1.09 for your burger, you will pay $1.10, so it’s an extra penny,” Spruill said.

“It’s a simple way to generate funds from people who come into town,” Spruill added. “A lot of this is going to be generated from visitors. And all the hotel tax is generated from visitors. It’s not just the people who are living here, it’s also the people who are visiting here.”

Although the board has begun a discussion on the tax levy, the decision to pass the levy would ultimately fall into the hands of Starkville’s electorate. In order for the levy to pass, the legislature would first have to approve the levy. Afterward, Starkville would hold a referendum where the Starkville electorate would vote on the levy. The levy would require a 60 percent majority vote to pass.

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver voiced his support for the resolution and the referendum.

“This is something that is a fair way to let the public decide,” Carver said. “I’m going to ahead and jump on board and say I’m for it.”

Carver said he believes investing in parks is a return in investment that will pay for itself.

If approved by the legislature, Spruill thinks the referendum could take place as early as spring or summer 2019.