By NATHAN GREGORY
Starkville aldermen defeated a motion allotting matching funds for the Carver Drive drainage project Community Development Block Grant by a 4-3 vote Tuesday.
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn all voted in favor of applying for the grant. If the measure had passed and the grant had been awarded, work to pipe and cover that ditch would likely have been the next step taken in improving the area’s condition. Golden Triangle Planning and Development District grant administrator Phylis Benson said the total cost was $940,995.
Mayor Parker Wiseman said he thought it would be feasible to complete the project using in-kind services which would cost approximately $230,995 in said services, $110,000 in city money and $600,000 of allotted grant money. He said while in this instance piping and covering is possible, it is a practice he would recommend restricting in the future because of how costly the process would be to do to each ditch with inadequacies.
Before voting, Vaughn and Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker had a heated exchange after Vaughn suggested Parker was planning on voting against the measure because it regarded a problem in Ward 7.
Parker said he originally had planned to vote in favor of providing matching funds and applying for the grant, but with the projected total cost estimate being upwards of $900,000 and the amount of man hours that would be required to devote to one project, he could no longer support it.
“I fully supported all aspects of piping this ditch from the very beginning. I supported the application of the grant. I supported some of the cash the were willing to give to it. If the city of Starkville were to spend $940,000 piping and covering a ditch and turned around and made a policy that you can’t pipe and cover a ditch to every other neighborhood in this city, it would be extremely hypocritical,” Parker said. “I don’t know that I could honestly look at my constituents right now and tell them we spent 20 percent of our labor force working on one project. The numbers just continue to escalate. The man hours and in-kind service numbers have continued to escalate.
“I came in here tonight willing to support this when we were at certain numbers but as I look at all the in-kind services and additional cash contribution I’m struggling with how I can support this,” Parker added.
Vaughn said Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk was incorrect when stating there were houses in Ward 1 that were flooding but that there wasn’t flooding in the Carver Drive area.
“You haven’t been over there when it rains, so you can’t say we don’t have flooding,” Vaughn said before addressing Parker. “Have your people complained for 30 years about one thing? This has been before us 20 times since we’ve been on the board three years. Have your people come to the board this many times with the same problem? Any kind of project, any of you in your neighborhoods, you know Alderman Perkins and myself would never turn down (anything) you ask for, but it just seems like because it’s in this area, it’s a problem. You don’t live like they do. Erosion is constantly taking their property away from them.”
Parker said he doesn’t take a particular area or ward in consideration when casting his votes.
“It upsets me greatly, and I’m to the point that I’m resenting the fact you think I make decisions based on where you’re located and where your ward is,” he said. “I have never made a decision at this board table that affects me in that way. I’ve tried to make decisions based on what is best for the city of Starkville.”
Sistrunk was another vote against providing the matching funds. She said there are more cost-effective options for making the improvements to the ditch.
“I think this is a short-sighted approach to a problem that is more political than it is a true drainage problem. I think Mr. (Ward 1 Alderman Ben) Carver has hands down the most difficult storm water problem in the city because he has houses that flood, and I don’t think we have approached that anywhere else in the city,” Sistrunk said. “We are setting public policy and we are setting public precedent for the city of Starkville.”
Wiseman said while he normally doesn’t support expensive drainage improvement projects, providing funding for this issue would have been warranted due to the severity and longevity of the problem.
“I am not an advocate of the city attempting to pipe ditches all over town. It’s not a policy we can sustain financially. But to say by piping this ditch we would create a precedent that hasn’t been created before I think is inaccurate,” Wiseman said. “I think given the magnitude of this project … and we’re under mandate with this project … Alderman Sistrunk is correct in that there are many options in opening in that channel, (but) because of the political turmoil associated with this project, there has been a stalemate on this board and a reluctance to accept any of the alternatives over the past six months. I don’t see that stalemate changing absent something that makes it more feasible to complete this project in a manner that is consistent with the case (Perkins) has adamantly made.”