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.
“I feel for some reason there is not enough information out to the citizens to know how we feel about it,” said Ward 2 resident Kay Evans. “I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know the city is going to prosper. Does that leave us then as taxpayers responsible if the money is not there?”
Ward 5 resident Mike Allen said priority needs to be given to the police station and not a new city hall.
“With the police station, I don’t think there’s any doubt in anybody in the city of Starkville’s mind that we need some relief there. I think it’s time we split the two issues. The municipal complex can be taken separately, but the police department, we don’t need to be playing politics with. We need to deal with that issue timely,” Allen said.
“When you lease a car and you don’t make the lease payments, it doesn’t count against your debt, but bad things are going to happen if you don’t 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 it’s been shoved on us without much public knowledge.”
Ward 1 resident Marnita Henderson echoed Mike Allen’s opinion that an improved police department facility should be the main focus.
“Nobody does not agree that we need a new police station. Nobody doesn’t agree that we need some fixing up of this building. We began many years ago trying to get a new police station. It’s been turned down and turned down,” she said. “Suddenly we’re spending $6 million on a city hall and the police have just about been forgotten. They’re the ones we started out being concerned about. They’re the ones that are really in such dire straits. There’s not anybody that does not support a police station, but I think we’ve got the cart before the horse.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, who was one of the three votes against implementing the plan, said he’s gotten more phone calls regarding the decision than he has in his three years as an elected official.
“Every one of (the callers) … was against the idea of a municipal complex by just board decision. This is a representative democracy … but I personally wouldn’t 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,” Carver said. “I think you’re making a grave mistake if you proceed with this. If you’ve got no doubts about the project … 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 doesn’t mean it’s the right way.”
Ward 2 resident Milo Burnham said he saw no need for a citywide vote on the complex.
“As far as people voting against it or having spoken, I don’t see it as the fact that they said ‘no’ to a municipal complex. They said ‘no’ to a tax increase,” Burnham said. “This is creative. This is something we need, and I don’t think we should have to vote on it. We don’t vote on the annual budget, you vote on it. I don’t think you want the people out here voting on the city budget. You would have gridlock; you’d never have consensus. We don’t need to vote on this, we just need to move forward on it.”
Ward 4 resident Bill Poe was another supporter.
“I moved to Starkville 57 years ago … I want to say what you did two weeks ago is one of the greatest things that has happened since I’ve been here. It is a win-win situation for the city and its citizens,” he said.
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said he’s gotten near-unanimous approval from his constituents.
“There’s been one or two I’ve 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,” Dumas said. “We 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 … This is a process that affects ad valorem taxes not one bit, and it’s a fantastic project.”