By NATHAN GREGORY
After robust debate on approving using $20,000 from the city’s storm drainage budget for a capital improvement project on a portion of Miss. Highway 182, the Starkville Board of Aldermen chose to do so in a 5-1 vote with one abstention at its meeting Tuesday.
Mayor Parker Wiseman said after discussions with officials from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, they offered to use their own employees and funds to correct the north side of a channel near the entrance of the Peter’s Rock Temple Church of God in Christ entrance from the state road, which includes installation of riprap as well as other reshaping and structural reconstruction that would solve the erosion problem occurring in that channel. The only portion the city will be on the hook for is the cost of installing riprap on the south side of the channel since it does not abut Miss. Highway 182.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver was the sole vote against approving participation with MDOT on the project. Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk abstained.
Sistrunk, Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins each expressed concerns about approving the agenda item. Perkins questioned the timing of the issue and the fact that the item was placed under the Mayor’s business portion of the agenda and not board business. Dumas questioned pulling nearly half of the storm drainage budget for this request when there are other long-standing drainage deficiencies throughout the city in need of correction. Sistrunk questioned MDOT’s condition to fund all of the project with the exception of the south side of the channel.
As for why the matter was listed under Mayor’s business is because his intent was to capitalize on MDOT’s offer while it was on the table.
“This is a project that needs to be done. While MDOT is willing to do it on favorable terms for the city, I believe it is a good project to go forward with,” Wiseman said.
Sistrunk said she was uncertain about approving a project when it is not set in stone when construction is scheduled to take place.
“If it could be next year then that’s when we should probably be talking about this,” she said.
Dumas said he didn’t think dipping into the drainage improvement fund to be the best option because of the precedent it might set in regards to the numerous other more serious drainage issues.
“We’ve all stood in line with our drainage projects working through the process of making sure the money is there and drawing the line so that we, at the right time, can spend the money … on projects that are bigger public impacts than this project might have,” Dumas said.
Before Wiseman clarified that this is not a city project but an MDOT project, Perkins said he was not against approving the matter but the project was not on the city’s drainage improvement list.
“The rest of us have to go through the litmus test to get a project even considered. Why should we give this matter special attention that the mayor brought up here tonight. I’m not against improving this area. It’s just the process. It’s the procedure. It’s the method by which we consider these things. We need to be uniform in what we do. We need to be objective in what we do,” Perkins said. “I’m in support of this project, but we need to consider projects together collectively. By the time you spend 20 on this project and 20 on that project, we don’t have any money left in the drainage improvement fund. We’re not going to start the project tomorrow. What’s the real reason for bringing this project up on the fourth day of December in the heart of the winter. It’s not going to get done in December.”
Perkins said he wouldn’t bring a project to the table if it is not on the drainage improvement list.
“You think it would pass? No. The board needs to be consistent in our consideration of these projects. We’ve got a lot a lot of improvements in every ward in this city that need to be attended to and we’re only going to have $30,000 left. If I bring a project (at the board’s next meeting) on Dec. 18 I want ya’ll to give me $20,000. If you give them 20, I want 20 next week.”
Sistrunk said the discussion on the project highlights the problem with re-prioritizing the list of the city’s drainage and street projects.
“They were prioritized at one point in time and we tend to work through them in order. Unless something rises to an emergency level, we don’t re-prioritize them even though our needs may have changed because circumstances change,” adding that she would later make a motion to direct City Engineer Edward Kemp to update the drainage project list and the street improvement list to reflect current needs. The board would later pass that motion.
After Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn made a motion to approve the item, Dumas proposed an amendment to the motion to use money from the city’s ending fund balance. After Sistrunk said she would vote against such a motion and further discussion took place, Dumas rescinded the revision and the board went forward with Vaughn’s motion as presented in the agenda.
In other business, the board opted unanimously to remove discussion and consideration of the First Baptist Church’s proposed roundabout plan from the agenda under the premise that the matter is still under the Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission because it tabled the item when it came forward last month but did not make a recommendation to get a vote from the aldermen.
The board also voted 4-3 in favor of Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill’s recommendations regarding the restructuring of the Building, Codes and Planning Department. Carver, Perkins and Vaughn were the dissenting votes.
For a follow-up report on those items and other board business, see Thursday’s edition of Starkville Daily News.