By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Board of Aldermen rejected Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins’ motion to rescind all action pertaining to certificates of participation for new municipal facilities and launch a June 4, 2013 bond referendum for a $3.5 million police facility at its meeting Tuesday.
The vote on Perkins’ motion was 4-3, with Perkins, Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn and Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver in favor. When Perkins brought the motion before the board, he acknowledged the Oktibbeha County Chancery Court’s Tuesday ruling in favor of the city’s $8 million plan for a new municipal building and renovations to the current city hall. Before Tuesday, he had said his motion would direct City Attorney Chris Latimer to pursue dismissal of all litigation pertaining to the issue, but that portion was absent from his motion Tuesday evening.
Before Perkins brought his motion forward, two members of the community presented differing views on the municipal facility plan set forth in June. Victor Zitta, who served as a Starkville alderman at-large for 16 years, said he supported the plan. When he was an alderman, Zitta said, he envisioned a city hall in the exact location selected in June because it would anchor Main Street.
“I think it’s a real winner, personally, and I would love to be able to support it, although I live in the county now,” Zitta said. “I’ve been in touch with the architect of the new city hall, and I have been really impressed with the plans.”
Opposing Zitta was Dorothy Isaac, who said the city had more important issues to address, such as sewage overflow in some neighborhoods.
“If we had wanted this municipal building, we would have voted for it,” Isaac said.
In September 2011, citizens rejected a bond issue for an $8.45 million police station 55 percent to 45 percent. This precedent and the idea that voters should decide the municipal complex issue formed the core of Perkins’ argument.
“This motion is another opportunity for the governing body to give the citizens a voice. The overall point is the people want the right to be heard through the ballot box,” Perkins said. “I felt compelled, as their public servant, to bring this matter to the table. Once the people speak, that’s the bottom line.”
Perkins said he also wanted to return the issue of improved police facilities to center stage. He said the city emphasized police facilities in its September 2011 bond referendum, but the new plan would create a new municipal complex and keep the police in the current City Hall, albeit with renovations. He also said his upper limit of $3.5 million for a new police facility was based on costs for the Starkville Electric Department’s new headquarters, which he estimated at $2.1 million plus land acquisition costs totaling $295,000.
“That was a good thing we did, and I supported that,” Perkins said. “Conservatively, I think we could get a good police station (at costs) not to exceed $3.5 million.”
Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey said he was not satisfied with Perkins’ estimates, holding up a single sheet of paper with Perkins’ proposal on it.
“The whole basis for this is a single sheet of paper,” Corey said. “There’s no supporting documentation. There’s nothing going into, really, any detail at all about where this $3.5 million number came from.”
Corey said he is ready to move forward on the $8 million proposal because several of his own constituents have expressed support for that proposal. He said it was also important to note that Perkins made his proposal at the last aldermen meeting before election qualification procedures begin.
“(For Perkins’ proposal) to be presented to us at the last meeting before people start qualifying for office is, to me, pure political theatre,” Corey said. “I will say that I’m glad I’m not running for a third term in office. This kind of thing will truly wear on you.”
Perkins then said comments like the ones Corey made were “stooping low,” and he prefers for aldermen to hold more civil discussions and express their disagreement through their votes. He said he does not make such comments, but he can take them.
“I’m not going to be intimidated,” Perkins said. “When someone brings something to the table, I don’t complain that this is the wrong meeting.”
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said the city needs to get past the municipal complex issue so it can move on to other pressing business. She said she, too, was concerned about the timing of Perkins’ proposal, this time in relation to the chancery court’s decision.
“The timing of it is very awkward because there was a ruling today that supported these certificates of participation,” Sistrunk said. “I think the comments put on the table tonight show what a difficult issue this has become for the city of Starkville. The only solution that seems to be a workable solution and still maintains that fiscal responsibility is the one we approved in the summer.”
Before the vote, Vaughn made a vehement statement to the rest of the board. He said other board members disrespected Perkins’ years of experience as an alderman, and he accused them of doing so on the basis of race. Perkins and Vaughn are the only African-American representatives on the board.
“This city has made so many ... segregated decisions,” Vaughn said. “When Alderman Perkins brings something here, it’s dead on arrival. If another alderman would have brought it (before the board), it would have been unanimous voting. To me, it (is) showing nothing but racism. It (is) showing no justice. This is the worst (thing) I have ever seen in my life, and I’ll be glad when this term is over.”
After the meeting, Carver said he shared Perkins’ desire to let citizens vote on the new city hall, leading him to vote for Perkins’ proposal. He said his own constituents have expressed disapproval of the certificate of participation plan, and he wants to do all he can to represent the will of the majority.
“The main thing is to let the people have a voice,” Carver said. “If it’s going to be the people’s city hall, let the people vote on it. The last thing you want to do is build a city hall against the public’s will and have a public backlash.”
Carver said he is also concerned about the certificates of participation themselves as a financing method. The city will essentially use the new city hall on lease from the company that builds it for 20 years, he said, and the city is counting on sales tax revenues to continue increasing as they have in recent years to finance the lease. If sales tax revenues do not keep growing, he said, the city will have to raise taxes.
“I didn’t like the fact that they couldn’t tell us an exact amount of what we’ll pay back over the 20-year term,” Carver said. “I think it’s risky financing.”