By NATHAN GREGORY
Dan Moreland announced his qualification as a Republican for the Starkville mayoral race on the first day of municipal election qualifying Wednesday.
Moreland, a local businessman and longtime chairman of the Starkville Parks Commission Board, owns Moreland Inc., a property-leasing business that includes residential and commercial real estate. His previous public service includes serving as an elected judge for 15 years and serving on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Board during then-Gov. Kirk Fordice’s term in office.
Moreland said he is running on the platform of transforming Starkville into a more business-friendly city. In a release announcing his candidacy, he said Starkville has become “one of the most unfriendly business communities in the state” due to overregulation.
“We are riddled with a checklist of regulatory ordinances that assures small business will not set up shop in Starkville, and that checklist is growing under the current administration,” he said in the release.
Moreland said he also plans to broaden the tax base of the city to ease taxpayer burden and to repeal and replace the current sidewalk ordinance with one that provides “sidewalks in areas of common interest, but eases the regulations it puts on small businesses.”
When asked to further discuss his plans to broaden the tax base, Moreland said loosening strict regulation that pushes developers away from wanting to start businesses in Starkville will go a long way toward changing the city’s reputation over time simply because it is home to the largest university in the state. He referenced a conversation he had with a congressman who said he’d heard it was difficult to start a business in Starkville.
“We can’t have that kind of reputation. We’ve got to let people know we want them to come do business down here. We’re putting stumbling blocks in front of businesses instead of stepping stones,” Moreland said. “We’re sitting on a gold mine having (Mississippi State University) but we’re not taking advantage of what we’ve got here. The more businesses we can get in that will pay to our tax base, the more tax base you have without raising anybody’s taxes.”
Moreland said an example of overregulation spurning potential business is the city’s sidewalk ordinance.
“We need (a sidewalk ordinance) but we need some common sense with it, too. You need them in neighborhoods where you’re building a new shopping center or neighborhood, but we don’t need to have them in areas where it’s going to be a burden to people,” he said. “Building a sidewalk just to be building a sidewalk? We don’t need that.”
“We’ve got to use some common sense in our building department,” Moreland continued. “Every time you pass or modify an ordinance, you stack the deck so you can’t wiggle. We’ve just got to get back to a common-sense approach into the building department and ordinances. We’ve got ordinances that make no sense whatsoever to anybody. We need to sit down and go through the entire list of ordinances and scratch the ones that don’t make sense.”
During his tenure as chair of the Starkville Parks Commission Board, Moreland said he’s pleased with the work the board did to fund the Sportsplex on Lynn Lane and convert the swimming pool at J.L. King Park to a splash pad, among numerous other achievements. The amount of progress made during his time on the board can translate well to a city leadership position because he would act as mayor like he has as a businessman and commissioner — running city operation as a business and maintaining contact with department heads to ensure progress and efficiency in city business, he said.
“What we’ve got to do is have a good, strong mayor who is hands-on but lets the department heads run their departments. In regular business one of my commissioners was talking to one of the … aldermen and said, ‘The reason the parks are doing well is because Dan is running it like a business.’”
Moreland says he questions city leaders who have told him the city of Starkville could not be run like a business.
“If you’ve got rent and you’ve got a utility bill and payroll, you’ve got a business,” he said. “You can’t spend more than you bring in and you can’t gamble on it. The key to being successful is making sure you don’t let one business venture take you under. Sooner or later, you’re going to make a bad decision, but you have to make sure it doesn’t take you under, and I think that carries over to the city also.”
As for recent moves the current administration, he spoke in support of the city and Oktibbeha County’s entry in to the Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority but believed more input was needed before the board’s authorization to begin construction of a new city hall through a lease-purchase agreement.
“We need to make sure we get our share of (GTRDA profits). If we’re going to get behind a plant that is coming to the Golden Triangle area we need to make sure Starkville and Oktibbeha County benefit from it … It needs to be split among all three counties (including Clay and Lowndes Counties). If all three counties are going to put money in it needs to pay off in the long run,” Moreland said.
“I don’t think anybody in Starkville would say we don’t need a complex of some kind, (but) you have to come up with a diverse group from all walks of life and get input from the citizens and taxpayers,” he said. “Right now you’ve got to be more cautious with your money. You can’t gamble with your own money in city business; much less taxpayer money.”
Moreland said as mayor he would be eager to field thoughts from taxpayers on what can be done to ease taxpayer burden and bring more business to the city.
“If elected, I will work for the taxpayers of Starkville,” he said. “You work for them and they are your boss.”