By NATHAN GREGORY
The Starkville Board of Aldermen voted to use a temporary part-time parking officer to enforce the two-hour parking rule in the downtown area Tuesday at its meeting.
The proposal, which originally was to make a staff position in the Starkville Police Department to be paid $12 an hour to enforce the law as needed until the end of the fiscal year in an amount not to exceed $11,000. An amendment which set an end date for the position at May 31, after which the board could reevaluate the enforcement’s effectiveness, passed 5-2 with Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn opposed.
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, who suggested the amendment, said the new total amount the employee would be paid would likely be paid in between $5,000 and $6,000.
Money to pay the new position will come from the city’s contingency fund. At the beginning of the 2013 fiscal year, the city had $50,000 in that fund but agreed on devoting $20,000 of that to participate in the Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority, leaving $30,000 left in the fund for the remainder of the year.
The SPD employee would also have authority to issue tickets for motorists who inappropriately park in handicapped spaces and make U-turns to park. Violators of the two-hour rule would be issued a $10 ticket, while handicapped parking violators would be charged $200.
Starkville Police Chief David Lindley said it would likely take two weeks to make a recommended person for the board to hire. Mayor Parker Wiseman said the matter would likely be revisited at the board’s Feb. 19 recess meeting.
During board discussion, Vaughn suggested asking downtown business managers to encourage employees to use parking areas other than Main Street.
“We’re scraping for money but every time we turn around we find a way to spend some money,” he said.
Greater Starkville Development Partnership Vice President for Tourism then came before the board and said that option has been attempted multiple times and the issue remains.
“Myself and others have actually gone door to door not just to members of (Starkville Main Street Association) but to all the law professionals, he restaurants, the retail stores and specifically requested that they please help us with this issue and require their employees to park elsewhere,” she said. “We’ve done that at least three times with no success. I, too, hoped that it would resolve the issue but it hasn’t at all.”
Gregory added that SMSA has purchased wayfinding signs that can signal motorists to alternate parking areas and they should arrive in the coming weeks.
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas noted the temporal nature of employees with downtown restaurants as another possible stumbling block.
“Their turnover is significant. Unfortunately (business owners) don’t have the control it would be nice for them to have to say, ‘You don’t park here. You park here,’” Dumas said. “It’s proven much more difficult than we would like it to be … We do have quite a bit of parking that is adjacent to downtown but there are improvements that need to be made to those parking lots to make them more accessible.”
Perkins said downtown business owners need to be more adamant to their employees about not using parking spaces on Main Street.
“It is my opinion … that the employers and business owners need to do a better and thorough job. They need to go beyond the call of duty to police their own employees. They’re asking us to throw taxpayers’ dollars at a problem they can correct themselves … I’m not in favor of accommodating downtown just because they are downtown,” he said. “It appears to me that whenever they come to the board for something we want to bend over backwards and spend the money in the bank … Let’s see how the directional signs are going to work. Let’s explore these opportunities. Do we act this fast when other people come up with issues? No. Just because somebody come and ask you if you’ve got money in your pocket, you don’t have to hand it out. If the businesses are so concerned, they need to … control their own house.”
Dumas said it is not the role of city government to dictate private business employees’ habits.
“We can’t forget … that downtown is the nucleus of our tax base. When you look at the budget of the city and the fact that ad valorem tax is only 30 to 40 percent and the rest is sales tax driven … those things are significant,” he said. “Most importantly, I don’t think it’s the place of the city for us to dictate what its employees can and can’t do.”
Sistrunk said a short trial period can help the board determine whether a part-time parking officer is an effective way to mitigate the problem.
“Alderman Perkins is right. He’s sat up here for 20 years and seen it enforced (and) not enforced. The reason I’m willing to try is there has been a resurgence downtown,” she said. “It is time-limited and cost-limited. There is the potential that we will recover some of the cost through fees and revenues. That’s what tips me toward supporting it, but I do want us to keep track and evaluate at the end of (May).”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver suggested to Gregory that letters be sent to all businesses involved to alert employees of the enforcement.
“My personal opinion is what you’ll see is maybe just a handful of employees will get those tickets (and) then what you’ll see is that parking can be alleviated,” he said. “I think once the word gets out we’re going to see a lot of free parking spots.”
In other business, the board voted to table consideration of placing a speed table on Greensboro Street, following Perkins’ recommendation to lump it into the city’s capital improvement plan so the board can measure all related issues collectively.
Unanimous approval was given to direct City Personnel Director Randy Boyd to conduct phone interviews with a list of candidates for the city’s vacant community development position. After those are conducted, a short list will be compiled and open interviews will take place Feb. 6.