By STEVEN NALLEY
During yesterday’s Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting, Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas unveiled a new city website which will educate voters about the bond referendum for a new police station planned for Sept. 27.
This website features the full municipal facilities master plan presented to and approved by the Starkville Board of Aldermen at many of their meetings and a gallery of concept images for the police station. Each visitor can also input property value and other variables into a calculator that provides an estimate of how much more he or she will pay in taxes each year if the referendum passes.
Dumas said previous presentations on the municipal complex and the bond issue given during city board meetings will be available on the website. He said the site’s most important feature is its tax calculator.
“You can see the exact amount your tax increase will be based on phase one of the master plan,” Dumas said. “Anyone can get on and input the true value associated with their property. It takes into account whether it’s residential, with or without homestead; it takes into account commercial; it takes into account residential properties owned by senior citizens or disabled individuals.”
The $8.45 million police department, which could start construction in July 2012 and open a year later if the referendum passes, is the first of two phases in a municipal facilities master plan the board approved Aug. 10. The second phase would renovate the current City Hall, construct an annex to its west on its current parking lot and create new public parking. While phase two could be incorporated at a much later date, Dumas said, the calculator does not account for it at this time.
“It’s important to note in all of this that the referendum is only for the police complex, not for the entire master plan,” Dumas said. “This calculator only takes into (account) phase one. Phase two is much later to be discussed. In the event we get to phase two, we definitely hope to use this again.”
Between now and the referendum, he said, the city may post photorealistic renderings of plans for the new police department to the site’s image gallery. Further images could appear once the referendum passes, he said, including images of construction when it starts.
“This is a public facility, and it’s something I think we will all be very proud of,” Dumas said. “We want to be like proud parents and show off as much progress and pictures as we all can.”
Two features Dumas said visitors should not expect are a comments section and a poll to gather early response to the referendum before the vote. Both were ideas city staff members suggested during the development process but both were deliberately left out. There are no plans to add them in the future.
Dumas said the public hearings on the master plan have already served the same purpose as a web comments section.
“By no means are we saying we don’t value people’s opinion, but this item has been vetted through the public,” Dumas said. “We don’t want to use this as a campaign tool. We don’t want to use this as a place to comment about the issue. We want this to be solely educational.”
The website also features a special thanks section for the citizens’ municipal complex committee, without whom Dumas said the master plan could not have happened. Dumas said he was also grateful to Joel Clements, information technology director for the city, for his work on the site.
“He worked on it and was the real champion behind the thing,” Dumas said. “Right after we hired Joel, we hired another individual. We used to have one IT person that was extremely overworked. Now that we have both of them, it’s really proven valuable that we can do these types of things.”