By CARL SMITH
Starkville officials will hold an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. at City Hall on Sept. 13 for interested citizens to inspect the current Starkville Police Department’s conditions in preparation for the Sept. 27 bond referendum.
If the $8.45 million referendum is passed, construction of a new police department located at the intersection of Highway 182 and Jackson Street could begin July 2012.
“Anyone who wants to come look at the building to further educate themselves on the details and the issues of the referendum can. They need to see it for themselves,” SPD Chief David Lindley said. “If the public is asked to consider this issue, they should have access to the facts. We want to be a glass house for the public.”
Booths will be set up in the municipal court room and manned by city officials, building planners and members of the citizens’ committee who helped develop a two-phase plan construction and renovation plan in order to answer any public questions. Computers will also be available for property owners to use and tabulate the amount of money they would pay with a millage increase.
Mayor Parker Wiseman said members of the public who wish to skip the tours and only speak with city representatives may do so and vice versa.
“We try to make it as convenient as possible where it’s come and go,” Wiseman. “It’s entirely for the benefit of the public to gain as much information about what’s at stake Sept. 27.”
City Hall is in such critical condition, Lindley said, that the police department’s current and future abilities are hampered.
The police department has been housed at City Hall since 1968. Since then, the department has cannibalized many of its functions — its crime lab, interview room and proper evidence storage space — to meet the needs of its growing staff. Lindley said the size restrictions and the building’s rapidly deteriorating state — out-of-date electrical wiring, plumbing issues and mold — have led to low morale within the department.
“We have begun to see a pattern of turnover — an inability to be successful in retention of officers — because they don’t feel like professionals in the facility that we currently operate out of,” Lindley said in August. “It’s hard to be motivated and remain positive in lieu of some of the challenges that we currently have, including basic things like adequate room and bathrooms.”
Lindley said the department has lost seven officers this year due to turnover. Each time an officer leaves the department, he said, the time and money invested to train them is lost as well.
“Either way the referendum goes, it will have a direct impact on the services and abilities of the Starkville Police Department. The rubber band is stretched as far as it can,” Lindley said. “It’s hard in these times to ask for money, but we are in need of these resources to maintain our department and the level of services this town needs and deserves. It is up to the community to give us direction and guidance now. We’re public servants figuratively, literally and seriously.”
The board of aldermen approved the Sept. 27 bond referendum and a two-phase construction and renovation plan mid-August. The first phase deals with the construction of a new police station, while the second phase consists of the construction of a City Hall annex and renovations to the current facility and parking.
Ward 2 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas’ August presentation listed the total cost of phase two renovations and construction at $5.955 million. A millage increase of 2.46 would be needed for the plan.
The Sept. 27 bond issue will only be applied to phase one of the master plan. Phase two, Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said during a previous board meeting, could be revisited and adjusted in the future as needed.