By STEVEN NALLEY
At the Starkville Tea Party’s forum on the bond issue for a new police facility, someone asked if the new facility would make it easier to attract and retain quality police officers.
David Lindley, Starkville Police chief, answered the question himself.
“I’m losing people on a regular basis,” Lindley said. “They’re voting with their feet. If you hire a new officer, it takes about a year to a year and a half for them to be effective. The rubber band’s stretched as far as it can stretch, and it’s starting to affect our ability to protect you. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, when there were supposed to be terrorist attacks, do you know how many officers were on duty? Two.”
Starkville leaders spent most of their time at the STP’s Monday town hall at the Starkville Sportsplex answering citizens’ questions, but some, including Lindley, also seized opportunities to convince attendees of the need for a new police facility in Starkville.
Frank Chiles, a member of the municipal complex committee, also took an opportunity to express support for the bond issue. He said anyone with doubts about the need for a new police facility should tour SPD’s current City Hall headquarters.
“If you haven’t been through it, you’ve got to go through it,” Chiles said. “They’re literally living on top of each other over there.”
Jud Ward, events organizer for STP, said his group has not declared a formal stance on the bond issue and only aims to educate the public on it. However, Ward did say he acknowledges problems with SPD’s current facilities after having toured them. He presented Lindley an honorary plaque on behalf of STP, saying SPD deserved it for working under extreme circumstances.
“We realized Chief Lindley and his staff are magicians in operating in the conditions they have,” Ward said. “We’d like to recognize him for that.”
One of the early questions posed at the forum asked why the Starkville Electric Department received a new facility before SPD did. Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said while this decision was made under a prior administration, he believed it had to do with SED being what is called an “enterprise fund.”
“It is run like a business,” Wiseman said. “There was no tax consequence for building a new electrical department.”
However, Wiseman said, it was not a “free lunch,” because SED incurred debt it needed to repay through its business, and if it failed, it could have driven up the cost of electricity. Wiseman also said a new police department has been on the discussion table for years, and it was “not for lack of trying” when SED’s new facility came first.
Several of the questions posed at the meeting overlapped. One recurring question involved a bond debt to be retired at the end of fiscal year 2011 that has cost the city $198,000 monthly. Many asked if the money saved from this retired debt would save the city enough money to pay for a new municipal complex without a bond issue.
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said no. She said this extra money has already been set aside for capital improvement projects, including street improvements. Without it, she said, those projects would go into debt.
“We would have to either issue bonds for streets or bonds for the municipal complex,” Sistrunk said. “At that point, you’re taking money out of one pocket and putting it in the other.”
One audience member asked why only property owners in Starkville have to pay extra taxes on the bond issue. Wiseman said there was not a viable alternative because if sales taxes were raised, fluctuating sales would make the gains on those tax increases uncertain.
After the event, Mark Guyton, owner of Guyton Properties, said many who do not own Starkville property would actually be affected by the property tax increase. Commercial landowners like Guyton pay more in property taxes than homeowners, he said, and extra taxes on apartment complex owners are passed on in the form of higher rent.
“The students in this town paying rent — not just the students, but all the renters — are paying a higher percentage of the taxes than the homeowners,” Guyton said. “Rents will have to go up as a result of any tax increase.”
Starkville Tea Party organizer Gary Chesser said an early headcount showed about 87 people at the event, with about a dozen more coming in afterward. Wiseman said he was pleased with the turnout and the citizens’ response at the meeting.
“I think it went really well,” Wiseman said. “I think this is an issue the community’s really engaged in. I hope everybody that had questions got them answered tonight.”