Starkville’s budget woes may be solved, at least for this year.
From now until city officials adopt a budget, bookkeepers will be preparing a financial plan that includes a property tax increase of .45 mill and a $1.50 increase in sanitation fees.
Vice Mayor Sandra Sistrunk, who has, according to Mayor Parker Wiseman, worked “around the clock” on the budget, proposed a budget on Monday that would raise Starkville’s current 19.55 millage rate to 20 mils and thereby allow city officials to staff the new Fire Station No. 5 and consolidate the landscaping division and the public services department with the sanitation department, creating an environmental services department.
No city employees would receive salary increases, but Sistrunk’s proposal does address internal inequities in pay.
The proposed budget would also finance the salary of additional information technology (IT) staff, another building inspector and another city planner. The city currently only has one of each.
“This proposal starts to achieve the strategic plan the Board of Aldermen and the mayor agreed on over the course of several meetings shortly after taking office,” said Sistrunk, whose recommendation also allows the city to keep its funding for outside contributions to local non-profit agencies and the Mississippi Horse Park, instead of reducing them or cutting them to zero — an annual suggestion from Ward 6 Alderman Roy Á. Perkins that was taken seriously by some aldermen during last week’s meeting.
Discussions that involved cutting funds to entities such as the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum and the Starkville Public Library bred an outspoken group of library supporters and employees, who entreated the board Monday to keep its contribution to “one of the basic
things that are offered here in America,” in the words of Dr. Nancy D. Hargrove, president of Starkville Reads, which holds most of its functions at the library.
Sistrunk’s plan would also pump more life in the deflated ending fund balance, which in three years decreased from $2.5 million to $230,000, and would create an contingency fund of $100,000, in case a time-sensitive need arises such as this year’s sewage maim bust.
After Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas seconded Sistrunk’s motion, Perkins, who has repeatedly said he would not support a tax increase or supporting outside entities, immediately criticized the way Sistrunk’s proposal was presented.
“It appears that the votes are already in place,” Perkins said. “This is not the way to do the taxpayers’ business.”
Perkins said the board approved a budget committee of three, not one.
Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker, who voted against Sistrunk’s motion because he could not support a tax increase, responded to Perkins’ claims, arguing that the board was not adopting a budget on Monday.
“Somebody needed some direction in putting these numbers down,” he said.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said that he worked along with Sistrunk on the proposal, generating a laugh from Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn.
“This is a time sensitive issue,” Carver said.
Carver identified his support for Sistrunk’s proposal as a bipartisan move.
“The millage rate in Starkville is ridiculously low,” Carver said. “For cities our size, we’re the lowest of anybody I could find.”
Parker admitted that a $13 sanitation fee, which is what residents would pay if this budget is adopted, is standard in the area, and that he would support the creation of an environmental services department.
Various residents voice support for tax increase
One after another, citizens asked the board to increase taxes during Monday’s meeting.
Milo Burnham bemoaned Perkins’ suggestion to cut all outside contributions to zero, explaining that the Humane Society would have to cut back its spending on food and, thus, euthanize dogs and cats.
“I don’t want that, but maybe Mr. Perkins does,” he said.
Burnham argued that the city cannot be blamed for Oktibbeha County raising taxes or local public schools raising taxes.
Richard Mullenax lamented Starkville’s low millage rate in comparison to its peers and cities in other states.
“We don’t even pay taxes as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Jim Gafford, who chairs the transportation committee, said that Starkville is dealing with the sins of its past — those being past refusals to raise taxes.
“Either we are growing or we are dying,” he said, explaining that the city already functions to its maximum capacity with substandard equipment and substandard space. “I don’t see anywhere else that can be cut (in funding).”
Warren Housley said that he doesn’t want his taxes to go up, but said he does want city services to survive.