By STEVEN NALLEY
At its meeting Tuesday, The Starkville Board of Aldermen voted to issue a request for public-private partnership proposals to develop municipal facilities.
The request for partnership proposals, or RFPP, is a response to a failed bond issue which would have raised property taxes for an $8.45 million police facility, the first of two phases in a municipal facilities plan which would have included a later bond issue for a renovation and construction project at City Hall. On Sept. 27, Starkville voters rejected the bond issue 55 percent to 45 percent, keeping it from the 60-percent-plus-one-vote majority needed for passage and forcing the city to restart its plans to address the issue.
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said municipal facilities are just one of several issues the city has not addressed which have built up over the past decades. Through the bond issue, she said, the public made it clear the city needed to go back to the drawing board for municipal facilities.
“This is about as ‘back to the drawing board’ as you can get,” Sistrunk said. “(The RFPP) does not commit us to any funds; it does not commit us to any project, but it is an opportunity to see what true interest there is out in the community and then to explore our options to go forward.”
After Sistrunk moved for approval of the RFPP, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said he believes the bond issue failed for three reasons: the site location, the price of the property and the price of LEED-certified construction costs. He also said he was curious about a specific section of the RFPP, which reads:
“Upon award the city seeks to lease any land owned by the city, especially 101 Meigs Ave. (the site of the old Starkville Electric Department) and/or 101 E. Lampkin St. (the site of the current City Hall), to a private entity(s) for a period not to exceed 20 years for $1. The entity, in turn, would design and build a facility that the city would lease for the term of the aforementioned land lease.”
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman explained the reason for the $1 lease to Carver.
“You’re saying to the private sector, ‘If you can find something that you could potentially profit from and meet municipal facility needs, if that satisfies the board in terms of meeting municipal facility needs, one of the benefits you would get is you could lease this property for $1,’” Wiseman said. “That’s there to entice private sector businesses. A $1 lease or $1 for a contract service (are some things) you see sometimes to establish consideration, (which is the legal term for establishing) that each side is giving something to the bargain. That’s a way of establishing that without it having any real value.”
Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey said college fraternities use $1 leases to allow for building privately owned houses on public land. Carver said he was on board with the public-private partnership, and he ultimately voted for it.
“I just want to be completely honest with the public from the start of this,” Carver said. “I think if (new municipal facilities are) going to pass, it’s going to have to be a public-private partnership.”
Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker said he, too, believes the cost of the project prevented the bond issue’s passage, along with the tax implications.
“I have no problem at all taking this step,” Parker said. “I’ll just be interested to see, as we move further into this, what tax implications, if any, it has. I think the most attractive would be, of course, neutral — no tax implications at all.”
Sistrunk said tax neutrality was the intent of the RFPP.
“We don’t know enough to absolutely guarantee that will be the case,” Sistrunk said, “but I don’t think this will go forward if it’s not revenue neutral.”
The board voted to issue the RFPP 5-2, with only Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn voting against it.
In another matter, Parker announced the city has set up a bank account for donations to Ken Honeycutt and his family. While hunting on Nov. 7, Honeycutt was shot by a rifle in the pelvic area, and he has been hospitalized at University Medical Center in Jackson since. The city held a blood drive to benefit Honeycutt Nov. 21 and 22.
“The account is set up at Cadence Bank,” Parker said. “Anybody that would like to donate money to help with his family’s travels back and forth to Jackson or any expenses, we have that fund set up with Cadence Bank now or you can call the building department. I’ll give them the information.”