By STEVEN NALLEY
Citizens of Sturgis have responded with support for or acceptance of the Sturgis Board of Aldermen’s March 6 decision to reject the Sturgis South Motorcycle Rally Board’s latest contract proposal for a 2012 event.
Peggy Livingston was one of the citizens who attended the meeting where the city board rejected the contract. She said she formerly served on the rally board, but she and her husband still agree with the decision.
“I’m not against the rally, but I am against the town losing money,” Livingston said. “I am backing the aldermen.”
The three aldermen who rejected the proposal — Amanda Paige, Quinnia Yates and Wayne McCool — said they were concerned about losing money if the rally could not pay the city $8,500 for security, sanitation and other services as outlined in the contract. Sturgis Mayor Walter Turner said he believed the contract could work, and even if some risk was involved, the board needed to consider the welfare of local businesses who get much of their business from the rally.
Jackie Nason, owner of Main Street Grill in Sturgis, said her restaurant has historically benefitted from the rally, but it does not survive off the rally alone.
“It doesn’t matter one way or the other with us,” Nason said. “We’re there for the community all year long. The restaurant doesn’t survive off of one weekend.”
Nason said some of the rally’s participants visit the restaurant throughout the year, which she appreciates. Concerning the city’s decision, she said she is mostly neutral.
“We would love the extra revenue, but we just have to go by what they decide, and we’ll live with it,” Nason said. “The people of the city of Sturgis elect aldermen. We have to hope they’ll make the best decision.”
Linda Carpenter said she has historically made significant money from rally guests who rent property she owns. She said she still vocally supports the aldermen’s decision. Carpenter is the mother of McCool, who made the motion to reject the contract, and she said she is proud of her son.
“(The loss of profits from rally attendees) doesn’t bother me because I am more interested in the town than my pocketbook,” Carpenter said. “I’ve always told (McCool), ‘You don’t think about me. You go and do your job.’ I want the town to at least break even.”
Carpenter said it is also worth noting Turner owns Adam’s Hardware and Papa’s Campground in Sturgis, both of which have made money from rallies past.
“(Turner is) pushing (the rally) to put the money in his pocket,” Carpenter said. “That’s why he wants the rally so bad. Now, I can say that because I hold prime property for rentals right here.”
Turner said he has owned these businesses since long before he became mayor or an alderman before that. He said he does not view his ownership of businesses which benefit from the rally as a conflict of interests.
“If the town thinks there’s a conflict of interests, I’ll shut it down in a minute,” Turner said. “I just don’t see it that way. It would be ridiculous to shut it down because I was an alderman or mayor.”
Carpenter said she dislikes the finger-pointing between the rally board and the city board, but the city’s own financial health must come first. Sturgis cannot afford to risk the rally board’s failure to pay $8,500 after the rally, she said, but she and city officials would be more comfortable with the contract if the rally board paid the money up front.
“Try renting a house and seeing if anyone will let you move in it before you pay your money,” Carpenter said. “If (the rally board goes) in the hole again, Sturgis won’t get that $8,500. They’ll have to take the taxpayers’ money and pay that, and I am totally against it.
“The town has very little money,” Carpenter added. “I don’t know how they can keep on. In another few years, you can sit and count them on your hands, the amount of taxpayers that will be paying taxes inside the city limits.”
Turner said the city’s tax base is not in danger as of last year’s reassessment. He said sales taxes decreased only 3 percent from 2010-2011 and 7 percent from 2009-2010.
“Property taxes increased a little over $4,000 (from 2010-2011),” Turner said. “Our sales taxes are down, but ... one thing that surprises me is that even though we have had a lot of businesses go out of business, our sales taxes are still relatively high.”
Carpenter also said she personally does not like what the rally has become.
“It has become vulgar, drunks, all the other stuff that goes with it,” Carpenter said. “Last year, I didn’t miss it.”
Nason said she saw a different side of the rally guests.
“In our restaurant, we’ve always had people who are very polite and glad to be there,” Nason said. “All types of people come through with the bike rally.”
Carpenter said she had a plan to bring the rally back despite her own feelings. If all of the landowners and business owners who stand to profit could agree to pool their resources, she said they could each contribute a percentage of rally profits to pay $8,500 to the city if the rally itself could not meet this contract payment.
“If they fail, then the town’s got the $8,500, but if they make the money, then we get to keep ours,” Carpenter said. “It’s just a way I see to help two bulls that are sitting here banging their heads together.”
Carpenter said she posted this advice to the rally’s page on Facebook, where she has also advocated a new name for the rally. Attorneys with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D.. sent a cease and desist letter to the rally’s Mississippi counterpart in 2010, leading the Sturgis South Motorcycle Rally board to tentatively change its rally’s name to the “Red Hills Motorcycle Rally.” Carpenter said she has a better alternative.
“The main person that got (the Sturgis, Miss. rally) started was Jody James,” Carpenter said. “I don’t understand why they don’t call it the Jody James Memorial Rally if they want to do something really nice. That hasn’t even been talked about.”