By STEVEN NALLEY
Sturgis citizens and aldermen extensively debated how to handle the city’s motorcycle rally at a specially called meeting Thursday, where the aldermen ultimately voted 3-2 to reject a contract with the Sturgis South Bike Rally Board.
The revised contract Sturgis Mayor Walter Turner brought before the board contained a $5,000 donation to defray the city’s in-kind services to the rally from the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority, a donation contingent on the contract’s approval. Turner said he also spoke with Mississippi Industrial Waste Disposal, reducing sanitation costs from $4,500 to $1,500 with aid from the Maroon Volunteer Center, which would change out trash bags and containers for three days of the rally for free.
All told, Turner’s budget showed $20,900 in expenses but $29,000 in income for the city, assuming RV site rentals at 75 percent of capacity and vendors at 50 percent of 2010 rally levels. He said the result would be an $8,100 profit.
Early in the meeting, Alderman Amanda Page asked about dialogue with the city of Starkville, the possibility of which led the aldermen to unanimously vote on April 3 to reconsider the contract after rejecting it on March 6.
“What happened to the joint meeting between us and the board of Starkville?” Page said. “Is that not what we said the last time we met?”
Turner said he thought he and the board saw no reason for both boards to meet in their entirety. He said he had talked with Starkville’s mayor, chief of police, and chief administrative officer, and jurisdictional issues made it impractical for the city of Starkville to provide police service for the rally. Soon after, Alderman Quinnia Yates, who was absent from the April 3 meeting due to illness, spoke.
“The way I looked at it, I talked to several people in town,” Yates said. “I know some of you have just got to have this rally so you can make money, but some of these citizens around here that I have talked to, either they don’t want to have it if there is a loss of funds, or the people have said they don’t want it.”
Alderman Wayne McCool followed on Yates’ point. He said the city’s aldermen are responsible for citizens’ tax dollars, and they must decide on the rally issue based on financial risks.
“I’m not saying anything against Walter’s budget, or anything else, but we’re put here to watch the town’s money,” McCool said.
A local business owner who said she wished not to be identified replied to McCool and Yates. She said the Daytona Beach Bike Week had a terrible year in 2010, with a few more bikers attending but few of them spending money in town.
“This year, they were spending,” the business owner said. “Everybody is looking for that weekend, that getaway. They are looking for here; they are looking for Sturgis because this was one of their vacation spots. They want to come here and spend money.”
McCool said when he looked at several bike rallies online, they showed dramatically declining numbers, but the business owner said vendors are raising their inventories to prepare for more spending. McCool said most rally attendees do not pay into the system that funds the rally by buying armbands and entering the city park.
The business owner then asked if sales tax revenue made up for the lack of armband funds, and McCool said the city did not receive enough sales tax revenue to justify the rally contract. The business owner said circumstances have changed and the economy has improved since the last rally in 2010.
“There are a number of people from Starkville who don’t even ride; they just come to Sturgis for the party,” the business owner said. “They come here because they want to. If we don’t (have the rally,) what’s left for the town? The town needs this.”
Many in the audience and on the board then began talking at the same time, and Sturgis Police Chief Will Hutchinson asked everyone to raise their hand before speaking, waiting to be acknowledged.
“This is a public meeting,” Hutchinson said. “We’re going to conduct it like one.”
Another audience member, Richard Lee, then asked what Sturgis was doing to try to bring in money to resolve the rally’s financial issues, but Yates said the city was not supposed to solicit money. Lee then said the loss of the rally has hurt towns beyond Sturgis, and people have said so in newspapers in both Ackerman and Louisville. Yates said the lack of a rally’s impact on other towns did not matter to her.
“What you don’t understand is we’re concerned about Sturgis,” Yates said. “I don’t care what Starkville does, I don’t care what Maben does, (what) Texas does or (what) Alabama (does). We care about our people that have put us in these positions.”
Lee said the board needed to allow the rally to take place if its members truly cared about Sturgis. Yates asked if Lee had spoken to citizens, and Lee said he spoke with them every day. McCool then said he would approve the contract if it earned citizens’ approval in a city-wide vote.
“I have asked to bring (the rally contract) to a town vote a number of times, and I’ve been shot down a number of times,” McCool said. “I’m going by what people have said; I’m going by the projected things that I have shown them from the last rally. They say if we’re going to lose money, we don’t need it.”
Lee then returned to the issue of the economy.
“If you’re projecting off of 2010, that was at the midpoint of the worst point of our economy,” Lee said. “People weren’t spending money in 2010, but now ... there’s more people traveling, there’s more people (buying) gas. People are starting to spend money again. Let’s give them something to spend money on.”
After further discussion, Yates made a motion to vote on the contract.
“Let’s finish it off tonight,” Yates said.
The board voted 3-2 against the contract, with McCool, Yates and Page voting against it and aldermen Keith Parker and Mike Collins in favor of it. The voting lines exactly paralleled the aldermen’s initial rejection of the 2012 contract on March 6.