Lynn Spruill was sworn in as Starkville's new mayor Monday at City Hall. Chancery Judge Dorothy Colom administered oaths to Spruill and all seven aldermen. Spruill's aunt, Frances Jutman, held the Bible as the city's first female mayor officially assumed her new role. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn, Ward 6 Alderman and Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins and Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller are sworn in Monday at Starkville City Hall.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, Ward 3 Alderman David Little, Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk and Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver are sworn in Monday at Starkville City Hall.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
July 5, 2017 10:18:37 AM
Many of the hottest issues on this spring's campaign trail -- infrastructure fixes, job creation and improvements to Starkville's public park system -- are now set to be high-priority agenda items for the next four years.
A poll of Mayor Lynn Spruill and the board of aldermen show a consensus among Starkville's elected officials to work on the basic responsibilities of municipal government, like solving growing road and drainage issues while also addressing numerous issues found in last year's comprehensive planning effort for the Starkville Parks and Recreation Department.
The administration of former Mayor Parker Wiseman and the board of aldermen was at the helm during a time of increased economic development investments in the past four years. Continued successes in both retail and industrial projects, officials said this week, will help the city's bottom line as it looks to aggressively fund improvements.
Using an aviation metaphor during Monday's swearing-in ceremony at City Hall, Spruill, a formal naval pilot, said she believes Starkville has a tail wind right now that can help propel the city into the next four years.
"I talked about it as momentum during the campaign, and my belief in that hasn't wavered. Now is when dreaming is made reality," she said.
To tackle these issues, Spruill proposes holding work sessions each Friday at 11 a.m. before regular board meetings on Tuesdays.
These meetings will be noticed and open to the public like any other meeting, and Spruill said she hopes they'll allow more thorough discussions before official action is taken.
"I am also hopeful that this will allow us to have a board meeting that is more set without any last-minute issues being raised with insufficient information or consideration," she said. "This is not an unprecedented concept. There are other cities that use this concept for the decision-making process."
On the campaign trail, candidates from both parties stumped on a similar platform on infrastructure issues: There are no Democratic or Republican potholes, just problems that require solutions.
Each official polled by The Dispatch said they must find bipartisan solutions to aggressively combat growing road and drainage issues this year without shirking their fiduciary responsibilities and burdening taxpayers.
"Ward 7 probably has the most ditches in all of Starkville. I've got them all over the place. When it rains, it floods, and it always seems like the water is coming off a ditch," Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn said. "We've got to accomplish more with infrastructure for Ward 7 and for all of Starkville. That's my main thing; we've just got to get it done."
The last board previously tasked City Engineer Edward Kemp to develop a priority list of roads in need of repair.
"While riding around town, you can tell that we are close to the 10-year mark since the 2009 road bonds were issued," Ward 3 Alderman David Little said. "Many of our roads are in desperate need of attention."
Elected officials also pledged to continue growing Starkville through retail and industrial expansion this election cycle.
One of the biggest potential job-producing developments -- a Golden Triangle Development LINK-backed industrial park -- is currently held up in litigation, as the surrounding property owners are challenging the previous board's order rezoning the almost 400 acres for manufacturing and Starkville's recently approved comprehensive plan.
"This is Starkville's and Oktibbeha County's last bite at the apple as far as the industrial park is concerned. If this project fails to move forward, we are back to square one and then have to decide where we turn for economic development, as we cannot continue to ride the back of Mississippi State University's successes," Little said.
A hearing for the rezoning appeal has not yet been set, and the litigants last week filed a new bill of exceptions against the comprehensive plan after aldermen reapproved the document after failing to meet a publication notice requirement this winter.
Cornerstone Park, which has long languished without significant development, is expected to receive a boost in electrical capacity from 4-County Electric Power Association next year.
The estimated $3 million project will install a transformer rated up to 30 megawatts in the Bluefield Road area. A specific circuit feeding the park will increase its capacity from a residential load -- about 2 to 5 megawatts -- to 10 megawatts but will not match the proposed 60-megawatt capacity and natural gas investments at the proposed LINK park.
Needs at Starkville's eight public parks became apparent last year after a Dalhoff Thomas Design Studio study rated more than half as in poor condition.
The Tennessee-based firm recommended three tiers of improvements. Short-term goals included hiring a maintenance manager -- the previous board tended to this item last term -- while also creating a park advisory board of community volunteers invested in the system's success, controlling unauthorized uses of athletic fields and lights and reviewing opportunities to contract out services.
Long-term recommendations for the new administration included funding additional maintenance personnel, replacing aging equipment and developing a detailed parks maintenance management plan.
The report also noted Starkville's parks will only provide about half of the acreage needed to support the city's projected 2020 population and needs to add about 150 acres to meet demands in the next 20 years.
"Starkville is growing, and we must properly manage the way it grows. This can be accomplished by implementing our city's and parks' comprehensive plans," Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller said. "I hope to see our parks improved, our school district grade improved and our infrastructure drastically repaired. Of course, this can't be completed without strong municipal budgeting. I look forward to working with the board and department heads to build the strongest municipal budget for the city of Starkville."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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