The first discussion is in the books and Starkville has given its tentative blessing to the proposed municipal-building solution.
The courtroom at City Hall was packed Tuesday evening for a town-hall meeting where the city presented its most detailed explanation to date on the wheres, whys and hows of constructing a new police department and renovating City Hall to house Starkville”s various governmental departments. Each seat in the court room was taken and a half-circle of standing spectators lined the walls around the back half of the room.
Several skeptics in the audience fired questions about parking, wheelchair accessibility and future expansion, but only a small minority voiced direct opposition to the proposal. The plan the city put before its citizens Tuesday would see a new police department constructed on the northwest corner of the intersection of Highway 182 and Jackson Street, followed by the construction of an annex in the current police parking lot at City Hall and, finally, a comprehensive reconstruction of the interior of City Hall.
The newest information presented by the city Tuesday night included a cost estimate and a possible starting point to fund the project.
Architect Gary Shafer estimated the police department would cost approximately $8.3 million to construct while the two-story annex and renovation at City Hall would likely require an additional $5.8 million.
Shafer”s figures included the cost of purchasing the land along Highway 182 for the police department, the construction of a man-made detention pond next to the police department to collect water runoff, and the renovation of the parking lot next to the Starkville Community Market site which would serve as parking for City Hall.
Assuming planning began in October of this year, Shafer estimated construction could begin on the police department in July 2012 and wrap up around July 2013. The construction of the City Hall annex would follow in 2014 and be completed early in 2015. And City Hall could potentially be renovated by January of 2016.
Shafer”s timeline estimate assumes a continuous influx of money, but the city”s financial expert said some creative maneuvering will be necessary to complete the projects in so short a time frame.
Demery Grubbs, former Vicksburg mayor and current financial consultant, estimated Starkville”s current debt capacity at $13.1 million. That figure, he said, took into consideration the existing $12.1 million the city owes for past bond issues and leaves a 20-percent ($6 million) cushion in borrowing capacity in case the city faces a natural disaster or some other catastrophe.
By the numbers
Even if the city could afford to issue bonds for the full $14.2 million estimated cost of the police department and the City Hall renovation, Grubbs said that would be unwise because the state requires those funds be spent within three years of borrowing. Instead, he recommended the city issue $8.3 million in general obligation bonds to fund the police complex before exploring further options to fund the work at City Hall. He recommended Certificate of Participation loans and Mississippi Development Bank loans as two forms of funding which won”t count against Starkville”s debt limit. However, he recommended waiting to pursue those possibilities because changes in the city”s valuation will change the terms of those loans.
Getting back to the recommended $8.3 million in GO bonds, Grubbs estimated the city”s principal and interest payment would be in the neighborhood of $640,000 per year for 20 years. This, he estimated, would raise city taxes by 2.5 mills. That means the owner of a $100,000 house would wind up paying an additional $25 per year in taxes.
Following the city”s presentation, the floor was opened to the citizens.
Diane Wall expressed apprehension over the primary parking lot for City Hall being located a block away.
Mayor Parker Wiseman pointed out that the current on-site parking lot is reserved for the police department, so there would be no net loss of parking by constructing the annex there.
Barbara Frank asked whether or not eminent domain will be invoked to purchase the land along Highway 182 for the police department.
Wiseman stated the city is close to an agreement with the current landowners to purchase the land.
Randall McMillen asked if steps would be taken prior to the renovation of City Hall to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility. Moments later, another man asked if City Hall met fire codes as it stands now.
Shafer answered that the renovated building would meet all safety codes and become more accessible by lowering the front door to street level. There is currently a wheelchair accessible door on the side of the building, but it remains an inconvenience to disabled persons.
Jud Ward offered his suggestion that the city pursue the police department and scrap plans for renovating City Hall to save money.
Dorothy Isaac warned against constructing the police department on the corner of Highway 182 and Jackson Street, saying the intersection is too busy and would present accessibility problems to police.
City representatives stated to the contrary that the location provides immediate access to major north-south and east-west arteries.
Mike Allen asked if the police department could be constructed in stages due to the possibility of another dip in the national economy which could drive taxes even higher following a local mill increase.
Dr. Jerry Emison, who chairs the city”s planning and zoning commission, offered the evening”s most scathing condemnation of the plan, calling it “cheap” and “a near-perfect example of how not to proceed.”
Emison criticized the plan for separating the police department and municipal court, for inhibiting expansion possibilities and for “failing to catalyze private sector development.”
When another man also questioned the apparent inability for expansion at City Hall after the annex is completed, Shafer stated the 20-year plan factors the anticipated growth of city departments into the front end of the plan, rather than reacting to growth on the back end.
Dr. Roy Ruby, who headed the city”s Municipal Complex Committee, acknowledged the proposed plan is not perfect, but stated it struck a balance between what the city needs and what the citizens may be willing to finance.
“A lot of things could be better than this, probably. But it”s got to be something the people will accept,” said Ruby.
Milo Burnham asked whether the funding of the municipal-complex plan will supersede pursuing the suggestions of the Mississippi Main Street Association charrette team, which visited in April or that of Placemakers planning firm, which visited in May.
Wiseman reminded citizens the charrette team supported the plan and said it could indeed serve as the catalyst for redevelopment along Highway 182.
In favor of the plan
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said a proposal for Placemakers” “Grand Bullyvard” vision for transforming the intersection of Highway 12 and Russell Street has already been sent to the Federal Highway Administration.
“I see none of this indebtedness taking the place of any of that,” said Dumas.
Speaking in support of the plan, Mark Duncan, president of Starkville in Motion, stated his belief the new police department would spur growth along Highway 182. Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey stated that, considering the three municipal complex proposals he”s witnessed during his time in office, “this is the most optimistic I”ve felt about this.”
The Starkville Board of Aldermen will vote whether or not to issue bonds for the project. The issue could be forced to a public vote by a petition signed by 10 percent of the population. If it goes to a vote, the issue would require a 60-percent affirmative vote to proceed.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.