Mayor Parker Wiseman hopes to officially begin the search for a tax-neutral financing for the ongoing municipal facilities plan today.
Wiseman said the Board of Aldermen could discuss a request for project proposal to test the market for companies interested in striking a public-private partnership. Wiseman believes a renovated and remodeled City Hall could be an attractive space for urban development, with the possibility of leasing newly created office space to help offset the project’s price tag.
The third failed bond referendum to fund new police and City Hall facilities fell more than 15 percent short of the needed votes in September.
“One of the common phrases I heard leading up to the referendum is this is a project that needs to go back to the drawing board,” Wiseman said. “A big public mandate we have now is that this project is going to have to come in at a lower cost. That’s where the idea of public-private partnership becomes very appealing.”
Taylor Adams, president of the Mississippi Association of Governmental Purchasing and Property Agents, is providing Wiseman with research on the growing trend in public-private part nerships. Should the city find any suitors for the project, Adams could eventually assist in crafting the contract with the private company.
Adams, a Starkville native who works at Mississippi State University, said it’s impossible to give a market forecast for what kind of response the city may get. However, he’s encouraged the by growing number of partnerships across the country.
“I’m excited about where we could be going,” Adams said, “but I don’t think it would be fair to guess where we would end up.”
Despite the potential to reduce project costs and burden on taxpayers, Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn said the city is better off letting the dust settle before diving back into another municipal facilities plan.
During a board work session last week, Vaughn left shortly into Adams’ presentation.
“People are tired of talking about it,” Vaughn said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s a good time to bring it back up. The mayor would be better off leaving that alone. He is going to end up losing votes worrying about another municipal building plan. We’ve got other things to address.”
Starkville is only gathering information, and a deal would require new specifications and complicated contracts, both of which would require considerable time to complete. Both the city and private company also would have to evaluate shared resources and establish a detailed business model. The city also would seek stakeholder support.
Public-private partnerships are still an underutilized method to completing jobs that municipalities would build or run anyway, Adams said. More common partnerships include cities contracting services such as water and waste removal. Gulfport partnered with a private company to handle all of its public works — sewer, drainage and customer service — and saves approximately $500,000 a year.
Locally, the city has partnered with Mississippi State University and a private investment group to construct the CottonMill Marketplace, a multipurpose event venue with a hotel, merchant space and research space. Mississippi University for Women has a contract with Sodexo to handle its facilities management department.
Wiseman said searching for a partnership was a thought while working on the latest facilities plan, but he thought gaining community consensus would be best reached by forming a citizens committee, which ultimately settled on the $8.45 million bond referendum.
“It took us down a path of doing a traditional government building project,” Wiseman said. “Now you have a common thread in all of these partnerships in that these are projects or services the government entity would normally do. Now, finding someone who’d be interested in making a profit is best answered by the market. Hopefully, we’ll know what’s possible.”
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