Starkville aldermen will review a new special events policy from the city planning department when they meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
The policy revamp, which has the stated goal of making the special events application process smoother and easier for both applicants and city officials, comes after the city received sharp criticism and a federal lawsuit for initially denying a request from Starkville Pride to host a LGBT pride parade.
The new policy is about half as long as the old, at 13 pages, compared to the current policy’s 26.
It includes, however, at least one major potential change, in that it provides aldermen options to consider for charging for some, all or no in-kind services provided from the city.
During Friday’s work session, Community Development Director Buddy Sanders said the board can decide what option it wants to include in the new policy.
Four options are included with the updated policy.
The first option is similar to the city’s current policy, where event applicants pay an application fee and security deposit that scales up based on the expected number of participants. The security deposit is refundable if no damage or excess costs occur, according to the policy.
Under the second option, applicants would pay the fee, security deposit and pay fully for city services.
The third option allows the city to create a list of city-sponsored events, such as the Christmas Parade, Martin Luther King Jr. Walk, Bulldog Bash, Cotton District Arts Festival and others, which would see all fees and security deposits waived. Other events would require payment for city services, unless aldermen choose to offer in-kind services.
The final option would see the city offer a base amount of in-kind services for an approved special event, and the applicant would pay for any excesses. For example, the city might offer two police officers, two firemen and two sanitation workers for two hours of in-kind service. If the event requires more than two hours, the applicant would pay the city for the overage.
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, speaking to The Dispatch, said she’s still studying the policy. However, she said she thinks aldermen need to be careful when decided how to proceed, as charging for in-kind services may impact event applicants in ways the board may not “fully intend.”
“If we’re going to start charging people, if that’s the will of the board, I think we’re going to have to be very thoughtful about how we develop a charge structure,” she said. “There is a cost to the city for providing in-kind services, but there’s a benefit to the city as well in having events and activities going on.”
She also said, should the city decide to start charging for in-kind services, it needs to treat similar groups similarly.
“We need to be very mindful of treating like groups alike,” she said. “We might do one thing for events sponsored by a 501(c)3, and we might do one thing for events sponsored by for-profit groups.
“We may do nothing at all,” she added. “We may want to say we’re a town that does like having these events and wants to keep offering services.”
In unrelated action, the city will likely accept a bid for the first phase of planned road work at Tuesday’s meeting.
City Engineer Edward Kemp said the city received a low bid of $886,997 from Columbus-based Falcon Contracting Company for the work, which includes 5.34 total miles of patching, overlay and striping work along 18 streets.
Kemp said the bid is lower than the city’s estimated $906,762 for the work, which might free additional funds for later phases.
“Overall, we’re probably 2- to 4-percent below budget on this, so we’re going to continue to monitor that,” Kemp said. “Obviously any savings realized will be rolled into the coming years as well.”
Kemp says he Falcon already has some equipment stationed in Starkville from work on other projects, which should allow work to begin quickly. He said he expects it should begin in about two weeks, if aldermen accept the bid on Tuesday. He said the contract length is 75 days and, barring unexpected major issues, it should be easily completed within that time frame.
The street work is the first phase of work included in a years-long infrastructure project. In the fall, the city approved a $7.5 million bond issuance for street, sidewalk, drainage and traffic control improvements.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said she’s happy to see the work getting ready to start.
“I’m very pleased to see us get going on it, and it’s going to happen sooner than we expected because the low bidder is already staged in town,” Spruill said. “So it’ll be happening hopefully in the next week or two and we’re going to keep the public well updated on where these repairs and overlays will be being made so they can avoid those areas.”
A full list of projects the city is addressing through the infrastructure program is available at the “Capital Improvement” link in the Engineering and Street Departments section on www.cityofstarkville.org.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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