The city of Starkville’s proposed budget will not require any tax increases for the upcoming year.
City budget chairwoman Sandra Sistrunk, who represents Ward 2 on the board of aldermen, presented the proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year at the board’s work session Friday. After spending time revamping the budget alongside City Clerk Lesa Hardin, she said property taxes will remain at 30.13 mills.
While there were some minor changes “here and there,” Sistrunk said, total revenues and total expenses did not change. For example, revenue from last year’s fire truck purchase in the fire department budget will now fund the police department’s new body cameras.
“For the most part, our budget is relatively unchanged from one year to the next,” Sistrunk said.
The board will hold its second public hearing on the budget and possibly bring it to a vote at its regular board meeting Tuesday.
The general fund is the primary part of the city’s budget, Sistrunk said, because the general fund drives millage rates, or how much property taxes are. While some of the dollars come from licenses, permits, fines and forfeits, most of the money is generated from taxes.
“Most of our money comes from sales taxes, property taxes and other intergovernmental revenues like the road and bridge tax from (Oktibbeha) county, railroad tax, just an assortment of things,” Sistrunk said.
The largest line item in the general fund budget is for personnel — 57 percent. This expense covers all city employee salaries and a new salary survey the city will administer to all employees.
“They’re our biggest resource,” Sistrunk said. “They’re our biggest asset, and they’re our biggest expense. They account for nearly 60 percent of our general fund budget across our varying departments.”
Worked into the proposed budget is a $1.5 million capital improvement fund. Sistrunk said the city has worked to achieve this large sum for capital improvements for several years. While an exact spending plan for capital improvements has not yet been developed, city engineer Edward Kemp said he will bring a proposed road plan to the board in the coming weeks.
Funding has also been budgeted for two juvenile beds at the Lowndes County Juvenile Detention Center in Columbus. Mayor Lynn Spruill, along with Youth Court Judge Lydia Quarles, has advocated for renting space from the juvenile center to help minors in the area who may have committed crime or violence. The total cost for the two beds will be $91,250 per year.
After personnel, the greatest portion of the general fund account will go toward public service — 47 percent dedicated to police, courts and fire.
“The vast majority of our money (for service areas) goes to fire and police,” Sistrunk said.
Starkville continues to expand its retail businesses amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Starkville native Jennifer Gregory of Birmingham-based Retail Strategies addressed the board during Friday’s planning session on the potential of new businesses coming soon to Starkville. After partnering with the city for approximately seven years, Gregory said her company works with existing property owners and developers to bring retail businesses and restaurants to the city.
“Our goal is to be a liaison between the city and the community and national retailers,” Gregory said.
Starkville announced in June that a Jacks would open soon in the city, located on Louisville Street. Gregory said that partnership has been in the works for nearly two years.
Gregory said Retail Strategies also has leads of retailers wanting to move into property in the Kroger shopping center.
Retail Strategies collects new data every year to determine information about the population of Starkville’s retail shoppers rather than focusing on city population because people from all over the Golden Triangle visit Starkville to shop retail. The company uses mobile tracking to create a customized trade area of customers.
“We can determine who the true customers are to our retailers currently,” Gregory said. “As we all know, that extends to Winston County, Webster County, Clay and Lowndes. Anecdotally, I know some people who come (to Starkville) just to shop at the Kroger.”
Gregory said not much inventory for new businesses is left along Highway 12 of Starkville, the most prominent location for retailers. She said Retail Strategies is currently working to promote and market other locations throughout the city such as Highways 182 and 389.
“The challenge is folks don’t like to be the first,” Gregory said. “They don’t want to be the first ones to open a location somewhere… They want to go where it’s safe.”
Gregory said she has been recommending potential business partners to the area near Cornerstone Park, where the city’s new baseball sportsplex is currently under construction. She said a hotel or convenience store would bring much traction to that part of the city.
“We want to keep business in Starkville, and these businesses would not open if they would not be successful here,” Gregory said.