STARKVILLE — The city of Starkville will soon negotiate a contract with private company Sports Facilities Management to manage all city parks.
The board of aldermen unanimously approved this negotiation Tuesday as a way to improve the overall quality of Starkville’s parks. SFM will work with the current Parks and Recreation Department to advance park operations and opportunities.
SFM already manages Cornerstone Park, the city’s new baseball complex, and now will manage every other complex and park within the city. SFM Account Executive John Sparks addressed the board at its regular meeting Tuesday on the benefits of this partnership.
“Our goal is to merge the kids of the ‘haves’ and have nots,’ so the ‘have nots’ have the opportunity to excel in similar sports activities as the ‘haves,’” Sparks said.
Along with management, SFM will also offer programming for individuals in the area such as new sporting activities and juvenile crime reduction programs. The company will also have training for coaches and implement new safety measures.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said this contract is a professional and strategic way to improve the overall quality of city parks.
“I do think the additional programming, like lacrosse, the things we haven’t seen yet, is an opportunity to introduce kids to things that they have not yet done,” Spruill said.
Starkville Parks and Recreation Director Brandon Doherty said he is excited about the board’s approval of this contract and is eager to see where the partnership goes. He said he hopes for a positive outcome and that the company fulfills all obligations based on whatever negotiations will be made.
“I think that SFM brings a lot of things to the table that we currently can’t accomplish,” Doherty said. “I think that as the city moves forward to grow and expand, there are a lot of opportunities to using them.”
Because the city has not voted on the price of the contract at this time, no costs have been set for the contract yet.
Juvenile detention center
The board unanimously approved renting two beds from the Lowndes County Detention Center in Columbus.
Spruill has been in discussion with Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Trip Hairston for several months about the possibility of reserving beds dedicated to Starkville juveniles. Due to a recent spike of crime in the city, Spruill said this is an opportunity to help troubled children in the city find improvement.
“What I was trying to get the city to do was to participate in how we might give them as many tools as possible to help us be responsive to the concerns of the community,” Spruill said.
In May, Spruill called a meeting with regional counties and municipalities to discuss a potential juvenile detention center for all of the Golden Triangle because Starkville did not have its own detention facility. Lowndes County owns a detention center, but the center’s annual budget of just short of $1 million only allows the county to utilize six of its 24 beds, Hairston told The Dispatch in July.
This approved contract will now allow more employees to be staffed at the center while in turn ensuring Starkville has two beds for juveniles at all times whenever the city needs them.
“There is a difficulty in getting detention beds for juveniles,” Spruill said. “This is not jail. The most they can be in there is for 90 days and usually they are in there for a significantly less period of time.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said he greatly approves of the contract with Lowndes County because Starkville will not have to spend millions of dollars on building their own detention facility.
“The way that this arrangement is in order is a pretty good bang for your buck,” Carver said. “I know we’ve had a spike in crime since COVID, and a lot of times it’s youth that are just maybe at a different place in their life, and this just is an opportunity for them to try a different treatment or method other than what we traditionally try in a youth court system.”
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk called attention to the fact that this contract is not permanent and can be terminated in the future if the city does not want to continue the partnership.
Starkville resident Mia Robertson addressed the board during the citizens’ comments section of the meeting, concerned about placing youth in a detention center. She said this plan would produce devastating impacts and increase those juveniles’ imprisonment possibilities drastically.
According to one study at the University of Washington, she said, researchers found that just one stay in juvenile detention increases the likelihood of felony recidivism by 33 percent.
“Young people do not belong in jail,” said Robertson with a shaking voice and tears in her eyes. “They deserve to be supported and provided for by our community… Our kids don’t belong in jail.”
She presented the board with a petition signed by 150 people who agreed with her beliefs regarding juvenile detention.
The board also unanimously approved the budget and tax levy for the 2021 fiscal year.
The board discussed fund allocations at its work session Friday, finding that there would be no tax increases for the upcoming year. Sistrunk, who is the board budget chairwoman, said the majority of revenue will go into the city’s general fund, which pays personnel costs and funds public service.
“For the most part, our budget is relatively unchanged from one year to the next,” Sistrunk said.