Starkville is moving forward with outsourcing its city parks management.
By a 5-2 margin, the board of aldermen officially approved a contract with third-party Sports Facilities Management to oversee and manage all city parks. SFM will work with the current Parks and Recreation Department to advance park operations and opportunities.
SFM already is contracted to manage Cornerstone Park, the city’s new $20-plus million baseball/softball complex under construction, and now will have a hand in managing programs at all city parks.
SFM Vice President of Account Management John Sparks addressed the board at its regular meeting Tuesday on the impact SFM can have on a community. The company manages all parks in Brandon, and Sparks said this partnership will allow Starkville to accomplish more goals and save money.
“I think we bring a level of stability and a level of detail to our operation,” Sparks said. “We have gone through with most of our organizations and developed community level packages for all different sporting events and community events as well, so there is a template.”
The city will pay SFM $15,000 monthly from general funds and its 2-percent hotel sales tax. Starkville can opt out of the contract at any time.
While Sparks informed the board that the company will be a “cost-saver” to the city, Mayor Lynn Spruill said the partnership is not intended as a revenue generator or cost-saver but as a way to broaden Starkville’s parks program.
“Hopefully (costs) will be offset, and it will actually be a cost savings by the time that (SFM) gets enough people in to participate in programs,” Spruill said. “… The goal is not so much that we save money, but more that we are making money, that we are offering programs that are much more robust and available to a wider number of children.”
Along with facility and program management, SFM will have training for coaches to better the sports-learning environments. Sparks acknowledged that not everybody can afford to play travel baseball, like what Cornerstone will consist of, and his company will offer programs to allow children to play sports for free at other parks throughout the city.
“There are a large number of children that just need community level play and they don’t know what they’re going to get tomorrow, the next day or the next year,” Sparks said. “So we want to get kids out on the fields, get them exposed to sports teams, camaraderie, things of that nature, and still be able to manage that in a disciplined and organized fashion.”
Even though SFM will manage parks, employees of Starkville Parks and Recreation Department will not be affected and will maintain their jobs. Sparks said he has analyzed every current employee and believes they will fit right into the mold and skill set of the company.
Sparks said under SFM, employees will have adequate benefits and even an increased payroll. Along with the employees already staffed, SFM will hire 14-16 full-time employees and 30-50 part-time employees ranging from marketing to guest service jobs.
“We have already done basically a matchup of positions,” Sparks said. “We feel very confident that every active employee that there is today, we would consume into the organization and take care of at an equal to a better scenario than what they currently have.”
Starkville Human Resources Director Navarrete Ashford said two employees have expressed they would not like to remain under Parks and Recreation once SFM takes over, and he said he will find other positions in the city.
Ward 5 Alderman Hamp Beatty, one of the dissenting votes, identified that many cities similar to Starkville, such as Oxford, Hattiesburg and Tupelo, do not outsource their parks, and he believes there are better alternatives.
“Why are we not capable of running a parks and recreation department for the city of Starkville?” Beatty said. “That is not a rhetorical question. … I just wonder how we got to the point of outsourcing our parks.”
While Sparks said his company typically hires 85 to 90 percent of its employees from the community it is serving, Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn, who also voted against outsourcing, said he does not want jobs that community members could work taken away by outside individuals.
“How many jobs are we going to lose and how many young people’s dreams are going to be destroyed because they have the idea that when they graduate from school they will get an opportunity to work for the city and do some of the things that parks and recreation will offer?” Vaughn said. “You’d be surprised at some of the people that pay attention to what we are doing.”
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said she approved of the partnership, citing that at some point all businesses transition management to someone new. She said she wants to see Starkville live on and prosper after she is off the board and hopes SFM will be a part of that.
“We’re going to take that leap of faith (and partner with SFM),” Sistrunk said. “If we get into it and determine at some point this doesn’t work for Starkville for whatever reason, we have opt-out ability with the contract.”
Golf cart ordinance
The board unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday allowing low-speed vehicles to be driven in certain parts of Starkville.
Low-speed vehicles means any four-wheeled electric or gasoline-powered vehicle that has a top speed greater than 20 mph but less than 25 mph and includes safety equipment.
Golf carts may be operated on public roads and streets in the city except streets that are Mississippi Department of Transportation highways and those that have an established speed limit of greater than 35 mph. Golf carts must use the outside lane of multilane streets and roads when applicable.
Drivers, who must have a valid driver’s license, are required to register their vehicle with the city’s clerk’s office and pay the $100 registration fee to receive a decal. If needed, drivers can also pay $5 for a replacement decal if it gets destroyed or misplaced.
Ward 4 Alderman Mike Brooks, who spearheaded the ordinance, said drivers are subject to all Mississippi highway laws, and Starkville Police Department will follow all rules and regulations for ticketing with low-speed vehicles as they would regular vehicles.
“It’s the same as driving a car,” Brooks said. “Don’t drive under the influence. Don’t park where you’re not supposed to park. You’re subject to the same rules.”