In support of Wiseman
As a 13-year resident of Starkville and an active volunteer who loves this community, I am very concerned about the upcoming mayoral election in our community and the misguided information that surrounds the campaign. I have heard numerous comments regarding Starkville’s high taxes, over burdensome regulations, and unfriendly business environment. Let me present some facts about these issues.
First, at 20-mills the City of Starkville has one of the lowest tax millage rates in the state. Please understand that the taxes we pay include city and county taxes as well as Starkville School District (SSD) taxes. Oftentimes the city gets blamed, but the high rates typically come from the county, which is the case here in Starkville. In our case, the city’s rate is 20-mills, the county is 110.97-mills, and the SSD is 62.96-mills. So it takes 62.96-mills to maintain our school district, but we think maintaining our city on 20 is high? For reference, the city’s last tax increase, approved by Republican and Democrat aldermen, was 0.45 mills. So a 1-mill difference is tremendous. Also understand that of the 173.93-mills that you pay as a city resident, only 11.5% is actually a city tax.
As a city, Starkville has the lowest millage rate in the Golden Triangle (Columbus: 37.63; West Point: 36.81; Starkville: 20). Starkville has the lowest millage rate of the three major college towns in the state (Hattiesburg: 46.92; Oxford: 27.25; Starkville: 20). Of the 10 cities with populations between 21,000 and 26,000, Starkville has the lowest millage rate (Horn Lake: 42; Pascagoula: 39.55; Clinton: 38.74; Columbus: 37.63; Vicksburg: 35.88; Madison: 28.80; Brandon: 23.00; Pearl: 21.50; Ridgeland: 20.03; Starkville: 20). With 20,000 students at Mississippi State University and 60,000 people in Starkville every football weekend, our infrastructure must support traffic that at least doubles our 24,000 population. Those numbers compare us more to Meridian (50.84), Southaven (43.73), and Biloxi (30.10). So based on this data, the City of Starkville has one of the lowest millage rates in the state. More information can be found on the Mississippi Department of Revenue Web site (www.dor.ms.gov).
Most citizens are unaware, but the Ad Valorem taxes generated in Starkville do not even cover the basic needs of the city such as police and fire protection, infrastructure, equipment, sanitation, government, and so forth. Our current 20-mill rate results in approximately $4 million in revenues each year. The cost of police and fire protection alone is over $8 million. Property taxes only account for $4 million of the overall budget of $65 million to manage the city. I do not like tax increases either, but cities must raise taxes periodically just to cover increases in costs. How many people still budget $1.50 per gallon for gas? Then why is our city expected to do just that? For the record, Parker Wiseman has not mentioned a tax increase as being part of his plan for the future despite what his opponent has suggested.
I would also like to address the great things that have happened related to our sales tax revenue over the past 4 years. Since 2009, Starkville has seen a 9% increase in sales tax revenue and an 8.8% increase in Food and Beverage tax revenue, even during a recession and down economy. Countywide, we have seen a 30% increase in tourism-related spending, which is also an incredible feat during a down economy. Recently, mayoral candidate Dan Moreland attributed the increase in sales tax revenue to the rising cost of groceries. This comment is extremely disappointing to me. I have been fortunate enough to have played a small role in the tourism efforts here in Starkville over the past few years. I will say that we have one of the best tourism organizations in the region in the Greater Starkville Development Partnership (GSDP). Their work branding Starkville as “Mississippi’s College Town” has transformed this community into the quality of life hub of the Golden Triangle. The GSDP has made visiting Starkville a weekend event during football season instead of the simple day trip that it was 5 years ago. We now have at least five new Friday night events during the fall in addition to several events in the spring and summer. Their marketing efforts have changed the negative perceptions that many had of our community. We are seen as being one of the leaders in the state. People are excited about Starkville for the first time in a long time. Our local restaurants have allowed us to become a dining destination in the region, which is something that is unique to us. National chains like Olive Garden and Logan’s Roadhouse would not have the same effect. There are so many other efforts that I could mention, but this gives you an idea. So instead of realizing and appreciating all of these efforts, Moreland attributes our community’s success to rising grocery costs? He obviously is disconnected from the realities of this community. He does not see our potential. With his comments about Starkville being an “unfriendly job community,” he obviously does not realize the impact that Starkville’s quality of life had on the recruitment of large industries to the Golden Triangle. Also, if Starkville is “one of the most unfriendly business communities in the state” as Moreland says, then why are so many local businesses supporting the current mayor, Parker Wiseman?
So with a Main Street that is at least 80% occupied, 30% increase in tourism spending, 9% increase in sales tax revenue, 8.8% increase in Food and Beverage tax revenues, multiple new businesses, two or three new hotels, and the best town/gown relationship this community has ever had, one must wonder why Dan Moreland wants to take us in “a new direction” as his campaign slogan suggests. As a fellow resident of Starkville, I am asking you to support Parker Wiseman for mayor so that he can keep our community heading in the right direction.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.