August 19, 2013 9:28:08 AM
Starkville aldermen formally motioned a $10,000 budget cut to the Mississippi Horse Park on Tuesday after the organization requested its annual allotment increased from $50,000 to $70,000.
Many of the city's outside contributions and transfers are expected to remain level at Fiscal Year 2013 amounts. Aldermen have until Sept. 15 to finalize the city's budget.
Before the board approached individual organizations' requests Tuesday, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins came out of the gate seeking to decrease the city's annual donation to the Horse Park. The city has given more than $1 million to the Miss. Horse Park since 1998, he said, and previously decreased its funding from an annual $70,000 contribution.
Further cuts, Perkins said, are necessary as the board faces other budgetary matters. The board's senior alderman stated numerous times this summer that he would oppose any tax increase. He voted against a 2.78-mill notice Tuesday that would help fund increased departmental requests, payments on capital improvement projects and a significant pay raise for city employees.
"That's moving in the direction I want to move in. I want to get to zero," Perkins said of the prior board's funding decrease. "I think we need to decrease it because there are a lot of other businesses that contribute to economic development and growth, but we do not give them a contribution. We have other important needs that we need to address."
Mayor Parker Wiseman recommended holding the line on that specific budget item, while Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn suggested cutting the entity's budget down to $25,000 annually.
"The fact of the matter is it's been well demonstrated how much this community benefits from the Horse Park," Wiseman said. "It's not at a level where it can sustain a cut of even $5,000 or $10,000. That will make an operational difference."
The $10,000 cut, motioned by Ward 3 Alderman David Little, passed 6-1 with little discussion. Prior to the vote, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver described the city's contribution as a great return on investment and said he was in favor of keeping the Horse Park's funding level.
Today, Miss. Horse Park Director Bricklee Miller will request $70,000 from county supervisors at their 5:30 p.m. meeting. The $70,000 requested from both the city and the county makes up 12 percent of the park's total operational budget. The remainder, she said in an email, come from event revenue and funding from Mississippi State University.
"The Miss. Horse Park is proud of the partnership between the city of Starkville, Oktibbeha County and MSU, and because of this successful collaboration, we have become a service to all and a leader in the industry," Miller said via email. "The Horse Park provides aesthetic and recreation benefits to our area and also serves as an engine that drives tourism, increasing municipal revenue, enhances property value and attracts homebuyers. We also support the mission of the MSU Extension Service through countless educational and outreach programs."
The Horse Park has hosted 498 events to date, averaging nine weeks per year without activity, Miller said in the email. In 2012, it hosted 42 events that attracted more than 45,000 visitors and generated an estimated $1.8 million in economic impact.
"I believe statistics like this validate the success and acknowledge we are a prioritized amenity to our community," Miller said via email.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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