July 19, 2014 10:47:07 PM
Starkville school board members are expected to approve a transfer of almost $500,000 in excess 1986 bond monies to the city during a special board meeting Tuesday, which in turn will position the city government to legally transfer the money back for Greensboro Center renovations.
Once Starkville School District again receives the money, it could take about three months for planning and bidding processes to conclude before the district begins addressing structural deficiencies with the historic campus.
SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said he does not foresee adjusting the district's upcoming Fiscal Year 2014-2015 in correlation with the incoming money as those funds were approved almost 30 years ago specifically for renovation projects.
"The bond issue was to renovate the Greensboro Center, and the structural problems with those beams need to be rectified immediately," Holloway said. "Why would you not use the funds as the voters voted for? It could be a pretty intense effort because of the problems and the building's logistics."
The $474,081 in over-collected taxes became a sticking point between Mayor Parker Wiseman and Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins after the funds were discovered by city staff this spring. At that time, officials said that due to changing statutes and tax-paying entities, it is believed the over-collection occurred in part when the original millage rate to pay off the bond's principal and interest was not adequately adjusted after property value reassessments. Compounding interest helped balloon the amount as it laid dormant in a city fund.
Wiseman ordered City Clerk Lesa Hardin to transfer the funds to the school district since the money was approved by a mixture of Starkville and outlying Oktibbeha County voters. SSD's territory comprises a portion of land outside city limits.
Perkins, however, said the move was made without board authorization and sought legal clarity from the state attorney general's office to keep the funds. One opinion stated the city could reclaim the money, place them in its general fund and adjust its own millage rate accordingly next fiscal year, but Wiseman insisted the school district take the money since the city could not give county residents who helped pay additional taxes a break on next year's rates.
The mayor procured a second opinion from the state auditor's office that said the city could transfer the funds to its own school maintenance fund and presented a resolution to do so Tuesday.
The board split its vote 3-3, with Perkins, Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn opposing. Wiseman eventually cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of his own resolution.
One of two pending ethics complaints against the city alleges Vaughn should not vote in school board matters as he has a child who works for the district and lives with him. The Mississippi Ethics Commission warned him and former Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas last term against participating in school matters, and the Ward 7 alderman continued to recuse himself until a February vote that ousted former SSD Board of Trustees President Eddie Myles. Vaughn voted in favor of a new school board member, Juliete Reese.
In the February vote, both Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard recused themselves because of family ties to SSD. Walker's wife works for the system, while Maynard's son is also a school district employee.
Tuesday, Walker stayed for the vote while Maynard exited the courtroom. Walker said he was comfortable with voting in the matter after reading state statute carefully.
If Walker had recused, the vote would have gone against the mayor's wishes.
Aldermen also discussed a personnel matter associated with Hardin's actions Tuesday. Wynn made the city check's signature process an issue in open session, but no alderman explicitly said Hardin's actions were wrong.
Wiseman tempered discussions, saying Hardin was following his orders. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver also stumped for the city clerk, saying employees typically do what their bosses say.
Aldermen did not approve any action against the city clerk after executive session's conclusion.
Almost $1 million of the 1986 bond money was specifically earmarked for Greensboro Center remodeling and equipping. Thirty years later, a report says the facility is in grave need of repairs.
A March inspection by the Nashville, Tenn.-based Structural Design Group states the truss rods above the Greensboro Center's auditorium show "advanced decay." Additionally, inspectors found green growth, mud and other evidence of water infiltration inside the building. The structure's external façade and masonry also show deterioration, the report states.
The Greensboro Center's future use as SSD's administrative home is not clear due to 2015's state-mandated consolidation with the county system and other potential city transactions.
Holloway previously hinted at the combined city-county school administration moving its offices to the new City Hall once it is completed if Starkville acquires Cadence Bank's Main Street location for police usage. Logistically, the city could move its court system into the bank to free up space for school district offices.
The city formalized its negotiations with Cadence Tuesday. The bank wants about $2.5 million for its property. Starkville could fund a transaction with certificates of participation earmarked for current City Hall renovations and by selling lagoon property north of the city.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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