July 23, 2014 10:14:57 AM
Starkville aldermen rescinded a previous motion limiting City Clerk Lesa Hardin's ability to pay bills after a special-call meeting was needed Tuesday for the city to make payroll payments.
After Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins expressed his displeasure with the city clerk and Mayor Parker Wiseman over the issuance of an almost-$500,000 check to Starkville School District without board approval, the board passed a motion last week requiring their approval of all payments, regardless of source, before the clerk can issue a check.
A special-call meeting was needed yesterday because the clerk could not pay bills as she previously could, and aldermen balked at the idea of having additional, non-regular meetings to make payments.
After repeatedly amending a motion brought to the table by board attorney Chris Latimer, aldermen unanimously rubberstamped provisions of state law that allow a municipality's city clerk to issue payments.
Hardin may make payroll and other claims docket payments as long as the checks are signed by either Mayor Parker Wiseman or a majority of the board of aldermen. If Wiseman is out of town, statute allows Perkins to fill in as the main signee.
Aldermen then approved the city's bills 4-2 Tuesday, with Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn opposing. Perkins and Vaughn usually vote against the city's payment of its own bills and again did so despite the docket containing a $150,903.70 expense for Carver Drive's drainage project, a long-fought capital improvement plan championed by both aldermen.
After the meeting, aldermen told Hardin and Wiseman they were trying to develop an additional layer of protection for themselves, the two administrators and the city as a whole.
Tension over the city clerk's ability to issue checks arose after Wiseman ordered her to repay the city school system $474,081 in over-collected taxes from a 1986 school bond. Perkins said the check was issued without board approval, but Wiseman said the system deserved the money because its voters -- a combination of city and county residents -- supported the previous bond referendum.
State statute would have allowed the city to reclaim the money, but it would then have to adjust property taxes accordingly. Residents living outside the city but within SSD's territory could not have enjoyed a millage rate reduction.
Wiseman offered a compromise on the matter last week that would allow the school district to send the money back to the city so Starkville then could legally transfer it back to SSD.
The resolution was approved after Wiseman broke a 3-3 tie.
School board members approved the district's transfer Tuesday, but SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said the exchange does not mean the school system loses its claim to the money if aldermen again attempt to take the money.
"If the city decides to keep the money and put in general fund, everybody loses," he said after Tuesday's special-call school board meeting.
Last week, Holloway said SSD is unlikely to adjust its operating millage if it takes in the additional $500,000.
Almost $1 million of the 1986 bond was specifically earmarked for Greensboro Center renovations, and the facility again needs significant work. Its 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.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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