July 29, 2014 10:10:31 AM
The Mississippi Attorney General's Office sent a letter to vice mayor Roy A. Perkins on Friday saying it would not provide further comment on a school money issue after aldermen approved the framework for a legal funds transfer in its last regular meeting.
Perkins filed his request a day before aldermen approved a motion backed by mayor Parker Wiseman on July 15 asking Starkville School District to return almost $500,000 in over-collections to Starkville so the city could then send the money back to the district in a more-palatable manner.
Since the board approved the matter -- the vote was split 3-3 until Wiseman broke the tie -- the AG's office said it cannot validate or invalidate past board action and would therefore not respond to Perkins' request with an official opinion.
Perkins previously urged aldermen to table the resolution until further clarity could be provided by the state office.
Since city staff discovered approximately $474,081 in surplus school district bond collections this spring, Perkins and Wiseman took differing positions on how the money should be managed. The mayor ordered City Clerk Lesa Hardin to issue a check to the school system since voters approved a 1986 bond for district improvements; however, Wiseman's order became a sticking point with Perkins, as the vice mayor said the check was wrongfully issued without board authority.
An AG opinion issued to board attorney Chris Latimer in June stated Starkville could take those funds and place them in its own general fund if the city offset next fiscal year's taxes by the same amount. Wiseman then unearthed up an older opinion stating the city could still transfer the money to the school system.
Both the mayor and SSD superintendent Lewis Holloway argued the funds should remain with the school system since the district's territory services Starkville residents and those who live in a small portion of outlying Oktibbeha County. County residents, the administrators said, would not receive a tax break if the city reduced its millage after taking in the funds.
Even though Wiseman took full blame for the check's issuance, aldermen punished Hardin by limiting her ability to pay bills without direct board authorization. The board rescinded that order a week later after a special-call meeting was required to make payroll payments -- aldermen balked at the idea of having additional meetings outside of their two regularly scheduled gatherings each month.
Hardin may again make payroll and other claims docket payments as long as the checks are signed by either Wiseman or a majority of the board. If Wiseman is absent, state statute allows Perkins to fill in as the main signee.
Due to changing statutes and tax authorities in the 1980s, it is believed the over-collection occurred when the original millage rate was not adjusted properly after numerous property value reassessments. Compounding interest helped increase the amount to the total discovered this spring.
Almost $1 million of the 1986 bond was specifically earmarked for Greensboro Center renovations, and the facility again needs significant structural improvements.
A millage adjustment due to the influx of school money is not expected.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
1. Ex-office manager arrested for embezzlement COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY