August 7, 2014 10:53:42 AM
An effort led by Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins to execute a purchase contract for Cadence Bank's Main Street branch was delayed by his fellow board members Tuesday after other aldermen said proper due diligence studies, including cost projections for renovations and a proper site inspection, were needed before the city formally acquires the property.
Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn were on the losing side of a hat trick of motions that positioned the city for those studies, including a determination of the facility's operational costs, from staffing issues to utility expenses, as requested by Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker.
When Starkville entered into a letter of intent last month for the building's potential purchase, the city and Cadence agreed upon a 120-day timeframe to work out the transaction's details.
City leaders believe the Cadence Bank purchase is still a viable option for the city, as it will provide Starkville Police Department a better-prepared base of operations compared to City Hall after planned renovations are completed. The $2.55 million acquisition, Mayor Parker Wiseman and Chief Administrative Officer Taylor Adams repeatedly said Tuesday, is not expected to create a tax increase.
To fund the almost-39,000-square-foot facility's purchase, the city is expected to shift over $1.27 million in certificates of participation previously earmarked for renovations to the current City Hall and sell lagoon property north of the city for an estimated $400,000-$600,000. Starkville could also procure another estimated $800,000 by selling its current administrative home.
The acquisition would answer a decades-long standing question about how and where to give SPD a proper home.
Perkins also tipped his hand for the facility's future use when he motioned that the structure also contain Starkville's municipal court system. City leaders previously forecasted the move, but Tuesday's motion was the first time the issue came to light in public discussions.
Starkville School District Superintendent Lewis Holloway previously told The Dispatch a deal could be struck that would move SSD's administrative offices, which will become the countywide school system's administration after state-mandated consolidation next year, into Starkville's new city hall facility.
Introducing his agenda item Tuesday, Perkins repeatedly grilled Adams over projected costs, revenue sources and the potential that the deal would not increase taxes. Board attorney Chris Latimer then read aloud a motion prepared for Perkins that allowed the city to move forward with the purchase contract.
Perkins called for a roll-call vote on the matter despite no tangible sales contract from Cadence. The only additional information Ward 3 Alderman David Little said he was aware of from the previous meeting was that the city received appraisals for its property.
Both Little and Walker objected to moving forward on a deal without knowing the facility's true operating costs.
"We don't want to be house poor and spend everything to get in there and then can't keep it up. This is going to be a big expense, and I think we need to slow down and do our due diligence," Little said.
"This potentially might be the best solution for (SPD), but we don't know yet. The numbers that have been presented are very broad strokes," Walker added. "What happens when we get into the building? Are we not going to give police officers raises? Are we not going to hire more police officers?"
Perkins countered by saying the board's appetite for a purchase changed since aldermen were about to support a $5 million economic development bond issuance to produce a major, shovel-ready industrial park in West Starkville. Unlike the pending bond resolution, the property purchase, he argued, would not spur a tax increase, and city employees have not unveiled additional revenues the Starkville could receive for lease agreements with SSD for administrative space.
"I don't think there are any unknowns at this table tonight. The matter is ready to move forward," Perkins said. "This is ideal; we are here. This is what the voters have said -- we need a downtown location."
Both Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn and Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard attempted to amend Perkins' resolution for two of the due diligence studies, but the longest-tenured board representative declined their respective offers.
The vice mayor's original motion was defeated 4-3, with only Perkins, Wynn and Vaughn supporting the matter. Wynn's two amendments emerged as individual motions, and both passed 5-2 with Perkins and Vaughn opposing.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said if he was provided more-concrete information on the transaction, he would then be ready to vote on the issue. He described the city's current knowledge of the potential transaction as "some of the most general financing work" he's seen in his time as alderman.
"Other than two slides on a projector, that's all I've seen on this. A previous alderman once told me to let the pot simmer on an issue, and I don't think the pot has simmered enough," Carver said. "If you want to kill this deal with my vote, don't give me any more information. I don't think anyone in here can vote with what we've been given. I don't think that's fair for the citizens."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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