April 19, 2014 9:47:43 PM
As of the last formal census of 2010, Starkville has a population of 23,888. The most recent figure from 2012 is an official estimate of 24,360. So, in the past two years we have grown by roughly 472 people. If we project that rate of growth over the next eight years by 2020 we should have about 26,248 as our population base.
The value of a population increase in any city is multifold. A few of the benefits include such things as enhanced transportation grant opportunities, recognition in the area as the center of the region (a star on the Rand-McNally Atlas), and enhanced visibility for economic development opportunities. Bragging rights if you will. It also takes population to get the retail that we want so much.
During my earliest years I recall Columbus as the place that had all the fun things to do. There was a Shipley's Donuts on Highway 82 across from Propst Park and at that time Starkville didn't have one. I spent lots of time in Columbus with my mother shopping at Ruth's and Pryor's which were the "good dress stores" in the area or so my mother thought (much to my father's chagrin).
Columbus had the first McDonald's, then the standard bearer for fast food. We couldn't wait to get there for a Big Mac and fries. My first trip with my new driver's license was for a Quarter-pounder with cheese. All Starkville had at the time was a Burger King and it just couldn't compare. Columbus had the enclosed mall and good restaurants. It had a skating rink and a big park and my folks could buy a beer with their barbecue. Starkville couldn't come close to that. And so in the 1960 census Columbus had 24,771 for a population count. Starkville had only 9,041.
Fast forward to today. The tables have turned and now Columbus is losing population. Based on the same census report that shows Starkville continuing to grow, Columbus has lost people since the 2010 census. In 2010 Columbus had an official count of 23,640; as of 2012 they are down to 23,452. Am I gloating, no, but do I want Starkville to take its rightful place as the population center in the Golden Triangle Area, absolutely. The county statistics are still in Lowndes favor, but not so skewed as they were in previous decades. Lowndes is larger than Oktibbeha by 15,177 as of 2010.
One of the things that will quickly provide a population increase to a city is an annexation. Annexation is a complicated procedure with many steps and many hurdles to jump through to make it happen but it can reap huge benefits. The first being the automatic increase in population that will work to keep our city the center of the Golden Triangle municipal universe. The second is the increase in the value of the property that is taxable.
It has been 16 years since the city of Starkville increased its territory. The 1998 annexation was in hindsight not a particularly well planned maneuver. The areas annexed required more services from the city than the investment would provide in tax revenue to support it. It took us almost 15 years to get the final statutorily required infrastructure services set for the new residents. Now is the time to move ahead with the next one. This time we need to get more commercial property in order to support the services that have to be provided to the new residents. There are a number of existing commercial areas just a few steps outside the city in Oktibbeha County that would fit nicely under the Starkville umbrella with very little stretching or struggle. There are also some large commercial projects coming on line in the county that should be in the city. These areas on the immediate outskirts are getting all the benefits of living in the city without sharing in some basic costs.
And wouldn't the university be a great addition to our city limits. Starkville currently provides fire service and public service utilities through a contractual arrangement with MSU. It would be a fine thing to be able to say that MSU is now in the city of Starkville just like Columbus can say that MUW is in Columbus.
It used to be the two separate school districts were an impediment to such a bold move, but with the impending school consolidation that is no longer an issue. By the time a proper study could be done to determine the new borders and how services should be distributed, the consolidation process would be done.
The cooperative spirit that has been strengthened between the city, county and university could be cemented to showcase the single largest and most potentially unstoppable growth and development step for our area that we have ever seen. How about it Starkville, let's take it up another notch. Let's get our population over the 30,000 mark before the 2020 census.
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5. Editorial cartoon for 10-12-15 NATIONAL COLUMNS