Dumas: The culture has to change

September 28, 2011 12:45:00 PM

David Miller -


STARKVILLE -- It took two years for Starkville officials and dedicated residents to form the latest plan to improve its two most important civic facilities. 


Now, they're back to square one.  


Tuesday's failed bond referendum proved Starkville residents weren't ready to endorse a project that seemingly had significant support.  


No one doubted the need for a new police station; some questioned the logistics and the cost, even members of the citizen's committee that helped develop the plan. 


Still, officials felt the Starkville Municipal Facilities Master Plan was the best solution to a lingering problem.  


It was created by citizens, for citizens.  


It was touted as a potential catalyst for commercial growth in an underdeveloped sector of the city. 


So why did it bomb Tuesday? 


Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas thinks Starkville residents are a long way from realizing how great their city can be. 


"We're a town that hasn't risen to the occasion," Dumas said. "We're still wanting metal buildings for civic facilities. We're still wanting to rate our best as second best. I think it's a cultural thing that'll have to change over time." 


Tuesday's failed referendum is Starkville's fourth in 12 years and the latest since 2006. Starkville officials had worked with a citizens committee to iron out the latest facilities plan since late 2009.  


The effort wasn't reflected in the 44.5 percent of yes votes gained Tuesday night, partly due to apathy for the issue and an assumption from supporters that it would pass easily, Dumas said. 


"There were a lot of people who thought it was likely to work but didn't get out to support it," Dumas said. "And I'm not blaming them, but you got 3,000 people that came out to vote. I think, by and large, some folks got complacent." 


Mississippi State University continues to grow -- it recently became the first university in the state to surpass 20,000 students. MSU's growth has boomed by more than 2,500 students in the last three years alone. As MSU grows, so does the city and its need for more officers. 


The city's growth caused the Starkville Police Department's current issue of insufficient space and infrastructure, but it'll likely be a minimum of two years before another plan is presented to the public. 


"We'll just continue to do the best we can with what we've got," SPD Chief David Lindley said. 


Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman had hoped the citizen's committee's work in developing a plan would have given the community a sense of ownership when it came time to vote.  


"Obviously, that didn't happen," Wiseman said. 


Wiseman believes the city can overcome the negative momentum that stalled the referendum, but after pouring energy into the latest effort he isn't sure how to bridge the gap.  


Financing options for a project that'll likely run between $7-$9 million are few outside of bonding. The city weighed using Certificate of Participation loans and Mississippi Development Bank loans as two forms of funding which wouldn't count against Starkville's debt limit. However, changes in the city's valuation could change the terms of those loans. 


"Those are all options that you can put on the table, but for this project to ever work it's going to have to be something that is supported by the community," Wiseman said. "How do you rally the community support behind not just recognizing there is a need for facilities, but also rallying around the solution? We'll see where the board wants to go from here."