June 20, 2013 10:47:10 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Although Tuesday marked the last official meeting for current Starkville board of aldermen, city officials declined to take action on numerous issues, leaving them for the new board to deal with when it convenes for the first time in July.
In its farewell meeting, the board took no action Tuesday on numerous city board appointments. Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk also left a warning for the incoming board: solving Starkville Parks Commission's budget issues will be up to new aldermen.
The board also shot down a proposed redevelopment district for the Highway 182 and Russell Street corridors, two highly-traveled arteries connecting the city and Mississippi State University to downtown. Mayor Parker Wiseman said the incoming board could take the matter up again in the next term if aldermen show the initiative.
Appointments can wait
Before the start of Tuesday's meeting, Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn was successful in removing pending appointments to the city's parks, election commission and planning and zoning boards, but he was unable to find support to also remove a budget report on SPC's finances. Vaughn also attempted to remove the board's attempt to establish three historic districts - areas approved for Greensboro and Nash streets, but held over for further study for the Overstreet district - and call a special public hearing in the next term for the potential abolishment of Starkville Historic Preservation Commission's enabling ordinance. He found no support other bord membres for that effort, ,however. Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas supported passing the three board appointments to the next set of aldermen. Those appointments, he said, should be made when the soon-to-be-expired terms actually end, not before.
Parks commission members Scott Maynard and Chris Taylor submitted their letters of resignation last week. By law, Maynard must give up his seat because of his new duties as Ward 5 aldermen; Taylor, who holds leadership positions with the Oktibbeha County Democratic Party and the county NAACP chapter, cited other time commitments as the reason behind his early exit. Taylor represented Ward 7 for SPC.
SPC member Dorothy Isaac currently holds the Ward 6 seat which expires at the end of the month. She and three other Starkville residents -- LeKesha Perry, Betty Robertson and Jane Loveless -- have announced their interest in serving on the board.
Terms for the entire Starkville Municipal Election Commission's five-person board also expire with the end of the board's term. The city had only received three letters of interest by Friday.
Only one resident submitted a letter of interest for an expected Starkville Planning and Zoning vacancy. Incoming Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker resigned his seat in preparation for the move to the board.
City Clerk Taylor Adams' report on SPC's budget issues drew little discussion from aldermen Tuesday, but Sistrunk did say she was disappointed the current board did not take a more active approach to solve financing and management issues.
The department's Fiscal Year 2012 audit drew harsh criticisms from across the political spectrum in the past election cycle. Some, including Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey, had called upon the city to reign in the autonomous board, while Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins likened a city-commissioned study on department's current fiscal standing to a political football. Adams' report was first scheduled for the June 4 board meeting - Election Day - but was postponed until Tuesday.
Sistrunk, a retired accountant, highlighted a key issue the incoming board of aldermen will face: SPC's operating cash is decreasing while its payable accounts are increasing.
The city's report, which initially was made public in preparation for the June 4 meeting, states procedural gaps in SPC's electric bill payments exist and accounts were shown to be beyond the 45-day legal payment window. The autonomous entity owed Starkville Electric Department more than $103,000 as of May 23, the report states, and is estimated to owe about $180,000 for overdue fees and forecasted usage through the fiscal year.
SPC has a guaranteed revenue stream of $70,000 a month from the city for operations, she said, but its payroll, benefits and electric bills are a little more than $70,000 on average per month. In May, the Dispatch also confirmed that about $12 remained from SPC's annual $180,000 allotment of 2 percent food and beverage tax returns.
Sistrunk said she previously hoped the board of aldermen would form a committee to investigate how to resolve SPC's funding and management issues, but that action "frequently was stymied in the name of (the city) trying not to do something political."
"When it's operational and financial issues, it's not political," she said. "It's going to be very difficult for them to provide services for the rest of this fiscal year."
"This is one of those issues that we've talked about before where one board hands something off cleanly or not cleanly to the next board. There are financial problems that are longer reaching than we've talked about," she added. "Their trending is bad; there are problems in the audit. This is something that (the current and future boards of aldermen) cannot address with an autonomous body short of them also being willing to come to the table. To this point, there's been no willingness...aside from the fact they indicated back in December that they would be asking for an additional $120,000 to true up their electric bill. That number by the end of the year will be $180,000 rather than $120,000. Those of you who will be on the board, that's something you'll have to address."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch