October 11, 2013 10:13:52 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
All that is left of the former Starkville Electric Department's Main Street facility is a portion of its front façade.
Demolition workers Thursday tore down the old building, making way for construction of Starkville's new, $6.7 million City Hall. Once construction begins, the facility should be completed by 18 months. The two-story building will house city operations, court and various internal departments.
After site plans were debuted in April, the building was covered for most of the summer while workers removed asbestos. Demolition crews began their work early Thursday morning, and backhoes continued clearing rubble through the afternoon.
A major point of contention in the June municipal election, Mayor Parker Wiseman staked his campaign on the board-approved plan, while numerous aldermen candidates and former Republican Mayoral candidate Dan Moreland attacked the initiative, saying it was pushed forward against the will of the people.
In June 2012, then-aldermen OK'd a resolution to construct the facility and renovate the current City Hall for Starkville Police Department's sole use. Residents previously defeated an $8.45 million bond referendum that would have funded construction of a municipal facility at the intersection of Miss. Highway 182 and Jackson Street.
The active plan utilizes money in the city's budget, soon-to-be retired debt and projected revenues toward a 20-year lease-purchase agreement funded by certificates of participation. Unlike the 2011 bond referendum, the city's move does not require a tax increase.
Board opponents, including Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins, said this summer the project was choking the city's budget and forced a tax increase. Monies to fund debt service were already in the budget before aldermen approved a 1.98-mill tax increase to satisfy increasing departmental costs, a pay raise for city employees and an increase to Starkville Parks Commission's operating budget.
The board also moved up a pending pay raise for themselves and Wiseman by a year on the same day they approved the tax increase.
The construction plan was also challenged legally after its approval by resident William McGovern. He first filed a 2012 appeal with circuit court -- only to be rescinded and filed again with Oktibbeha County Chancery Court -- and then a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission accusing the city of violating the city's open meetings law while developing the matter.
Oktibbeha County Chancery Judge Jim Davidson's December 2012 ruling stated "due process requirements of law" were met by the city and allegations of open meetings violations were "collateral and have no bearing upon the ultimate decision."
The MEC ruled the city failed to strictly comply with the state's Open Meetings Act and simply warned officials about their actions.
An appeal was later filed with the Mississippi Supreme Court in January but later dismissed.
McGovern died almost a day before city officials unveiled City Hall renderings.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch