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City prioritizes capital projects

January 15, 2012

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

On the second day of its retreat Saturday, the Starkville Board of Aldermen set priorities for its list of capital improvement projects with the aid of Demery Grubbs, a consultant from Government Consultants, Inc. of Jackson.
Grubbs has held a series of meetings with the board in June and November, asking the aldermen to list capital improvement ideas and prioritize them. Grubbs compiled the aldermen’s lists into a master list of 63 projects, and the board set further prioritization for these items on Saturday.
Absent from the meeting were Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins. Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker left the meeting about 30 minutes early to coach a children’s basketball game.
Grubbs asked the board to not only set high, medium or low priorities for each item but also determine which of the next three years is likely to see action on the item. While long-term planning can be productive, he said he wants this plan to focus on the next three to five years.
“I’ve ... found you’re better off looking at a shorter (time) range, because it’s something you can see, feel and touch,” Grubbs said. “It’s a document you can change because circumstances can change. It’s something you can go back and review every year.”
Drainage was one of the key capital improvement categories discussed. Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said these drainage issues should carry “as high a priority as there is.”
At Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman’s request, three particularly expensive projects were moved to the top of the drainage section. Wiseman said these projects, located at Maple Drive, Carver Drive and the Colonial Hills subdivision, total $1.5-1.7 million and potentially require multi-year finance.
Streets and sidewalks were other key discussion points. While the city already has a street improvement plan, Wiseman said some new road projects and several sidewalks were not part of that plan. Dumas asked if it was possible to integrate funding for street overlays and drainage so that extra funds typically devoted to overlays could be diverted to the extensive drainage projects. Grubbs said he has seen cities handle drainage and overlays both ways, together and separate.
Grubbs also said the city’s plan to spend $300,000-$400,000 on overlays was within reason.
“In a city your size, from what I’m seeing, having a routine street program of half a million dollars is not unreasonable,” Grubbs said.
Grubbs also complimented city officials on the plans they have already assembled for streets and drainage, He said deteriorated sewage systems and drainage problems are among the biggest costs in several Mississippi cities because accelerated development has increased storm water runoff.
“Y’all are way ahead of the curve,” Grubbs said. “A lot of people wait for the water to wash them out. You have a good street and drainage plan, comparatively speaking.”
Several items on the list were consolidated in the meeting. For instance, with the exception of a single $800,000 replacement for a city fire truck, all of the city’s equipment expenses were condensed into an annual allotment. The board also condensed separate items for a new police station and improvements to City Hall into a single item called “Municipal Facilities.” Wiseman said the change does not entail the creation of a single large facility for both city officials and police.
“I think to some extent they’ve always been a consolidated issue,” Wiseman said. “(The issue was) broken apart in the bond referendum process. The initial cost for both (facilities), we felt, was too high for the bond referendum. With the bond referendum not passing, we’re back to square one.”
Some items were placed as high priority even if they were contingent on outside funding. Chief among such items was the Grand Bullyvard project, which would line 1.2 miles of Highway 12 from Spring Street to Highway 182 with sidewalks to increase access from campus to the city and the planned Cotton Mill conference center. Dumas said the Grand Bullyvard project, if funded by a grant, would only cover the west end of Russell Street up to Gillespie Street, and the city would need to be prepared to fund alterations to the west end’s remainder. He also said the city needs to be prepared to improve Russell Street even if no grant is available to fund Grand Bullyvard and the Cotton Mill project falls through because Mississippi State University will still characterize Russell Street as its primary entrance. Wiseman and Grubbs agreed, and Grubbs said cities must sometimes keep items as priorities even when funding is not yet available for them.
“When you start running from the dollar, you’re going to start running from your projects,” Grubbs said. “If you start pushing it aside when you don’t have the money to pay for it, it’s not going to get on your list.”

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