By NATHAN GREGORY
John Gaskin has qualified to run for the Ward 4 alderman seat as a Democrat.
Gaskin, a 10-year-resident of Starkville, ran against current Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker for that post in 2009. He is a resident of Academy Place, which is in an area that shifted from Ward 3 to Ward 4 when the city approved a new redistricting plan earlier this year.
Gaskin is running against fellow Democrat Jason Walker, a Mississippi State University landscape architecture associate professor. Incumbent Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey announced late last year that he would not seek a third term.
Gaskin, a senior financial analyst for Mossy Oak in West Point, said he looked at three major areas when evaluating how he could be an effective alderman: city infrastructure, economic development and land use development growth.
"They're each inter-connected with each other. Property values stay up here with (Mississippi State) University and there's a great quality of life here. To me it's a no brainer to want to live in Starkville. Starkville has more than enough land to build everything we need, whether it be a new factory, whether it be a new apartment complex, whether it be a new residential neighborhood," Gaskin said. "What we've got to do is do a better job with the land use component of it. If we start screwing up too much, growing in spite of ourselves with no true planning, it's going to affect people wanting to live here."
One of his objectives if elected would be to seek grant opportunities for infrastructure improvements so the city can complete more projects besides the ones scheduled in its capital improvement budget and timeline. He would also work to develop a more defined, long-term capital improvement plan, he said.
"City infrastructure — for instance in Pleasant Acres, one of the oldest subdivisions in this town — Most of the pipes and sewers were the same ones that were originally built in that neighborhood. You have water retention issues," he said. "I'll pursue any grants we can use to help. The last thing in this world I want to do is raise taxes. Just like anybody else, I have to pay them too. Starkville has done a very good job of keeping tax rates low. I don't want to see (a tax raise), especially in the economic situation that we're in now as a country. We need to work with what we have."
Investing more money on road projects was another commitment the city must make with the continued growth of MSU's enrollment, Gaskin said.
"We have got to invest some money not just resurfacing streets but widening streets … in certain areas where traffic bottlenecks. We need to make sure our streets can handle the capacity and handle the growth because Mississippi State is going to increase in enrollment year after year," he said. "We're going to be left behind if we don't go ahead now and start addressing some of those infrastructure concerns."
Another focus of his would be transparency in city government, he said. While he agreed with the current board's decision to authorize a lease-purchase agreement for a new city hall and renovated police station, he did not feel the board was open about the process leading to the decision.
"I don't have a problem at all with the fact that we are doing the lease-to-own option. It doesn't raise taxes for the people. The problem I do have is when the (Mississippi) Ethics Commission has to come out and say (the city) violated ethics laws," Gaskin said. "I don't think anybody purposely tried to do it … but that shouldn't have happened. We should have made sure that everything was handled and was transparent. I don't think anybody was trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes, but going forward I vow to do everything in my power to do everything in as transparent a manner as possible."