Tax hikes the talk of forum

As both city and county governments prepare to raise property taxes, members of the Starkville Tea Party wanted to know why during a public forum Saturday.
Members of the Tea Party, which has promoted “limited government, fiscal responsibility, constitutionality and a free market” since its creation, were told that in order to keep pubic services efficient, something’s got to give.
Representing the city were Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman and Sandra Sistrunk, vice mayor and budget chair.
Oktibbeha County had three representatives: District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson, District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer and District 3 Supervisor Mar
vell Howard, who serves as president of the Board of Supervisors, who praised the group’s participation in the civic process.
“This is what looks like a democracy,” Howard said. “This is what looks like accountability, and this is what looks like transparency.”
Wiseman explained that the city will only raise ad valorem taxes by .45 mills, generating about $80,000 for the city, some of which will help recover the bruised rainy-day fund, which in three years plummeted from about $2.5 million to about $200,000, potentially harming the municipality’s bond rating.
The millage adjustment would mean that city residents owning a home with a $150,000 value, which is close to the 2008 median, would pay $6.77 extra this year if they are under the age of 65 and $3.38 if they are over 65.
“That is a very, very small millage increase,” Wiseman said, explaining that the money will also help staff a new fire station constructed with federal grant funds.
Sistrunk explained that Starkville receives the lowest tax revenue income when compared to its peers: While Oxford takes in over $7 million and Columbus collects $6 to 7 million, Starkville gets $3.5 to $3.8 million.
The city has, in the past, she added, operated on funds from organic growth, an unpredictable projection.
“The only revenue we can control is ad valorem taxes,” she said.
Oktibbeha County officials are planning to raise taxes by almost 5 mills, 60 percent of which is a result of the bond issue for the latest expansion at OCH Regional Medical Center, Jackson explained.
When asked why the county doesn’t sell the hospital to a private industry and use those funds to pave and repair more roads, Howard handed the microphone to Trainer, a long-time proponent of the idea, who explained that not many counties own a hospital.
“The Oktibbeha County Hospital is a unique business in that its been able to somewhat sustain itself,” he said, “but things have changed.”
Trainer said that a decision to sell the hospital should come from a rational and pragmatic approach, rather than an emotional one.
Sistrunk, who once worked for the health care industry, said that the OCH works exceptionally well and even saved her husband’s life after a visit to its emergency room.
“I think a for-profit chain would change the dynamics of how they work,” she said, agreeing that a decision to sell the hospital should be carefully considered.
When asked why Starkville cannot have a retail center such as Tupelo’s Mall at Barnes Crossing, thereby increasing the tax base without putting more burdens on the taxpayer, Wiseman explained that retail development has grown more sophisticated with investors reviewing factors such as traffic counts and residential incomes before taking a risk.
The three cities of the Golden Triangle each have about 20,000 people, which typically is not enough to attract large retailers, but Wiseman said he wants the to establish a regional model for the industry to see.
“Having 150,000 people within a 30 mile radius - that is the type of figure that makes you competitive in that market,” he said.
Both the Starkville Board of Aldermen and the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors will be adopting their respective budgets for the 2010-2011 fiscal year during public meetings this week.