Mississippi city to spend $5.5M in federal pandemic funds on parks

Published 2:13 pm Saturday, October 2, 2021

A Mississippi city is planning to spend most of its federal pandemic relief money on parks and recreation, and critics say elected officials are ignoring people who need housing.

Starkville is receiving $6.2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. Aldermen voted Sept. 21 to spend $5.5 million of it for parks and recreation, $500,000 to hire police officers and $200,000 to improve water infrastructure in a subdivision, the Commercial Dispatch reported.

Cate Van Hurdle, a representative with the Starkville Strong community action group, said homelessness and evictions are increasing in Starkville.

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“Because there is no money going to help these people, the city may be forcing people to possibly live in the parks or sleep in those parks,” Van Hurdle said.

Federal guidelines say the pandemic recovery money may be spent on things including tourism; water, sewer and broadband infrastructure; assistance to businesses and families disproportionately affected by COVID-19; and premium pay for public employees.

Mayor Lynn Spruill developed Starkville’s spending plan with the help of city attorney Chris Latimer, focusing heavily on tourism.

“This is one-time major money that is going to affect our city,” Spruill said. “I still stand by my beliefs that spending it on parks is the broadest and best way to reach the largest percentage of citizens.”

While Spruill acknowledged homelessness and other infrastructure needs, she said other sources of money can be used to address those issues.

The only alderman who expressed opposition to park funding was Hamp Beatty. Several residents in his ward, particularly in the Northgate subdivision, expressed concern about water issues. He convinced the board to allocate $200,000 for infrastructure in Northgate.

He said he wishes Starkville would strategically look at all the ways the money could help.

“Any time there’s a hurricane, a pandemic, any time people get hurt in a society, those are the people most vulnerable and those are the ones that get the most hurt,” Beatty said. “I just think those are the people that need this money.”