Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker visited with Southern Miss students during his office hours Oct. 18.
Barker came to Starbucks in Cook Library to give students the chance to speak with him. Barker said his goal is to become more involved with the students, faculty and staff at Southern Miss.
“A relationship between the University of Southern Mississippi and the city of Hattiesburg is our largest goal,” Barker said. “We come here to seek out the opinions of students. In 2017 students spoke out wanting a Whataburger as well as a sidewalk to Brewsky’s. We are close to finish with the sidewalk, but the Whataburger corporation is hard to crack.”
Barker has many goals for Hattiesburg; however, his main goal is to incorporate both the Southern Miss and William Carey University in order to transform the city into a premier university city.
“We are trying to turn Hattiesburg into a premier university city in the south like Mobile or Starkville. Hattiesburg has the highest percentage of millennials in the area [as] 37 percent are millennials in the metro area,” Barker said. “We started 2018 with 40 goals. As of now, half are done. The new transit route was one of the biggest [goals] and has seen a successful usage. More students are parking in the parking lots on the edge of campus and shuttling in.”
Barker said he is hoping to regain the city’s bond rating. The bond rating will evaluate the city’s credit risk which predicts the ability for a city to pay back debt.
“When we started, the city was struggling with finances. Hattiesburg had its bond rating taken,” Barker said. “Currently we have two years completed with the third almost done. We will be going to New York in December to ask for our bond rating back, which we will use to build a new fire station and police station and work more in our downtown area.”
Barker also plans to fund renovations on the Hattiesburg Southern Miss campus and to help the city’s Parks and Recreation department.
“We will be seeing a one cent hotel and restaurant tax raise soon, half of which will go towards the University of Southern Mississippi to renovate the coliseum and the other half to update our Parks and Recreations department,” Barker said.
To find out where Barker’s next office hours will be, follow the Toby Barker page on Facebook.