Headlines – 3/22/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Panolian Headlines: March 22, 2005

  From the 3/22/05 issue of The Panolian :             

Boys and Girls Club hires resource director
Preparing decorations for the March 31 annual Boys and Girls Club Steak and Steak Banquet are (from left) Mya Johnson, Chermaine Williams, Lillian Morris and Catie Ashburn.
     Johnson and Morris volunteered during their spring break from Piney Woods School and Ole Miss respectively while Williams is a member. Ashburn is the new director of marketing and resource development for the local organization.
By Emily Darby

The Batesville Boys and Girls Club recently added Catie Ashburn of Asheville, N.C. to its staff as a marketing and resource development director.

Ashburn, 24, formerly an eighth grade science teacher in Quitman County, was introduced to the Boys & Girls Club through Mona Pittman, a B&G Club board member.

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Ashburn’s goal is to become a "face of the organization" as she raises awareness – and funds – in the community.

"Our goal for September until August is to raise $300,000," said Ashburn, "financial wise, not just through grants."

In Batesville, the program provides after-school activities for about 100 children every day.

Total membership is about 400, according to program director Belinda Morris.

Some of the programs at the Batesville Boys & Girls Club are:

Arts and crafts, taught by Brinda Chapman;
Sports and recreation, taught by Dennis Hoskins;
Health and life skills, taught by James Johnson.

The club is seeking positions for computer technology and the sports and recreation.

When the children arrive after school, Morris said, they have "Pow Wow," which is a time to work on homework and other schoolwork.

BancorpSouth recently contributed its time to the club by teaching banking skills.

"The children just love it. They learn to balance a check book and write checks," said Morris, who has been director for three years.

The Batesville Boys and Girls Club depends largely on grant monies to survive, Morris said, including funds given out by the federal Department of Justice.

"We apply for every grant we can get," said Morris.
In addition to the grants, a few fund-raising campaigns are in the works for the near future, Ashburn said. One of the most important is the annual Steak and Steak Banquet on Thursday, March 31.

The banquet will be held at the Batesville Readiness Center.

"Steak and Steak is one of three big fund-raisers needed throughout the year," Morris said.

For more information about the Steak and Steak banquet, call 578-7309 or 578-2930.

Jobless rate shows slight dip
By Billy Davis

Panola County’s unemployment rate is still clinging to the double digits, but the latest batch of state figures show an incremental drop since the fall of last year.

The county unemployment rate was 11.1 percent in January, according to the the latest preliminary figures released by the state Department of Economic Security in Jackson.

(The agency doesn’t release February statistics until April due to year-end statistics gathering).

Panola County’s unemployment was 13.3 percent in October, 12.0 percent in November, and 11.6 percent in December, a dip of 1.7 percent over three months and 2.2 percent drop from October to January.

"I like to see that kind of trend," said Blair Jernigan, CEO of Panola Partnership, the county’s Chamber of Commerce organization

Thanks to the new unemployment figures, Panola County also dropped several spots in an unemployment ranking of the state’s 82 counties. Panola was No. 63 on the list, dropping from No. 77 in October.

In January, DeSoto County posted the lowest unemployment rate, 4.8 percent. The highest figures came from Issaquena County, where the rate is 16.9 percent.

Panola County’s unemployment rate has been creeping upward for years, state figures show, eventually reaching the double digits in June 2002. It’s remained there ever since.

In No-vember of 1999, for example, the figure was 7.4 percent. It was 9.5 percent a year later.

A majority of Panola County’s jobs, 24.3 percent, are manufacturing jobs, according to figures from the Miss. Development Authority.

Panola Countians earn an average $11.65 an hour in manufacturing jobs and $10.13 an hour in service jobs, wages that include management earnings, MDA figures show.

That $11.65 wage is $2.05 below the state average and $9.88 below the national average.

The $10.13 service wage is $1.47 below the state average and $6.05 below the national average.

Battlin’ Trucks
     Monster trucks battle it out at the Batesville Civic Center Friday night, before a crowd of 1,200. The Saturday night crowd numbered 1,730, according to Roy Hyde, center director. The next event for the new center is a gun and knife show set for April 9 and 10.
Medicaid funding still up in the air
By Billy Davis

State Representative Leonard Morris of Batesville said he is "back at square one" after House legislators rejected a compromise last week that would have trimmed $166 million from the state’s PLAD program.

The House voted 60-53 Thursday to send Bill 1104 back to committee, thereby rejecting an up-or-down vote on making cuts to PLADs (Poverty-Level, Aged and Disabled).

PLADs benefits about 50,000 Mississippians.

Some opponents of the bill feared the backlash from cutting the benefits to so many voters, said Morris, one of the 53 House members to vote "no" to sending the bill back to committee.

"The opponents (of the bill) want full coverage," Morris said. "I don’t have a problem with that. The problem is how do you pay for it."

Rep. Warner McBride of Courtland, who could not be reached by press time, was absent, according to the House clerk’s office.

Morris chairs the House Medicaid Committee, a position that put him on the conference committee that introduced House Bill 1104.

The Senate version of the bill passed 40-6 after a 30-minute debate.

In the House, however, Morris said debate on the bill lasted through the morning and into the afternoon.

"I went to the podium at 10:30 and didn’t sit down until about 1:15," Morris told The Panolian.

Gov. Haley Barbour, who supported the compromise, called the vote a "threat to Medicaid’s future" in a statement.

The legislature’s wrangling over funding for the PLAD program comes after both bodies have agreed on funding for Medicaid. That compromise occurred in a special session last weekend called by Barbour.
In that session, legislators plugged the Medicaid’s deficit hole – at least temporarily – by borrowing $240 million from the tobacco trust fund.

Now that the legislature has reached a compromise on the funding, Morris said, the next phase is debate over what cuts – if any – should be made to the program.

Only through those cuts will the state’s Medicaid program climb out of the deficit hole, Morris said.

Large pool summoned for pending jury trials
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Circuit Clerk’s office has mailed out more than 200 jury summonses as it readies for a pair of murder trials. One of those trials, however, has since been postponed.

A total of 225 jury summonses were sent out last week, Circuit Clerk Joe Reid said. About half of those citizens will show up as part of the jury pool on Monday, March 28.

"If you want to know how ill Panola County is, send out a jury summons," Reid said. "Most people say they have bladder trouble."

If potential jurors do show up for duty, they will convene at the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville that Monday morning at 8:15.

The jurors are paid $30 per day for their service and receive 37 cents per mile for travel.

One of the upcoming trials, the murder trial of Demetrius Smith, has been delayed until a future date.

"The district attorney and the defense both agreed to a continuance," said a spokesman for district attorney John Champion.

No date for a new trial has been set.

Smith, of Lambert, is charged with the 2004 murder of Ole Miss student Carnesha Nelson of Moss Point.

Fishermen found her body in Sardis Lake, bound with a phone cord.

Smith is represented by public defender Clay Vanderburg, according to court documents.

The defendant in the second murder trial is David McLarty, charged with murdering his mother’s boyfriend, Kenny Belvin, last May.

McClarty is pleading self defense. He is represented by David Zachary Scruggs of Oxford and Joey Langston of Booneville.

For most circuit trials, Reid said, 175 summonses are typically sent out. A murder trial is different.

"In a murder trial, each attorney has 12 challenges. It’s a smaller number than that for other trials," Reid said.

Circuit Judge Ann Lamar of Oxford is scheduled to preside over the Smith and McLarty trials.



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