| Katrina evacuees starting over, staying put
| Domenic Mesa of Metairie, La., gets a custom design painted by Sheila Pounders Saturday morning at the Boys & Girls Club in Batesville, where children from hurricane ravaged south Mississippi and Louisiana mingled with Panola County youth for fun, fellowship and ice cream.
|By Billy Davis
A doctor’s office in Sardis got a floor-to-ceiling scrubbing this week in preparation for possible use as a long-term shelter for hurricane evacuees.
A Batesville shelter, meanwhile, was closed down by Red Cross officials to better consolidate resources in the state. Most evacuees remained in the county, however, and none moved to a bigger shelter in Greenville.
The potential shelter in Sardis is located east of the former North Panola Hospital. A nearby metal building that once housed an ambulance service could be utilized for sleeping quarters and a dining hall.
District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant began the push last week to ready the facility but stressed this week that any plans for a shelter are speculative.
"We’re cleaning it up in case FEMA or the Red Cross wants to use it," Avant told The Panolian on Tuesday.
City of Sardis employees and volunteers have been scrubbing bathrooms, floors and walls this week to ready the facility for occupants.
District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins and Sardis Mayor Rusty Dye announced the planned cleanup last week, saying the facility could house 100 refugees from Hurricane Katrina.
Perkins has estimated the square footage at 8,000 in the doctor’s office, which is a maze of patient rooms, offices and storage space.
Dye also clarified Tuesday that the facility’s use as a shelter depends solely on the wishes of the Red Cross or another similar agency.
As the doctor’s office was spruced up Tuesday morning, the Red Cross shelter in Batesville was winding down its 10-day mission as a refuge for evacuees.
The Batesville shelter was located in the Family Life Center at Batesville’s First Baptist Church, where church volunteers worked alongside local Red Cross volunteers and Department of Human Services employees.
Red Cross officials from the state visited the shelter on Monday, September 5, and announced plans to move the Batesville evacuees to a facility in Greenville, explained First Baptist member Mike Wilson.
None of the Batesville evacuees went to the Greenville shelter, Wilson said on Wednesday. Instead, as many as 100 of them have secured living arrangements in the Panola County area.
One new Panolian is Vic Greco, 79, of Metairie, La. The oldest person in the Batesville shelter, he found living arrangements with a Batesville couple, Chuck and Martha Nichols.
Another new Panolian is Phillip Chuter and his extensive family of brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren and others – 13 people in all.
Chuter, who worked in Louisiana’s spice industry, said his family is renting a three-bedroom Batesville home.
"I would really like to go back home and get my finances straight but, after that, I’ll be starting over right here," Chuter said Tuesday morning as he packed belongings at the shelter.
The Batesville shelter peaked at 126 evacuees by the September 3 weekend although more evacuees were expected, eventually dwindling to about 40 evacuees when it was ordered to shut down.
Volunteers at the shelter said the Red Cross’s plan to shut down the Batesville operation was abrupt and unannounced, leading to hurt feelings by some volunteers and evacuees.
Wilson hoped to mend hurt feelings over the closing, explaining Wednesday that the church was grateful to work with the Red Cross.
"We saw our mission as giving the evacuees a place to get off the road and get some rest," said Wilson, who oversaw the shelter’s kitchen.
The dining hall at the family life center was the setting for feeding local evacuees through today, a task that was set to transfer to Batesville’s Church of Christ over the weekend.
| Trial closing proposed for ‘zip’ lanes
|By Jason C Mattox
The "zip lanes" near Kelly Law Firm on the Downtown Square in Batesville could get a trial closing prior to permanent changes so the South Panola School District can prepare a new route for its buses.
Blake Mendrop, representative of McBride Engineering, suggested the change as a result of questions from several aldermen at the city board’s Tuesday meeting.
"I have been asked by several people what the closing of the zip lanes would do to the bus routes," Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley said.
Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow echoed the same sentiments and asked if the city had spoken with the school district.
"The questions I have been asked have come from parents and not the school district," Morrow said. "I just wonder if we have discussed these changes with them."
Mendrop said the board might want to consider a trial closure of the lanes so the school district could consider its alternatives when the permanent change comes.
Mayor Jerry Autrey told the aldermen he would meet with the school district and transportation director Robert Chapman in the near future to discuss the closure.
No action on the zip lanes was taken.
| Community Center used as distribution point for hurricane victim supplies
|By Myra Bean
The hurricane victims in the surrounding area are not forgotten.
The Macedonia – Concord Community Center, 8302 Curtis Road, Batesville has been opened as a distribution center for supplies for victims in need.
The center got a big boost from the people of South Bend, Ind. and the state of Michigan when a tractor/trailer full of supplies arrived Monday afternoon.
More than 50 volunteers in the Macedonia and Concord communities in Panola County arrived at the center to help unload the hundreds of boxes brought this way.
Tim Bell of South Bend and his wife Tamela drove the truck over 16 hours with their goodies in tow.
Bell said the Lord laid it on his heart to help do something for the victims. He got with his boss at Risinger Transport, along with Chilli Truck Leasing and Kingsman, who donated the rigs and the use of 14 trailers to get the supplies out to victims.
"We wanted to let the victims know we care and they are not alone," Bell said.
Four loads went to New Orleans, via the American Red Cross, according to Bell.
Bell got the word out also through his ministry and WUBS radio station, 89.7 in South Bend.
They also raised $32,000 for fuel to help get the supplies to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.
"People came out and labored in love," Bell said. "They marked the boxes. We said ‘with God we can do this.’ God pulled us together like pieces of a puzzle."
Inside the boxes were taped pieces of paper which said "Our hearts and prayers are with you."
They rolled seven trailers out last Friday and Saturday and more were ready when he got back to South Bend Tuesday.
Coordinating efforts in Panola County were Second Concord M.B. Church pastor Rev. James Bownes Jr. and his wife Ruby.
"We are preparing for the long term not just for short term," Bownes said.
Also in attendance to help unload the truck was Alvin Brooks of Biloxi who said he lost everything. He stayed in Biloxi seven days before he could make his way here. His relatives include the Miller and Green families.
The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. not only for distribution but for the collection of non-perishable goods for the hurricane victims.
Anyone who has needs is welcome to come by or call (662) 563-5253.
The local ministers will meet Saturday, September 10, at the Sardis Educational Building to strategize for meeting the long term needs of victims. All pastors are encouraged to attend the 10 a.m. meeting, said Macedonia pastor Rev. Zannie Leland.
Also, a fish fry and fun day for the hurricane victims will be held at the Macedonia/Concord Community Center beginning at noon. Transportation will be provided. Call one of these numbers if you need transportation: (662) 563-5253, (662) 654-1562 or (662) 609-2456.
| Supervisors set millage for county general fund
| By Billy Davis
The Panola County Board of Supervisors nailed down one half of its upcoming budget for the fiscal year, announcing this week a $16.3 million budget for 2005-2006.
The supervisors voted unanimously to accept the budget, calling it step one before they vote next week on school budgets for the North Panola and South Panola school districts.
"We’re adopting what we’re calling the ‘countywide general budget,’ and next week we’ll have the entire budget," announced Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins.
Panola County Administrator David Chandler read through the budget numbers at a Tuesday supervisors’ meeting, postponed a day because of the Labor Day holiday.
By law the county’s budget must be voted on by September 15. The new fiscal year begins
The county millage for 2005-2006 will total 54.91, the same as this year, although that total doesn’t include the millage of the two school districts, which have announced millage increases for their upcoming budgets.
After carving up the taxpayers’ pie, the supervisors left unchanged funding for roads and bridges, libraries, the sheriff’s department, rural fire departments, and other disbursements.
Provisions of the county budget also include two new hirings, a vision insurance plan for county employees, and a three-percent raise for employees of Panola County government.
The vision plan was first suggested by Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock in recent weeks. He recommended Tuesday that the supervisors select EyeMed as an insurance carrier.
The monthly cost of the vision insurance is $6.74 per participating employee, a cost that will be covered by the county.
Supervisors approved the new county hires for the civil defense office and the circuit clerk’s office.
The civil defense hire will assist Civil Defense Director Son Hudson, Chandler explained, and the circuit clerk hire will work on the county’s compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
One sticking point of the county budget has been the future of the Panola County Drug Task Force, which faced a budget cut and reduced manpower, but will remain intact and fully funded in the new fiscal year.
Chandler had announced plans to overhaul the task force, saying its success rate was in question, and the county administrator’s plan pitted him against the sheriff’s department.
Following the Tuesday meeting, Perkins told The Panolian that the task force is an arm of the sheriff’s department and its budget and manpower doesn’t fall under the authority of the board of supervisors.
Chandler had argued, however, that the task force is a joint agency of Panola County and City of Batesville – not the sheriff’s department – since a Batesville police officer is assigned to the agency and its work is partially funded by the city.
Panola County Chief Deputy Craig Sheley, who had defended the task force, said Thursday morning that he felt confident the supervisors would back the task force’s future.
"Anybody who sits down and looks at what the task force does would support it," Sheley said.
At the Tuesday meeting, supervisors were quick to point out that the county is able to fund the pay raise, new hires and vision insurance thanks to an additional $200,000 gained from increased assessed value in the county.
"I think we need to explain that because people will wonder how we did this and how we did that without a millage increase," Perkins said, leading Chandler to explain about the additional funding.
The increased assessed value looks better on paper, Chandler said, because those numbers include people with disabilities as well as retirees exempt from paying property taxes.
"People who file for disability, who get a lot of breaks on their taxes, are increasing at a rate that’s the same as our growth," Chandler told the board.
Panola County Tax Assessor David Garner reported in July that the county’s total assessed value grew about 4.5 percent since 2004, an increase of about $10 million.
| City millage reduced, brings same money
|By Rupert Howell
City of Batesville aldermen and mayor approved a reduced millage rate to fund the 2005-06 budget proposed to total $19,784,989 at a hearing Tuesday afternoon.
The reduced rate is 20.91 mills for the general fund as compared to 21.89 mills levied last year, but would raise the same amount of revenue due to reappraisal and new taxable property.
"The board’s intention is to keep the dollars at the same level," CPA Bill Crawford of the William H. Polk CPA firm explained.
Crawford advises Batesville officials on budgeting and city financial matters and that firm is also responsible for auditing the city’s financial records.
Crawford further explained that the budget before the board was actually a compilation of approximately two dozen separate budgets from different departments.
He began the Tuesday hearing stating that the proposed budget included a six percent increase in water fees, no change in natural gas or garbage fees or rates before telling of the reduced millage proposed to fund the budget.
He also explained that a difference in the amount budgeted in revenue, $19,014,105 and the amount budgeted for expenditures, $19,784,989, would be made up with cash expected to be on hand when the budget year begins.
Some police department employees were on hand questioning a three percent raise and whether it was to be included on longevity pay as well as on position pay.
After a lengthy discussion, several aldermen voiced opinions that it was their intention that employees get an across the board three-percent raise.
City Clerk Laura Herron said payroll figures had been determined as in the past.
Employees are given a "base" pay and after three years of employment, their pay is increased by two percent, then one-half of a percent for each subsequent year to help retain employees.
Patrolmen for BPD are in line to receive a $300 monthly raise to encourage retention if the proposed budget is approved. That raise would move the pay of patrolmen closer to the area average. Proposed budget figures also include funds for
a three-percent increase for salaries of city workers.
Local businessman Jerry Cooley questioned whether unused funds would be added to the new budget figures.
Crawford stated that fund accounts would begin at zero when the new fiscal year begins.
| Donations go to those in need
|After three trips to the Mississippi Gulf Coast local contractor Bob Shepard said there are still many people with basic needs in the devastated small towns and smaller areas hit worse by Katrina.
Local volunteers, truckers and donors have volunteered their time and equipment and individuals and churches from the entire area have sent items and donations to Shepard’s site on Highway 6 east of Batesville in front of the former Western Auto store.
Shepard has vowed to continue making trips to the devastated area as long as there is a need and listed needed items as: masks, Clorox, disinfectant, soap, personal hygiene items, deodorant, washing powder, insect repellent, buckets, sponges, mops, brooms, rags, microwaves and other convenient cooking utensils, tire plug kits and money to purchase fuel for generators.
Shepard has been successful in getting needed items to the smaller areas and has thus far bypassed FEMA and Red Cross staging areas, getting the items straight to people who need them immediately.
He was in Biloxi one day after the storm and has since made trips to Hancock County to the Waveland and Kiln areas.