Headlines – 9/16/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – September 16, 2005

  From the 9/16/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

School millage set for county
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Board of Supervisors approved the second half of the county’s 2005-2006 budget this week, voting this time on budget requests from the South Panola and North Panola public school districts.

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The supervisors’ board order, which is entered into the board minutes, listed millage increases in each district’s upcoming budgets.

North Panola’s base millage rate will be 55.0 for the coming fiscal year, an increase of 3.50 mills over this year’s millage rate of 51.50.

By law the 55.0 millage is also the district’s cap, meaning North Panola has peaked in funding its schools through county tax millage.

Panola County Board of Supervisors Board Order
North Panola School District 51.50 55.0
North Panola Bond    4.66    4.93
South Panola School District 39.87 43.26
So. Panola Tax Shortfall (2001) .08 .00
So. Panola Tax Shortfall (2002) .26 .07
So. Panola Tax Shortfall (2005) .25 .95
South Panola QZAB Note
     (school construction note)
1.82 1.82
South Panola Hospital Maintenance 2.30 2.30

Figures also show a North Panola bond of 4.93, up from 4.66 last year, which raises North Panola’s total millage to 59.93 for 2005-2006.

At South Panola, the school district’s base millage rate will be 43.26, an increase of 3.39 mills over the current year’s total of 39.87.

Tax shortfalls from 2002 and 2005, and a school construction note, are also tacked onto the millage, bringing the 2005-2006 total to 46.10.

The total increase for 2005-2006, therefore, is 3.82 mills in the South Panola school district.

Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins noted that, by law, the school districts are free to increase their base millage up to four percent without the supervisors’ consent.

"South Panola has gone up two percent on its millage," said County Administrator David Chandler, who rattled off the millage numbers to the supervisors.

"By law we cannot reduce their base," noted Perkins, who is himself a former South Panola trustee.

The school budgets that passed at this week’s "second Monday" meeting came after supervisors approved a millage rate of 54.91 last week to fund county offices, the road department, the sheriff’s department and other non-school county obligations.

The 54.91 millage will hold taxes steady for a second year, supervisors pointed out, noting that the only tax increase will come from the schools.

However, in this week’s board order that included the school districts, supervisors also approved 2.30 mills for the South Panola Hospital District, meaning the non-school millage is still increasing beyond 54.91 in south Panola County.

Chandler included the hospital millage as he read aloud the numbers, including the 2.30 figure in the total millage for south Panola County.

All totaled, the millage for county taxpayers is 114.84 in north Panola County and 103.31 in the south part of the county.

Legal publications of the supervisors’ two board orders are running in the classified section of today’s newspaper.

In other county business:
  A pair of Panola County election commissioners pressed supervisors about insurance benefits for the commissioners and other requests to help the commission perform its duties.
     Election Commissioner Bonnie Land asked about health insurance, a past request that was omitted in the new budget.
     "We were told you would look at that. Why was it not approved?" Land asked, directing her questions at Perkins.
     "On account of money," Perkins replied, saying the cost would be about $28,000 a year for insurance.
     "That’s only one pickup," Land said, referring to the county-owned vehicles supervisors tool around in.
     "The last ones (purchased) were $15,000," Perkins said.
     Land was joined by longtime commissioner Mildred Moore, who said she was returning again to request a cabinet for storage space and a monthly meeting space.
     Perkins said the supervisors would look into both requests.
     "You don’t consider us unless you’re running for re-election and then you want to make sure everything’s right," Moore said.
Supervisors announced they were hoping to assemble a meeting of the fire commissioners in the Red Hill Fire District.
     The supervisors received a petition last week that asked to replace the commissioners who serve the district.
     This week, Perkins asked Fire Coordinator Son Hudson to write a formal letter to the commission and request a meeting.
     A similar suggestion was made last week, minus the letter.
Supervisors voted unanimously to allow the Curtis-Locke Station Volunteer Fire Department to annex five square miles located near its substation.
     The supervisors will make a final vote in October and publish the fire department’s intentions.
County engineer Larry Britt informed supervisors that he is still negotiating with McBride Engineering over current and new projects.
     "It’s a slow process but it’s working," Britt said.
     Britt and his Oxford firm won the county contract for the engineering service, replacing McBride.
     Britt and the supervisors also briefly discussed flood insurance permits, paperwork that has bounced from office to office in recent years.
     Britt and the county are trying to streamline the application process.
Supervisors may look at hiring policy
By Billy Davis

The apparent hiring of an employee for the county’s civil defense office – minus any application process – might be grounds for a review of county hiring, the president of the board of supervisors said this week.

Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins acknowledged Wednesday that a Batesville firefighter has been tapped for the job despite no call for applications for the position.

The creation of the new job opening was announced in recent weeks when supervisors announced the county budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins October 1.

The new civil defense job and a new job opening in the circuit clerk’s office were part of the upcoming budget.

The Panolian first contacted County Administrator David Chandler Wednesday morning after fielding questions from the public about applying for the job openings.

Chandler said applicants for the pair of job openings can drop off applications at the civil defense office, the circuit clerk’s office, or the county administrator’s office.

Asked if the county had hired anyone for either job, Chandler said he was not aware of anyone being hired.

"No one’s been hired – to my knowledge," Chandler said.

The civil defense hire is needed to improve the county’s emergency readiness, Chandler also said, and should have a background in emergency skills and similar knowledge in that field.

Reached later in the day, however, Perkins acknowledged that firefighter Daniel Cole had been hired and will start the job October 1.

Perkins said Cole’s hiring had come after a personal recommendation from Robert Lathum, the state’s MEMA director, thanks to the firefighter’s experience and expertise.

"His credentials are really good," Perkins said.

Asked, however, about the apparent lack of a public hiring process for the job, Perkins said the county currently lacks a concrete hiring process.

"I don’t know if we’ve ever even posted a job," Perkins said.

The county’s current hiring process begins at the offices of the elected officials, Perkins said, in which county officials such as Circuit Clerk Joe Reid make a hiring recommendation to the board of supervisors.

"By law we don’t hire for them (the elected officials)," Perkins explained. "We approve the hiring on their recommendation."

However, some applications begin at the county administrator’s office, Perkins said, such as truck drivers for the county road department.

Civil Defense Director Son Hudson acknowledged Wednesday that he learned Cole had been hired as a deputy director for his office.

Hudson said he welcomed the help since he’s wearing "four hats," including overseeing emergency management, overseeing the county’s E-911 system, working with fire departments as the fire coordinator, and most recently working as Homeland Security coordinator.

"Most (Mississippi) counties that have hired a Homeland Security coordinator created that one job as a full-time position," Hudson said. "It’s been taking up most of my time, so I welcome the help."

Reid said Wednesday he has yet to seek the new hire for his office, adding that applicants can apply for the job at his office in Batesville or Sardis.

"I’m not in too big a hurry," Reid said.

Batesville aldermen vote 4-1 to adopt 2005-06 budget
Yelton votes no; fears citizens may vote down referendum on bond issue
By Jason C. Mattox

Batesville aldermen adopted a $20 million operating budget Tuesday for fiscal year 2005-2006 in a 4-to-1 vote that took two meetings to reach.

Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton voted against the proposed $19,785,000 budget.

Aldermen met twice in the day with accountant Bill Crawford, who prepared the numbers during earlier budget meetings with city leaders.

Near the end of the morning session, aldermen instructed Crawford to remove items from the budget including the funding of SpringFest, funding of the Batesville Main Street Program, a new fire truck and fire department sleeping quarters, police department raises, a contribution to the Batesville Boys and Girls Club, and a three percent cost-of-living raise for city employees.

When the budget was finally adopted during the afternoon session, none of those items were removed.

Aldermen had wanted to know if removing these items would eliminate the potential need for a bond issue totaling $1.9 million. They agreed to reconvene at 3 p.m. to learn the result of Crawford’s calculations

"I’ve been awake for the past two or three nights … this has worried me something terrible," Yelton said early on during the morning session.

Though he acknowledged that "in the past, we have always had a proposed bond issue," Yelton said that he was concerned over the feasibility of passing a bond issue. His statement prompted a discussion that lasted over an hour.

The mayor and aldermen proposed several budget scenarios, with various components removed, in an attempt to trim the amount needed to operate the city during the coming fiscal year, which begins October 1.

City officials faced a September 15 deadline to adopt the budget.

"We need to make this a unanimous decision," Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders said.

"Every one of us had opportunity to see what’s in the budget; I think we’re at the point now where we need to go ahead and pass it," Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley said.

"What happens if people vote it down?" asked Yelton, referring to a referendum that would be triggered if enough voters signed a petition opposing a bond issue.

"I think you’ve got problems," replied assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell.

When the meeting resumed in the afternoon, Crawford revealed that all of the suggested cuts would net the city a total savings of $912,000, meaning a bond issue of approximately $1 million could still be needed.

"That means we would need to go up one mill to service the amount of this bond issue instead of two for the other," Yelton said. "That one-mill increase would put us back where we were before we cut the rate."

The millage rate was cut following the most recent reappraisal to keep taxes equal to last year.

"I think the question here is, if you take out that three percent increase, will you have a mass exodus?" Crawford asked, referring to city employees.

Manley said he was afraid the city would lose the Boys and Girls Club without the city’s planned contribution.

"Plain and simple, if you cut out that $25,000 contribution, you are going to lose that club," he said. "They won’t make it."

"I think the big point here is, whether we make these cuts or not, we still might need a bond issue to make this budget work," he added.

Crawford told the board while the $912,000 is a substantial savings, it didn’t get the city to where they needed to be.

"To be honest, I thought the savings would be more than they are," he said.

The city stands to receive some money from the pending sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center, now set for October after a 30-day extension was given, Manley said.

"We are going to sell some land, and we are going to sell the hospital," Pounders said, referring to city-owned commercial property near Highway 6 East and the Batesville Civic Center.

Manley said during his time on the board, there has never been a year when a bond issue has been a possibility.

"We are sitting here making ourselves gray-headed over nothing," he said. "We can adopt this budget as it was originally proposed, and if there is a need to amend it, we can."

(John Howell Sr. contributed to this story.)

     Red Cross volunteer Norma Wieman (left) takes information from New Orleans evacuee Beverly Woods Wednesday morning that will help Woods receive a monetary donation from the agency. Red Cross set up its interview operation at the Batesville Readiness Center. Pictured behind Woods is her daughter, Kimera. The family lives in the Uptown area of the city.
Event sparks debate in sheriff’s race
By Billy Davis

Only six of 11 sheriff’s candidates were present, and the audience they spoke to was mostly their kin folks, but a gathering of candidates last week raised issues regarding the role of the sheriff’s department.

Election day is set for Tuesday, November 8, about seven weeks from today, following the death in May of long-serving Sheriff David Bryan.

A runoff will follow on November 15 if no candidate can pull in at least 50 percent of the vote total.

The Pope Volunteer Fire Department hosted the event at its fire station on Saturday, September 10, offering the candidates a 15-minute platform for a department donation.

After a plate lunch of barbecue, the candidates and their families assembled in the fire station bay.

"We want to keep this as clean as we can keep it. We’ve got kids around," Pope Fire Chief John McCollum warned the candidates.

The candidates’ statements and reactions remained PG, even when members of the audience – brothers and mothers, wives and ex-wives – were permitted to address questions to the six sheriff’s candidates.

The six candidates present, in the order they spoke, were: Hugh "Shot" Bright, Steve Chancellor, John Rodgers, Craig Sheley, Jamie Tedford and Mark Whitten.

One topic of discussion was the need for more manpower for patrolling, especially in the northern corners of Longtown and Crenshaw.

If elected sheriff, candidate Steve Chancellor said he planned to increase the number of deputies, add a substation in north Panola County and start a reserve force of volunteers.

Candidate Craig Sheley, who is chief deputy of the department, said the department needs more deputies but stressed that any increase in the department’s budget must pass the scrutiny of the Panola County Board of Supervisors.

"It’s a lot easier said than done," the chief deputy told the audience.

The sheriff’s department employs 11 full-time deputies and two investigators, Sheley said, adding that his solution would be five deputies per shift patrolling assigned areas.

The topic of manpower led to perhaps the best promotion of the day, that of Pope eatery The Backporch Restaurant and a common gathering spot for Panola deputies.

"If you need a deputy, you need to call 563-1917," an audience member told the candidates, rattling off the phone number of the business.

If elected sheriff, candidate Jamie Tedford said he would improve the patrol coverage by carving the county into four areas and maintaining patrols in each area.

"I would then use a floating supervisor to back them up," said Tedford, an agent of the county drug task force.

Like Sheley, however, Tedford also questioned whether the supervisors would allow a bigger budget to increase the number of deputies.

Tedford was the only candidate to touch on the ongoing state investigation at the county jail. The investigation has so far revealed that most of the state inmates housed there weren’t screened by the department to work as trusties outside the jail.

That investigation led to the suspension of Jail Administrator Hugh "Shot" Bright, a sheriff’s candidate.

Speaking to the audience Saturday, Tedford said the county needs to continue its program of trusty labor but should have better supervision.

"The trusties – we’ve got to have them," Tedford said. "They have saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars."

The Miss. Department of Corrections and the state attorney general’s office investigated the problem, later pulling inmates from the jail to be certified at a Rankin County facility.

The state agencies have yet to announce any findings of their investigations of the sheriff’s department.

Sheriff’s candidate Mark Whitten, an investigator for the department, said he began working for David Bryan in 1992 and quickly felt at home as a member of the department.

"I knew after the first week that I wanted to retire there," Whitten told the gathered audience.

Whitten was the only candidate Saturday to mention the late sheriff.

Regarding the need for more manpower, Whitten suggested the department "double up" on patrol cars for deputies, meaning the deputies swap cars during a shift change.

By doing that and saving money on the cars, which average $25,000 apiece, the department could budget for more deputies, Whitten said.

Whitten also said the sheriff’s department is about $50,000 over budget, attributing that figure to number crunching by County Administrator David Chandler.

Chancellor championed the need for bigger drug busts in the county, saying he would also go after "big drug dealers" if he is elected sheriff.

Chancellor also said he would fight an apparent drug problem plaguing the Cole’s Point area at Sardis Lake.

"I hear from the people out there who say, ?Steve, we’ve got the names of the people, what they drive and where they live, and no one’s doing anything about it.’ I’ll do something about it," Chancellor said.

Chancellor, who is making a second run for Panola sheriff, oversees a local Cold Case Unit for the state.

The reputation of the Panola County Drug Task Force was yet another topic Saturday, a discussion that came after county officials questioned the agency’s success rate and spending in recent weeks.

Sheley has defended the task force and said Saturday that "political hype" was behind reports that the task force is $70,000 over budget.

"The task force is not over budget on any line item," Sheley said.

"The drug task force is doing a great job, and don’t let anybody tell you any different," Sheley also said.

The chief deputy used much of his allotted time to push for a a state-of-the-art computer system, C.A.D., that will aid the sheriff’s department dispatchers.

Sheley said he has secured $43,000 in grant money to purchase C.A.D. but acknowledged later through a questioner that the total cost is $200,000.

The suspended jail administrator, Shot Bright, delivered a two-minute speech to the audience but didn’t offer any plans or ideas for the audience.

"I’m a man you can talk to and will be there if you need me," Bright said.

Sheriff’s candidate John Rodgers also spoke briefly to the audience, joking that he couldn’t compete in the "sign contest" enveloping the county.

"There’s a lot more to being sheriff than a badge and a gun. It’s about people," said Rodgers, a loan officer at First Security Bank.

City leaders send message by salary cut
By Jason C. Mattox

In what can only be called a good faith effort, the Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen unanimously agreed to take a pay cut.

Aldermen had been making $1,078 per month with the vice-mayor receiving $1,178 monthly, but, following the vote, all board members will make $1,000.

In addition to the pay cut, the aldermen voted not to receive the three-percent cost of living increase.

Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger brought the issue to the board, saying he felt like the city leaders needed to show they were making an effort to save the city money.

"I brought this up once before, and I wanted to bring it up again," he said. "If the board doesn’t want to do it, I want to see what it will take to do it on my own."

Dugger said one reason he felt so strongly about the pay cut was because the city is asking all of its departments to keep such a close watch on their budgets.

"If we are going to ask other people to do whatever they can to save us money, I think we need to do something to show them we are making an effort to do the same," he told his colleagues.

Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton, who also serves as vice-mayor, said he would only go along with it if his salary was further reduced.

"The only way I want to see this done is if the vice-mayor’s salary is lowered to the $1,000, too," he said.

Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders said she favored the cut and hoped the citizens of Batesville would understand the board wants to show it can lead by example.

"I’m just sorry that the people of the city don’t perceive this the way it is," she said. "Everyone seems to think the city has plenty of money when we really don’t."

Mayor Jerry Autrey volunteered to have his own salary cut by $1,200 annually to $38,800.

"I know people are going to think this doesn’t seem like we are giving up much, but we are all making an effort to save the city money," he said.

The cuts to the salaries of city leaders do not affect city employees.

"Let’s just make sure that the people understand that these pay cuts are voluntary on our part and there will be no cuts to our employees’ salaries," Pounders added.




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