Headlines – 9/20/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – September 20, 2005

  From the 9/20/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

Sardis ready for fiscal year after millage increase
By Jason C. Mattox

When the City of Sardis begins its new budget year Oct. 1, it will do so with an operating budget of $1.2 million.

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The budget was adopted 3-0 last Thursday with Ward 3 Alderman Mike Wilson and Ward 4 Alderman Rivers McArthur absent.

Included in the new operating budget are two increases; garbage fees and millage.

The city garbage fees will climb from $14 monthly to $17 monthly.

The $3 increase will produce an additional $25,000 in revenue for the city.

"We are one of the few cities these days that offers garbage pick up twice a week," Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said. "This increase will also help us continue offering limb pick-up which is something most cities don’t offer."

Dye said the biggest reason for the increase is to cover the increasing cost of fuel.

"We are doing everything we can to watch out for waste in every area of city government," he said. "We pulled the old limb truck off the streets because it was burning 100 gallons of fuel in a week."

The second increase was to the city’s millage. It was raised from 31.07 to 34.92.

The mayor said the city has not had an increase in ad valorem taxes in a number of years.

"The number we have increased to is still lower than where we were when we paid off a bond issue in the early ?90s," he said. "If it hadn’t been decided to lower the taxes then, this wouldn’t cause so much as a stir."

Both increases occurred after Alderman-at-Large Roy Scallorn pointed out a revenue shortage of approximately $50,000 during a meeting in August.

"He was right. We had to do something to make sure we balanced the budget, and this was the only option," Dye said.

In addition to the tax and garbage fee increase, the city approved an increase in hours for the Municipal Court Clerk Emily Appleton.

"In recent weeks, Miss Emily has been really over-worked with all the additional fine money coming in," City Clerk Odessa Johnson said. "So when we were preparing this budget we increased her hours from 28 per week to 36."

Ward 1 Alderman Joseph "JoJo" Still asked if the hours were to be used only when they were needed.

"She will work as we need her to," Johnson replied. "If the fine collections decrease, her hours will go down as well."

Police Chief Mike Davis said he believed the additional hours would be needed for Appleton.

"The collections through the Mississippi Warrant Network have been good since we started sending them names regularly," he said. "We are hoping we will continue to see a lot of money coming in for collections."

Schools, lot sizes on agenda
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Land Development Commission cast few votes during a light meeting last week but nonetheless discussed topics relating to growth in the county.

Among the topics were standards for childcare facilities in the county and the current minimum lot size for manufactured housing.

The commission members met Monday evening, September 12, at the county courthouse in Batesville.

A source of discussion was the variety of schools – a preschool, a trade school, a private school – and rules and regulations to govern them.

Discussion of childcare facilities comes after Anthony McCoy is working to start a pre-school near his home in the Eureka community.

McCoy has appeared before the commission before regarding his plans but is best known for the so-called "party barn" he sought to open.

In recent months commission members have wrestled with the definition of a "preschool" versus a "daycare" and are now trying to better define those and other schools as well.

Commission consultant Bob Barber and commission attorney Colmon Mitchell were asked to collaborate on that matter, and the commission voted unanimously to hold a public hearing to announce possible ordinances and definitions of various schools that could open in the county.

The state of Mississippi has multiple rules for daycare operations, leaving the commission to re-examine possible rules such as paved parking to see if they overlap state regulations.

Batesville daycare owner and commission member Donna Traywick brought her rule book with her and read aloud the multitude of rules she must follow.

"The state even tells you how big the playground needs to be, and they come with tape and measure it several times," Traywick told her colleagues.

A second topic of discussion was increasing the minimum lot size for manufactured homes located in unincorporated Panola County.

At present the county requires a minimum lot size of one acre for mobile homes with community water and one and a half acres for mobile homes that utilize a well.

Commissioners wrestled with the fact that mobile homes decrease in value, thus lowering their worth, which in turn lowers a county’s taxable base over time.

The question on the table was whether to increase that lot size to two or more acres, which in theory would increase the value of mobile homes.

Commission chairman Danny Walker raised the idea, noting that other Mississippi counties have passed similar land use ordinances.

Commission member Sledge Taylor agreed the issue is important because of its long-term economic impact.

"I think it’s an economic issue because a person is not contributing to the tax base," Taylor told his colleagues. "It gets to the point that the trailer is paying few dollars toward culverts and public schools."

Commission member Danny Jones and other members vocally opposed the idea, however, saying it would hurt homeowners who can’t afford to purchase several acres of land.

"I think you would be penalizing people who start out in a mobile home and now couldn’t afford to start at all," Jones said. "I think it hurts people who are economically disadvantaged."

Commission member Ann Cobb agreed with Jones’s statement.

"I don’t think it’s right that someone can build a $500,000 home on one acre but you need three acres for a $50,000 mobile home," said Cobb.

Jones made a motion to table the discussion until January. His motion died for lack of a second, however, and commission members agreed to discuss the subject again when they meet Monday, October 10.

Katrina relief supplies abound
By John Howell Sr.

Macedonia Community Center has received another trailer load of hurricane relief supplies – and now Rev. Zannie Leland wants it gone.

Leland, who pastors at the nearby Macedonia Baptist Church and who is among the volunteers who have organized relief distribution through the community center on Curtis Road west of Batesville, said that the goods can be picked up by or delivered to any victims of the recent hurricane. "We just need to get it out," he said.

The trailer arrived from Indiana during the weekend. Supplies donated and trucked to the Panola facility include cots, beds, clothing, food, water, cooking utensils, toys, shoes and personal items, Leland said.

Additional information about picking up goods or having them delivered can be learned by calling the center at (662) 563-5253. Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Arrangements can also be made for Sundays, Rev. Leland said.

Leland made calls on Monday to the American Red Cross office in Oxford for additional help in distributing the relief supplies.

"We want to free up the space in the community center, and we don’t want this stuff just sitting here when somebody needs it somewhere," Leland said.

A new lease on learning: South Panola High revamps classes for more rigorous courses
     South Panola High teacher Meg Woods instructs an accelerated trigonometry class Friday morning, September 16, at the school. The high school has plans to improve its academic curriculum and better advertise important dates such as the PSAT information on the teacher’s board. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis
By Billy Davis

South Panola high school students can expect to dig a little deeper in their textbooks as school leaders map plans for more challenging course work.

To prepare students for the coming changes, high school principal Dr. Gearl Loden met with students and parents Monday, September 12, to announce a more rigorous curriculum in Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

A similar meeting is planned for next Monday, September 27, for students enrolled in the high school’s accelerated classes.

In a high school setting, AP courses are the school’s most challenging college-prep courses. Students typically enroll in AP courses their senior year.

At South Panola High, the AP courses offered are U.S. government, U.S. History, English III and English IV, and calculus.

Students who take AP courses take a final exam that gauges their knowledge of the subject. A high score on the final test allows students to skip introductory courses in college.

Accelerated courses are second-tier classes, just beneath AP courses but more rigorous than standard subjects.

Few SPHS students are scoring well enough on their AP exams to receive credit, Loden said, and that problem has lead to the revamping of the courses and the recent meeting with students and their parents.

A similar re-evaluation of the accelerated courses is also in the works.

"We’ve found that many of the young people go through AP and accelerated courses and still struggle in college," Loden said. "It’s not supposed to work that way."

At the high school, the quest for upper-level academics is rather lackluster: the school dropped AP courses in Spanish and physics this year due to a lack of interest from students.

"We had three to four kids sign up for each class," Loden said.

A lingering problem, the principal said, is the "rite of passage" that seniors take a half-day of classes, choosing a short school day over courses that can boost their ACT score, improve their chance for a scholarship and better their college GPA.

The AP test records a score from one to five, with five being the top grade and a definite qualification for future college credit.

Loden said some high schools across the state quietly encourage only their best students to take the AP exam, which results in an average 40-percent passage rate across the state.

Loden said the leading AP scorers in the state come from a private Jackson school, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, where 50 percent of the AP students on average attain college credit.

At South Panola, Loden said, he will encourage every AP student to take the exam and has set a goal that 30 percent of them score high enough to receive college credit.

Loden, 36, started his principal’s job at the high school this summer. He was a finalist in the school district’s search for a superintendent and was hand-picked by the eventual top pick, Dr. Keith Shaffer, to improve the academic record at the high school.

The quest for a more rigorous curriculum is only one piece of the academic puzzle, Loden said, since some students struggle with the basics in math, English and other subjects.

The high school is addressing its struggling students, too, beginning with a meeting held earlier this summer with students and their parents.

South Panola is also spreading the word about its free after-school tutorial sessions. Now under way, teachers are helping students in English, math, science and social studies.

The tutorial sessions are scheduled from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Students can rotate to a second hour-long class or just take the first hour-long session.

An after-school snack and a free bus ride home is provided to students who use the tutorial service, Loden said.

"The tutorials are for every student, whether they’re trying to pass a class or stretch a B into an A," Loden said.

Loden said the high school is working to improve its communication with parents about important dates, such as the November 16 "Plan Test" that gauges students’ strengths and weaknesses before they take the ACT.

Still another upcoming test is the PSAT on October 12. A first step for 11th graders taking the SAT their senior year, the PSAT is a requirement for juniors who hope to be named a National Merit Finalist as a senior.

"Nobody can remember the last time South Panola had a National Merit Finalist," Loden said.

Near-miss turns into a.m. wreck
By Billy Davis

A truck driver escaped serious injury Monday after he steered his vehicle into a ditch, turning over in a gas station parking lot.

Eyewitnesses said Calvin Walters, 36, drove through the ditch to avoid rear-ending a turning vehicle in front of him.

The incident occurred at Hwy. 35 North and I-55 in front of Maggie T’s and the Mobil convenience store.

The truck was loaded with gravel, and Walters’ red Mack truck spilled the load into the Mobil parking lot.

The truck came to rest in a grassy area next to the parking lot. Walters was apparently alone in the vehicle.

Batesville truck driver Randy Ford said he was gassing up his 18-wheeler at Maggie T’s when he saw the red gravel truck veer right to avoid the smaller truck.

"The truck was making a left, and the other driver took the ditch to avoid hitting the back of the truck," Ford said. "I think he did the right thing."

A neck brace in place, Walters stepped slowly from the cab of his truck about 10:50 Monday morning, aided by emergency personnel from Tri-Lakes Medical Center and the Batesville Fire Department.

The emergency personnel strapped Walters onto a spine board and transported him from the scene.

Walters is employed by Brocato Construction of Batesville.

Court TV bumps Smith trial
By Billy Davis

Cable TV channel Court TV has apparently bumped its planned airing of a Panola County murder trial.

Court TV had planned to air the taped trial of Demetrius Smith on Monday but instead aired a live trial from Massachusetts.

Court TV spokesman Andie Silvers had said last week the Monday airing was tentative, saying the daytime programming is fluid from day to day.

Reached Monday, Silvers said the trial could air on Friday of this week but again noted the "fluid" programming of the cable channel.

"I can say the trial will air but can’t say for sure if it will air on Friday," Silvers said.

A three-man film crew taped the four-day trial in which a circuit jury convicted Smith, 27, of raping and kidnapping Ole Miss student Carnesha Nelson, 19, at her Oxford apartment, later drowning her in Sardis Lake.

Smith’s sentencing is scheduled for Thursday, September 29.

The jury verdict came after four and a half days of testimony that included Nelson’s father and college friends, FBI experts, Panola investigator Mark Whitten and Smith himself.


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