| Natural gas bills may skyrocket this winter
|By Jason C. Mattox
Citizens of the City of Batesville who used natural gas to heat their homes, can expect a sizable jump in their bills in the coming months.
According to Bill Randolph of Utility Management, the city’s gas buyer, the city’s costs will see an increase of anywhere from 56 to 88 percent over last year.
Randolph explained that natural gas rates began to climb after it was deregulated in the 1980s.
"When natural gas was deregulated in the ?80s, it slowly became a tradable commodity," he said. "Now it is trading like oil. It is a supply and demand type of commodity."
Randolph explained that gas was purchased last year at $6.40 per mmbtu (million British thermal units). This year’s prices are expected to range from $10-$12 per mmbtu.
"Nobody expected these kinds of increases, and nobody was ready for them," he said.
Randolph pointed to these factors for the price increase:
– Supply and demand
– Unrest in the Middle East
– Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
"The volatility in the Middle East has crude oil at approximately $60 a barrel," he said. "It used to be around $25-$30."
Randolph said a nationwide problem is that people are using a little more natural gas each year.
"People are using more natural gas than we can find reserves," he said. "That will create a big problem."
Randolph said Utility Management will slowly purchase gas as prices go down until the city’s storage is at maximum capacity of 84,000 mmbtu.
"This will not be a winter to be under supplied," he said.
Randolph also said people could anticipate increased costs in other energy sources, too.
"We’re going to be seeing energy prices go up, and they will stay at a higher level for a good while to come," he said.
Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton said he didn’t see a shortage of supply, and wondered why the price continued to climb.
"People keep saying the reason is supply and demand, but it doesn’t seem like there is a shortage of natural gas," he said. "So I can’t understand why the prices are so outrageous."
Randolph said the price per mmbtu would change over time.
"The prices will go down if there is a warm snap," he said. "That’s when you need to buy, because when there is a cold spell, the prices are going to go up quite a bit."
Yelton asked what kind of increase this would mean to the citizens of Batesville.
"They could see bills two to three times larger than they were this time last year," Randolph answered.
Mayor Jerry Autrey said the city needed a way to ease the pressure on people on a fixed income.
"The city has a plan in place to stretch the amount out over a 12 month period," Yelton said. "But we need to make sure people know these increases are coming."
| 10,000 may cast ballot in election
|By Billy Davis
Thousands of Panola County voters will cast a ballot Tuesday in a special election for sheriff, returning to the polls a year after record numbers voted in the Presidential election.
Eleven candidates are seeking the sheriff’s office after the April 23 death of Sheriff David Bryan.
Circuit Clerk Joe Reid expects a voter turnout of no more than 10,000 Tuesday, fewer than the 14,212 Panolians who cast ballots in the November, 2004 Presidential election.
Panola voter turnout last November was 66 percent, fourth highest in the state, Reid said. About 21,000 Panola voters are registered.
"The voters turned out last time because they had a lot on the ballot," Reid said, including a vote to sell Tri-Lakes Medical Center and a referendum on the definition of marriage between a man and a woman.
Panola voters going to the polls Tuesday can double check with the circuit clerk’s office to make sure they’re voting at the correct precinct, Reid said.
Batesville voters in particular vote at different precincts in county-wide elections than they do in city elections, the circuit clerk said.
"They don’t vote behind Sonic at the fire department, for example," Reid said.
Batesville voters complained of voting mix-ups in the city’s municipal elections that were held in May.
Voters can call the circuit clerk’s office at 563-6210 in Batesville or 487-2073 in Sardis.
Panola voters can also vote absentee until tomorrow. The circuit clerk’s offices in Batesville and Sardis will be open Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.
Absentee ballots that were mailed out must be received by Monday, November 7, Reid said.
| Room rent at old school to get review
|By Jason C. Mattox
Tenants of the Old Sardis High School Building may soon be out of their space due to non-compliance issues with leases.
Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said the agreement made between the organizations who rent space was either a flat annual rent or a $1 per year rent.
"If the organizations agreed to the $1 rent, the lease says they are supposed to hold a fund raiser every year," he said. "The money from those fund-raisers is supposed to go into a fund to help pay for the upkeep of the building."
City Clerk Odessa Johnson said several of the tenants are not even paying the $1.
Dye said another problem with rental space in the building is the lack of organization.
"We have some organizations that will go in there having rented two rooms," he said. "They will pick the two rooms they want and lock them up."
Dye said he felt like the city needed to be assigning rooms when organizations came in to rent space.
The mayor pointed out that the building is at its maximum rental capacity, but that includes several organizations that no longer exist.
"We need to do something to get this thing in some kind of order," Dye said.
City attorney Tommy Shuler recommended putting tenants on notice if they were in violation of the lease.
"If they aren’t following through with the fund raisers, they are obviously violating the terms of the lease," he said. "If that’s the case, you can legally terminate the lease."
Dye said the city needed to consider terminating leases and, if the tenant wanted to remain in the building, reworking the lease.
"It seems like the people are just going to take advantage of the $1 lease, so we need to look at other options," he said.
The lease of the disbanded Northwest Mississippi Choral and Arts Council was terminated Tuesday night. Other groups in violation are invited to appear at the board’s next meeting Tuesday,
"I have spoken with representatives of the arts council and they informed me they had disbanded," Johnson said.
On the heals of that announcement, the board awarded the space to the Madame Butterfly abstinence education program.
"Ara Heard has been in the office wanting space in the building for a month or more," Dye said. "We just haven’t had the space to give her."
Heard explained that Madame Butterfly is part of the Youth Opportunities Unlimited program and is offered in the North Panola School District.
"Our main objective is to give these girls something to do other than turn up pregnant," she said.
| Workers with the Carson and Barnes Circus pull out the big top in preparation for their planned performances Thursday evening in Batesville. A crew of 175 people began arriving about 6:30 Thursday morning to ready for the events, which were sponsored by the Batesville Kiwanis Club.
The big top was raised at 9 a.m. with the help of circus elephants, who were fed and watered, and seemingly freshened up in front of a mirror before they went to work.
| Candidates hit home stretch in sheriff race
|By Billy Davis
Eleven candidates running for Panola County sheriff are moving into their final weekend before the November 8 election, hoping to sway voters in a field crowded with names.
"I’m working hard. I’m trying to see as many folks as I can," said candidate Craig Sheley, echoing words expressed this week by his opponents.
Sheley and 10 other candidates are seeking the sheriff’s office after the April 23 death of Sheriff David Bryan.
The late sheriff’s widow, Ida Bryan, is serving as interim sheriff until the election to fill her husband’s office.
A November 22 runoff is expected after the general election due to the large field of candidates.
In addition to Sheley, the sheriff’s candidates are Noel Aldridge, Hugh "Shot" Bright, Steve Chancellor, Antonio Daniel, John Hardy, John Rodgers, Craig Sheley, Kelvin Taylor, Jamie Tedford, Gary Thompson and Mark Whitten.
Voters who are closely watching the sheriff’s race are expecting a close outcome, said Thompson.
"Just about everybody you talk to expects the vote will be split a lot of ways," Thompson said. "You don’t hear about anybody being in the lead but you hear the same four or five names being discussed."
The names of those leading candidates most certainly differ from voter to voter and from candidate to candidate, of course, Thompson also said.
The field of candidates is split considerably among three sheriff’s department employees (the so-called insiders) and eight outsiders, three black candidates, three former candidates for Panola sheriff, and a grand total of nine candidates who can boast of a law enforcement background.
On the subject of voter turnout, Whitten believes voters from rural communities could show up in force at the polls Tuesday.
The issues that emerged during the campaign are deputies’ slow response time to calls and a growing drug problem, and both issues could bring out those rural voters, said Whitten.
"I’m not saying the voters in Batesville and Sardis aren’t concerned about those issues," Whitten said, "but the drugs and the response time really affect the people in the rural areas."
Whitten is a sheriff’s department investigator.
Thompson, who is making his third run for the sheriff’s office, said the issues of drugs, manpower and deputy response time are coming from the voters, not the candidates.
"The voters are talking about those issues and we’re listening to them," Thompson said. "The problem with drugs seems to be on everybody’s mind. I’m hearing that more than I ever have before."
Sheley and Bright collected the most donations and spent the most money on their campaigns, campaign papers filed by the candidates show.
Bright reported contributions of $16,750 and expenditures of $15,205 by the November 1 filing deadline. He has $1,544 after his disbursements.
Sheley reported $15,060 by the deadline and had spent it all, leaving his total cash on hand at zero.
Sheley is chief deputy of the sheriff’s department. Bright is the jail administrator.
The third highest campaign spender was Chancellor, who reported $1,050 in contributions but spent $11,253. His cash on hand is $88.71.
Chancellor is coordinator of the Cold Case Unit, a department within the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations.
The third highest contributions went to Tedford, whose filings show he donated $6,350 to his campaign from June through October. That total bumped his contributions to $10,319.
Tedford’s disbursements totalled $9,572, leaving him $999 in campaign funds.
The candidates’ financial filings, which are public record, are on file in in the circuit clerk’s office.
(See box on at right for all of the candidates’ campaign dollar figures, ranked by their expenditures).
| ‘Blue woman’ nabbed by BPD after Halloween robbery, chase
|By Billy Davis
A bizarre Halloween night robbery at a Batesville convenience store ended hours later with four suspects in police custody and charged with armed robbery.
Batesville police allege a 29-year-old woman, Heather Marie Cox, robbed a Rascals at knifepoint, fleeing the business with the cash drawer.
The Rascals Fastlane is located at Woodlawn and Highway 6 East.
Prior to the robbery, Cox had approached the checkout counter with beer and cigarettes while dressed in blue jeans and a blue bra, and covered with blue paint.
"She had her face and torso painted blue," said Major Don Province.
Cox didn’t have enough money to pay for the items, and she pulled out a knife as the clerk started to void the purchase, Province said.
Cox and three male accomplices fled south down Woodlawn in a pickup truck, and Batesville police chased the vehicle down that road, then west along Eureka Road, the major said.
The fleeing vehicle ran the stop sign at Highway 51 and Eureka Road, continued onto Eureka Street, and finally stopped when it hit a fire hydrant near Dunlap and Kyle.
The three accomplices fled on foot, but sheriff’s deputies later located the three suspects as they walked south on Highway 51. They are John D. Lowry, Mark T. Trotter and Marcus S. Lester, all of Rankin County.
Cox, who is from Enid, was caught at the scene of the wrecked pickup by Lt. Clyde Estridge, who tackled her during a foot pursuit.
Estridge later required stitches in his right knee after sliding into loose gravel, the major said.
Police recovered the knife and cash drawer from the vehicle, Province said.
The four suspects are being held at the David M. Bryan Justice Complex. They will make a first appearance next week in Batesville City Court.