Headlines – 11/15/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – November 15, 2005

  From the 11/15/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

Firefighters beat back blaze at Ramada Inn
     Insulation covers the helmet of Batesville firefighter Steve Whitworth who joined other firefighters inside the Ramada Inn to make sure the fire was out last Friday. Charles Rhea (right) steadies the ladder for an unidentified firefighter checking the attic.
By Billy Davis

Batesville firefighters Friday morning beat back a rolling fire at the Ramada Limited that threatened to overtake the 50-room hotel.

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The hotel is located at 695 Highway 6 East, near the intersection of the highway and Keating Road.

The fire likely started in the hotel laundry room, Fire Chief Tim Taylor said, shining the beam of a flashlight through the blackened, water-soaked room to show the fire damage.

The Ramada hotel forms an "L" with its rooms running south and west from a corner that contains the laundry room and a mechanical room.

The hotel mechanical room was also blackened from the fire.

Firefighters arrived at the hotel about 9:30 a.m. to find smoke pouring from the hotel’s southern end, escaping through the roof louvers like a row of chimney fires.

Ramada customer Bill Hanks said he was one of the first people to notice the fire. When he came out of his room to find a newspaper, he saw what appeared to be fog in the corner.

"It looked like fog, but of course it was too late in the morning to be fog," said Hanks, who was in town to watch the Ole Miss football game.

Hanks ran into the cloud of smoke and banged on the door of the room nearest the fire, Room 134, not knowing if someone was inside.

Inside the room, Pat Boals of Michigan heard the shouting and stuck his head outside the room to see smoke pouring from the mechanical room, which is located next door.

Boals said he quickly got dressed and escaped from the room, but the smoke was so thick that he slipped past Hanks when he ran out.

"I never saw him," Hanks said.

Batesville police officer Keith Calvert, who arrived at the fire scene prior to firefighters, said he waded into the smoke to help but mistakenly beat his flashlight on the mechanical room.

"I couldn’t see a thing," Calvert said.

In Boals’ room, pieces of insulation floated in an inch of water after firefighters tore into the ceiling to beat back the flames.

Fire inspector Joe Warren said the fire traveled the length of the southern section, pushing through the hotel’s ductwork above the rooms and toward the front desk and offices.

In the front offices, firefighters pushed their way through the ceiling and extinguished the rolling flames.

During his inspection of the fire damage, Taylor pointed to sections of the roof framing that sustained damage, saying the construction work was not built according to code.

"There’s supposed to be sheetrock there and there’s not, so the fire just shot on through," Taylor said.

County will soon order touch screen voting machines
By Rupert Howell .

Supervisors agreed to move forward with the purchase of 99 computerized touch-screen voting machines that should be in place for next year’s elections during a regular meeting Monday at the Batesville Courthouse.

The board had already accepted the proposal but board president Jerry Perkins wanted to get the purchase order in motion to qualify for funding for 58 of the 99 machines.

The machines cost approximately $2,850 each with 58 being purchased by the Secretary of State’s office through the federal government.

Perkins said he was of the understanding that the county needed to have the purchase in motion to qualify for funds, not necessarily to have the new machines in place.

Panola County Circuit Clerk Joe Reid was summoned to the board room and agreed that the touch-screen voting devices would also require a lot of additional components, one item costing as much as $30,000. Other items needed would be "trail printers" and voter memory cards.

"That’s all the things the Secretary of State didn’t tell you about," Reid quipped.

Reid also explained that the devices would have to be kept in climate controlled storage to work properly and could not be picked up and taken to the precincts until the morning before the 7 a.m. balloting begins.

He further explained that poll managers in the past have picked up the ballots and ballot boxes the day before an election.

"You can’t leave these in the back of a pickup or in the trunk of your brother-in-law’s car all night," Reid said.

The new devices will measure approximately two feet by two feet and can be stored three high according to Reid.

Touch screen balloting will replace the currently used paper ballots that are counted through an optical scanner.

Education foundation slates first meeting
By Rita Howell

Teachers in the South Panola School District who received grants from the Foundation for Public Education last spring will be on hand tonight to show how they’ve used the money in their classrooms.

A reception at 6 p.m. in the South Panola High School cafeteria will give anybody who is interested the opportunity to ask questions and gain insight into the grant program which is funded by private donations to the FPE.

The foundation is not affiliated with the South Panola School District, but serves as a booster of local public schools, according to Sgt. 1st Class John Ard, foundation president.

Last spring the foundation awarded 21 grants totaling $25,000 to teachers in every school in the district. The money has been used to purchase books, computer programs, and even start a student newspaper.

Anyone may join the foundation at tonight’s meeting, which starts at 7. Dues for individuals are $25.

City hires Evans as CDBG engineer
By John Howell, Sr.

Batesville aldermen on Monday, November 7 selected Evans Engineering of Batesville for engineering services related to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).

Aldermen voted 4-0 to select Evans’ proposal from among seven submitted, assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell said. Seeking the city’s CDBG engineering business in addition to Evans Engineering were the firms of Allen & Hoshall of Ridgeland, Edward T. Davis & Associates of Olive Branch, Engineering Services of Richland, Engineering Solutions of Pontotoc, McBride Engineering of Batesville, and Waggoner Engineering, Inc. of Hernando.

McBride Engineering has previously served as the city’s engineer for CDBG projects as well as city engineer. The firm continues to serve as city engineer.

Aldermen Teddy Morrow, Rufus Manley, James Yelton and Bill Dugger attended the meeting and voted for Evans’ proposal. Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders was out of town and unable to attend.

County’s garbage bill collections in the black
By Rupert Howell

The Panola County Solid Waste Department is out of the red according to figures given to the Panola County Board of Supervisors at their meeting Monday in Batesville.

Solid Waste Collections Clerk Jennifer Jackson reported that the department was over $8,000 in the black for the first time since October 2001.
During December 2004, the department was showing a negative balance of $232,767.

Jackson and Solid Waste Department Manager Dean Joiner attributed the turn-around to flagging vehicle license tags and entering contracts with those who were far behind and unable to pay all of their garbage bill at once.

Tag flagging entails the County Tax Collector not issuing automobile licenses to those who have delinquent solid waste accounts with Panola County.

Those who didn’t follow through with their contract to pay were turned over to a collection agency or Panola County Justice Court system.

If the resident has a large past due balance, they are required to pay one-quarter down and the remaining amount is paid in monthly installments. If installments are missed, the county turns it over to collectors or the court.

Jackson explained that a person not meeting the terms of the contract through monthly payments would not get the same treatment the next time around.

During Monday’s meeting Joiner also told supervisors that his department was looking at the purchase of a "roll-off trailer" that could be used to haul rubbish from the county’s collection station in Courtland to the Tunica landfill.

Joiner estimated $3,000 to $4,000 savings monthly. He explained that Panola County was paying $8,000 to $10,000 monthly in transportation cost to have the rubbish from the transfer station hauled to Tunica.

He explained that trucks would not be needed as the ones presently being used to haul approximately eight loads of household garbage to the Tunica site each week could be used to haul the "roll-off" trailer.

Joiner estimated the cost of the trailer to be approximately $75,000.

Hospital owners are inching toward sale
By John Howell Sr.

Batesville’s mayor and aldermen met Monday with assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell and consultant J. C. Burns to adopt an amendment to the closing document for the sale of the Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

City officials also voted to place in escrow any excess proceeds the city receives from the sale and authorized Mayor Jerry Autrey and City Clerk Laura Herron to sign the closing documents on the sale once Mitchell and Burns are satisfied with the terms.

The hour-long meeting neared the final steps to sell the hospital jointly owned by the city and county to Physicians and Surgeons Group, a non-profit entity formed by Dr. Robert Corkern to consumate the transaction and operate the hospital. South Panola Hospital District voters chose in a 2004 referendum to sell the publically-owned hospital to the highest bidder. Panola County owns 60 percent; the City of Batesville owns 40 percent.

City officials agreed to place any excess funds it receives from the sale in the escrow account to protect the city taxpayers against liabilities that might arise following the sale.

Alderman James Yelton raised the question of the city’s liability in the event the new owners could not meet financial obligations.

"We would be an unsecured creditor, …" Mitchell replied. He added that Dr. Corkern was also providing a personal guarantee along with his company’s.

Alderman Bill Dugger’s motion that the money be placed in an escrow account triggered a discussion about whether the city’s decision should hinge on a similar decision by the Panola County Board of Supervisors. When the assistant city attorney said that the city’s potential liability would likely be limited to the proceeds it received, the condition was dropped and the motion was adopted unanimously.

The mayor and board of aldermen are scheduled to meet again this afternoon at 2 p.m.

Holiday Open House this Sunday in B’ville
By Jason C. Mattox

Local businesses will open their doors to early holiday shoppers and Santa Claus will be on hand for photos during the Holiday Open House on Sunday from 1-5 p.m.

So far, The Panolian has learned of 13 businesses that will be participating in the open house. For that list, see the special insert in today’s edition.

As for Santa, he will be present for photos by Malcolm Morehead at the Eureka Theater.

For more information on the open house, contact the Panola Partnership at 563-3126.



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