| Rain chances won’t dampen county burn ban
| By Billy Davis
Panola County is now operating under a county-wide burn ban until winter rains help remedy the drought.
The Panola County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the ban Monday at the request of the county’s civil defense office.
Deputy civil defense director Daniel Cole made the request, telling supervisors that grass fires over the weekend ate up 250 acres at various locales around the county.
Fires destroyed a wooden bridge on Smart Road and damaged another bridge on River Road, Cole also said.
Panola County road manager Lygunnah Bean told supervisors the Smart Road bridge damage would cost about $17,369 to repair.
"I want to push some teeth into the ban and catch some people," Bean said, addressing the supervisors and Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright.
Reached after the meeting, Cole said the state forestry commission has approved the ban through February 9.
Although rain was predicted for Monday night and Tuesday, Cole said the ban will likely remain in effect.
"We need two and a half to three inches of rain, and we probably won’t get that any time soon," Cole said. "We hope they keep the burn ban for a minimum of 30 days."
"The problem is that people are always cleaning up around their homes on the weekend, and now they’re taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather," Cole said.
The number of grass fires in recent weekends has been "unreal," Cole said, guessing firefighters from Bynum to Crenshaw fought 10 grass fires on Sunday alone.
On a related topic, civil defense director Son Hudson asked supervisors to consider covering the county’s volunteer firefighters with a life and disability insurance policy.
Supervisors took the request under consideration.
For a $25,000 life policy, the cost would be $58 a year per firefighter, Hudson said, quoting a policy from a local insurance agency.
Presently, 103 firefighters are serving in the county’s volunteer departments, said Hudson, who doubles as the county fire coordinator.
Hudson and Cole made the request in a formal letter, which Hudson read aloud to the supervisors.
"These firefighters are for the most part the first responders in your district for any type of emergency," the letter read. "These men and women, who we depend on, protect our homes and property for no compensation."
The letter also thanked the supervisors and Panola County government for purchasing seven fire trucks in recent years, which is done through a state program, as well as paying for general liability insurance, which is required by law.
| Walton declared winner in Como
| By Jason C. Mattox
When the dust settled on Como’s alderman-at-large race last week, John Walton was declared the winner.
Walton is the incumbent, having filled an unexpired term in the seat beginning in 2003. During the June 7, 2005 General Election, Walton defeated challenger Dr. Forster Ruhl, but Ruhl contested the results, questioning the legality of some absentee ballots.
In an October trial in Sardis, Tupelo Circuit Court Judge Sharon Aycock tossed out 38 contested ballots and ordered a new election.
In the special election on January 3, Walton defeated Ruhl by 36 votes, 311-275.
"I am very happy with the turnout and the support the voters showed me during the election process," Walton said.
During a previous interview with The Panolian, Ruhl said he intended to challenge a ruling from Aycock that claimed neither candidate was required to requalify for the special election. Walton missed what would have been the qualifying deadline.
When asked if his intentions remained the same, Ruhl responded, "No comment."
Walton was to be sworn in last night at Como City Hall.
| Birge still in hospital
| By Billy Davis
Panola County Supervisor James Birge underwent a three-hour surgery for an aneurism in his stomach last Thursday at a Memphis hospital.
Birge was still a patient in Baptist Memorial Hospital-East Monday and does not know when he will be released.
Doctors at Baptist discovered the aneurism after Birge was hospitalized for pneumonia Christmas Day, the supervisor said prior to the surgery.
"When they x-rayed my chest and lungs for the pneumonia, they saw it under my ribs," said Birge, 58. "So I’m kinda glad I had pneumonia."
Reached Friday morning, Bobbie Birge said her husband was resting well after the afternoon surgery.
"He’s doing really well," she said. "I’m surprised at how good he’s doing."
| Weekend of activities will honor memory of Dr. King
| By Rita Howell
Noted Memphis preacher and author Dr. Fred C. Lofton will be the featured speaker at local Dr. Martin Luther King Day commemoration services planned for Monday, January 16 to culminate a weekend of activities slated to honor the memory of the civil rights leader.
The Martin Luther King Commemorative Committee, headed by local pastor Zannie Leland, is coordinating efforts by the South Panola High School Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y Clubs and the Sardis District Ministerial Alliance to plan a series of events to appeal to all ages as they encourage Panola Countians to "remember, celebrate and act" in honor of Dr. King.
A basketball jamboree is planned on Friday, January 13 at the Batesville Intermediate gym. Dennis Hoskins is directing this activity. He can be reached at 578-7309 for more information.
On Saturday, January 14, a banquet will recognize African-American businesses in Panola County. The event will begin at 6 p.m. at the Patton Lane Community Center. Rufus Manley is coordinating this event. He can be reached at 563-0328 for more information.
A musical program will commemorate Dr. King’s work on Sunday, January 15 at the Sardis District Association Building in Sardis at 6 p.m. For more information about this program, contact Rhonda Leland at 654-0420.
The local King Day observance will begin with a prayer breakfast for clergy and community leaders at Mt. Zion Baptist Church at 7 a.m. The breakfast and prayer service are hosted by the Sardis District Ministerial Alliance.
Church and community groups and individuals are invited to participate in the annual commemorative march from Mt. Zion to Batesville Intermediate School. The group will assemble at 9 a.m. and the march will begin at 10 a.m. Mt. Zion Church is located at the corner of Panola Ave. and Hoskins Rd.
It was the site of a visit by Dr. King in 1968.
"We are inviting all city and county officials, ministers, and individuals of all denominations and races to participate in this historic event," the Rev. Zannie Leland said.
He noted the theme: "A day on… not a day off."
Participating groups are asked to prepare banners conveying the theme and identifying themselves. The largest group will be recognized.
Last year, several hundred people participated.
When the group arrives at the Batesville Intermediate School auditorium, they will hear from Dr. Lofton, a Memphis pastor and civil rights leader who served as an aide to Dr. King.
For more information about the commemoration service or any of the events, contact Leland at 563-3020.
| New voting machines
| Circuit Clerk Joe Reid inspects the card that will allow voters to operate the new Diebold voting machine. Panola County is the first in Mississippi to receive the new machines which were recommended by the secretary of state’s office and work like an ATM machine. The Help America Vote Act mandated the upgrade to a more modern machine.
| In county, ’05 new home permits beat ’04 total
| By Billy Davis
Homeowners in non-municipal Panola County pulled 95 permits in 2005 for new homes, indicating a slight uptick over 2004 figures.
New brick homes are going up in rural subdivisions such as the Blackberry Acres development on Chunn Road and the Mossy Oak Cove development on Eureka Road.
In Mossy Oak, contractor Ronnie Weaver was making last-minute spruce-ups last Friday to a home he built for a retired Ohio couple.
"They’ve moving here this weekend and will see the house for the first time since we completed it," said Weaver, who built a three-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot home.
The 2005 figures don’t include new mobile homes in the county, which accounted for 115 permits last year, said Field Dew, a state department of health employee who works with the land development commission.
"The majority of those were a new site and a new mobile home moving there," Dew explained.
New home numbers continue to hover above 30 in Batesville, where city officials last week allowed a setback request for a 62-lot development at Keating Road and Tiger Drive.
DeSoto County homebuilder Reeves Williams is progressing into its next phase of development after beginning Keating Grove about five years ago, said Mike Davis, the company’s vice president of development.
"We’ve got one more section to develop in Keating Grove, which is about 60 more homes, and then we’ll start to tie in Keating Grove with the new development."
The new housing development will offer homes similar to those in Keating Grove, which are traditional style homes in the $150,000 range, the company spokesman said.
Keating Grove was Reeves Williams’ first investment in Batesville, Davis said, and overall the company has been pleased.
"We see a good steady market," Davis said. "It doesn’t jump off the map, but we see a future there."
In the City of Batesville, new home permits totalled 33 in 2005, 36 in 2004, 38 in 2003, and 2002 in 35.
Elsewhere in the county, north of Sardis a 53-lot subdivision, Sardis Heights, is in the planning stages.
Panola County’s slow but steady housing growth correlates with 2000 Census population figures: a 14.3 percent growth from 1990 to 2000 and a home ownership rate of 77.9 percent.
In the county’s real estate market, 2005 proved to be a steady year for most real estate agents in the county, said Realtor Ronnie Coleman.
"2005 was real good and ?06 is kicking right off," Coleman said. "We’re seeing a lot of internal movement, which is people moving into larger homes, and people coming in from out of state."
| Education Foundation will hold annual kick-off Thurs.
| Anyone interested in the work of the South Panola Foundation for Public Education may attend a meeting of the group Thursday night at 6 p.m. at the new National Guard Armory on Keating Road in Batesville.
The non-profit organization raises funds throughout the year and awards grants in the spring to teachers in the South Panola School District.
Last year the FPE awarded 21 grants totaling more than $24,000, according to John Ard, president of the foundation.
The FPE is not affiliated with the South Panola School District but exists to provide supplemental funding for projects that aren’t in the school budget.
This year a school newspaper has been started at Batesville Middle School with FPE grant funds. The show choir at Batesville Intermediate School got grant funds as well.
Every school in the district has received grants through the program.
"We’re meeting this week to try to set some goals for this year," Ard said. "We welcome anyone who is interested."
| Whitaker suit upheld by Court of Appeals, city driving suit headed for February 23 trial
| By John Howell Sr.
The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last month affirmed one ruling of a district court while vacating another in a lawsuit against the City of Batesville.
Assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell reported at the January 3 mayor and alderman meeting the latest legal development in the suit styled Julia W. Lange; David L. Lange; James S. Whitaker; Estate of James S. Whitaker, Sr. through the Executrix of the Estate, Joyce Whitaker versus the City of Batesville.
In the long-running legal battle, the family of the late James S. "Doc" Whitaker alleges that the city violated an agreement to construct a road on five acres that Whitaker donated in 2000 to help spur development in the area on Highway 6 East where the Batesville Civic Center is constructed.
When the city first constructed House-Carlson Road on other land to service the Wal-Mart area, the Whitakers brought suit, first in Panola Circuit Court in October, 2000, and then in federal district court in April, 2001 for breach of contract and an unconstitutional taking of their land.
The state legal action ended when the Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled that the city’s decision to build the road to Wal-Mart did not constitute a breach of the agreement.
In April, 2005 the federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of the city on both the breach of contract and property-taking claims, according to a review of the case’s legal history in the recent appeals court decision
The December decision of the federal appeals court upholds the summary judgment in the city’s favor on the breach of contract claim but vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment in the city’s favor on the claim of unconstitutional taking of land. The appeals court then dismissed the latter action but without prejudice, leaving it open for possible further litigation in state court.
In other legal activity involving the city, the case of Joel L. Moore versus Mark W. Marshall and the City of Batesville has been set for bench trial February 23 and 24 before Circuit Judge Ann Lamar.
The lawsuit stems from a May, 2003 auto accident between Moore and City of Batesville employee Marshall who was driving a city vehicle, Mitchell said.
| Aldermen approve lot setback request
| By John Howell
City officials last week approved a rezoning request that could launch another phase of the Reeves-Williams development along Keating Road.
Property owners David LaVergne, Casey Lipe, Larry Pratt and Frank West sought rezoning property east of Woodland Road from C-2, commercial to R-3, multiple family dwelling.
The rezoning request was considered in a public hearing during the January 3 meeting of the Batesville mayor and aldermen.
Reeves-Williams spokesman Mike Davis described the proposed development during the public hearing. Access would be gained from a street to be developed across Keating from Tiger Drive. The zoning change was needed, Davis said, to permit optimum potential from the development. C-2 requires 70 feet lots, and plans call for 23 of the 62 lots to be 60 feet wide.
Davis said that the homes would contain approximately 1,400 square feet and sell for $140,000 to $150,000.
Lots 60 feet wide would limit the number of floor plans the developer said, because side-yard setbacks of eight feet are required, Davis said. He requested that a variance be granted to allow five feet setbacks for the 60-feet lots.
"The planning commission wants eight foot setbacks; I want eight foot setbacks," Mayor Jerry Autrey said.
"I’m not changing the eight foot setbacks," Alderman Bill Dugger said.
Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders made a motion to grant the rezoning request with setbacks of five feet for the 23 lots 60 feet wide. Other conditions of the motion that Reeves-Williams agreed to were that only single family dwellings are to be constructed, that no lots be less than 60 feet and not more than 23 lots be 60 feet wide.
An additional condition of allowing the property to be rezoned was that no additional variances be granted.
Pounders’ motion passed three to one, with Dugger voting against it. Alderman James Yelton is recovering from illness and did not attend the January 3 meeting.