| Autrey: grocery tax bill nice idea, bad policy
| Mayors cry foul over proposed legislation
| By Rupert Howell
Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey stated Monday that Batesville may lose approximately $1.5 million over a 10-year period in tax revenue based on estimates provided by the Mississippi Municipal League.
The mayor said the figures from the State Tax Commission showed that proposed legislation vetoed by Gov. Haley Barbour would actually cost municipalities and cause them to raise fees and property taxes including automobile tags.
That legislation would reduce the sales taxes on groceries from seven percent to zero stepped in over a 10-year period while raising the tax on tobacco from 18 cents per pack to one dollar.
Autrey and Sardis Mayor Rusty Dye were among elected officials attending the annual Mississippi Municipal League conference last week in Jackson.
"This bill on the surface looks like good legislation," the Batesville mayor said but added, "based on some estimates made by the tax commission, the city will have to increase the cost of services, real estate and tags on vehicles to make up the loss in revenue."
Batesville’s House and Senate delegation support the tax bill as it is written.
Autrey said he thought an amended version of the current bill that would substantially reduce grocery taxes would be more acceptable by the municipalities.
He noted that the best figures were still estimates and didn’t want to face a shortfall in revenue a few years down the road when when additional taxes on tobacco did not cover the seven percent taxes presently paid on groceries.
A memorandum from the Municipal League stated that figures were from the Senate Finance Committee and new figures were provided by the Governor’s office.
"There is new information almost daily now about the validity of tax information. Know that all figures are estimates, and no one knows what is going to happen in the next 10 years," the MML memorandum stated.
Both Barbour and Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck were at the session with Barbour speaking to the gathering while admitting to "respectfully disagreeing" with Tuck’s stance on the controversial legislation.
| Concert promoters pray for grace,
great crowd at BCC
| Members of Batesville band Seven Days Waiting (left to right) Tim Christ, Brian Flint and Mark Davis have signed a deal with the Batesville Civic Center to host a May 13 concert at the facility. To pay their bills, the promoters must fill the seats with more than 2,000 concert goers. Not pictured is band member Michael Reynolds.
| By Billy Davis
A May concert that could fill the seats of the Batesville Civic Center could also go bust if its young promoters fail to pack the place.
Batesville band Seven Days Waiting signed a contract with the BCC last week, inking a deal for a Christian rock concert on Saturday, May 13.
The BCC rental fee cost $1,900, band members said, which is just a fraction of the money needed to bring headliner band Skillet to Batesville.
"Our first tally for the concert was $25,000, and now it’s grown to $30,000 after we wrote down every possible expense," said Seven Days band member Mark Davis, 23.
Various expenses for the Christian concert, called Grace Jam, include $6,500 to hire Skillet, Davis said, and $7,000 to hire a sound company.
The band must also buy insurance, pay for marketing and promotion, and hire stage hands to work the event.
The promoters originally thought a crowd of 2,000 would serve as a break-even mark, but that number, too, keeps climbing as the costs go up.
A crowd of 2,000 would be a large number for an event at the civic center, which has a seating capacity of 6,000, said BCC director Roy Hyde.
A monster truck show last year pulled in 2,000 in one night, Hyde said, and other events have come close to that number.
Regarding the obvious young age of the promoters, Hyde noted that Davis worked closely with the promoters of the Better than Ezra concert last year and seems to have a grasp of concert promotion and production.
"Mark’s been around this and has some good experience," Hyde said.
In fact, Davis said, the Better than Ezra concert drew a crowd of only hundreds and showed him the importance of marketing and promotion.
"That’s why we picked Skillet," Davis said. "They’re our favorite band, but they’re really big, too."
Realizing the biggest pool of concert goers is churches, Davis and the band hope to fill the BCC with youth groups within 75 miles of Batesville.
"We’ve got to have a big turnout from the churches," said Seven Days member Brian Flint.
Still another hurdle in pulling off the concert is up-front costs, which total about $8,000 for down payments on the band, the BCC rental, and the sound equipment rental.
First Baptist Church in Batesville is helping defray those costs by contributing $2,000 that is budgeted for a spring revival, said First Baptist youth minister Dennis Jacobs.
"We’re excited that Grace Jam could be a great evangelism tool," Jacobs said. "You’ll get more kids to come to the civic center than to the church."
The first Grace Jam, which featured Seven Days Waiting, was held in the church’s family life center.
If the May 13 concert succeeds, it will begin with the Batesville band and include Florida band Decyfer.
| After month of soaking, burn ban all wet
| By Billy Davis
Panola County is no longer operating under a burn ban after a drenching of rain fell over the area in recent weeks.
The county-wide burn ban was lifted by the Panola County Board of Supervisors last Friday, January 27, deputy civil defense director Daniel Cole said Monday.
"We talked to the district forester and the supervisors, and it was lifted about 5:15 p.m. Friday," Cole said.
Panola County has been operating under a ban since January 9 after a string of grassfires were blamed on drought-choked pastures and lawns.
Firefighters across the county continued to fight grassfires during the ban, but the number of runaway fires greatly decreased.
"We need two and a half to three inches of rain, and we probably won’t get that any time soon," Cole had predicted when the ban began.
Instead, however, the county has since received about six inches of rain in January, Cole admitted Monday.
"Maybe we made sure it would rain by starting the ban," Cole joked.
| Crew will document ‘Half Boy’
| Jessie Stitcher (right) talks about a repair job with brother-in-law Billy Rabb outside Stitcher’s business on Main Street in Sardis. Stitcher, who works from a wheelchair, is the subject of a documentary that will air in the future on Discovery Health. A British film crew is scheduled to follow him for 10 days in February.
| By Billy Davis
A British camera crew is scheduled to arrive in Panola County next month to film Sardis resident Jessie Stitcher for a Discovery Channel documentary.
Stitcher, who has no legs, said the crew plans to follow him for 10 days to film footage for a Discovery Health Channel special called "Half Boy."
"They’re basically going to follow me around and see what everyday life is like," said Stitcher, 31.
Jessie Stitcher was born with lumbosacral agenesis, which left him without a spine below the thorax vertebrae.
He maneuvers in a wheel chair and can use his arms to walk and drive.
The future documentary comes after Stitcher was "discovered" at the Sturgis biker rally last year in which he acted in a circus sideshow routine.
"They had things like the Bearded Lady and the Lizard Boy," Stitcher said. "I climbed up a ladder and did a handstand, and chased the women in the audience."
In the routine, Stitcher was known as "Half Boy."
The crew will likely film Stitcher and his family, wife Tarra and daughter Sterling, at their Sardis home.
The crew may also film Stitcher at work, the satellite sales and installation business he operates at 110 Main Street in downtown Sardis. He sometimes installs the dishes himself.
The crew will also reunite Stitcher with an old school friend.
The business owner expects the crew will especially be interested in 17-month-old Sterling, who was adopted from Arkansas by Jessie and Tarra.
| Grant funds will help new plant
| By Jason C. Mattox
A $150,000 Mississippi Rural Impact Grant awarded to the City of Sardis will be used to fund modifications to the old Air Kontrol building that now houses Steelmatic Wire.
The funds are awarded by the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), which also approves grant recipients.
Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said the grant will be used to handle work on the interior of the building.
"They needed the funds to remodel the inside of that building," he said. "They will use the money to build office space among other things."
Dye said the modifications were just another sign of progress by Steelmatic who plans to open its doors in just just over one month.
"The target for opening is still the first of March," he said. "The first phase will employ 15 with potential future employment reaching 40."
"We are pleased to assist local officials and business owners in maintaining a stable and flourishing business environment," said Leland Speed, executive director of Mississippi Development Authority, in a press release.
"The strength of our existing industries is fundamental to our efforts to create new jobs and fresh opportunities for growth within our communities," Speed said.
| Monument unveiled on Saturday in Sav-a-Life dedication service
| By Jason C. Mattox
A group of more than 50 gathered in the rain Saturday at Forrest Memorial Park for the unveiling and dedication of a monument to honor the memories of lost babies.
The Tomb of the Unknown Baby is a granite marker placed in the cemetery by the Sav-a-Life Crisis Pregnancy Center in Batesville.
The monument does not mark a grave, but serves as a place for reflection and meditation for anyone who has lost a baby.
"Our utmost prayer is that this tomb will be a place of healing and restoration for those that have been involved with abortion? whether by having an abortion, playing a part of someone having an abortion, or just crying out for those who have been affected by abortion or miscarriage," Sav-a-Life director Margie Casey said.
The shiny black marble marker pictures Jesus with a couple and a baby. Cemetery owner Tommy Wells donated the spot for the marker. There are benches nearby.
Batesville Marble and Granite owner Mike Sanders donated the marker. Carl Brown created the design.
The guest speaker for the dedication service was Terri Herring, president of Pro-Life Mississippi.
Herring, who was introduced by former Sav-a-Life director and present board member Teresa Towles, told the crowd she was proud of Mississippi because of its strong stance against abortion.
"In the State of Mississippi, we have some of the best pro-life legislation in the country," she said. "There is only one operational abortion clinic remaining in the state. Our goal is to get that down to zero."
Herring said the mothers who regret their abortions, or who suffered through miscarriages, need a place to grieve for the babies they lost.
"This is a place for everyone feeling the effects of losing a baby to come and feel at peace," she said. "The earth will always grieve the absence of their presence."
Reached by phone Monday morning, Casey said Sav-A-Life was very happy with the turnout for the event.
"Considering the rain, we are extremely pleased," she said. "We really didn’t know what to expect."
"As it stands right now, we have the only site like this in the state," Casey added.
Local clergy who participated in the program included Rev. Roger Howell of Adonai Church, Father Sam Messina of St. Mary’s and St. John’s Catholic Community, Rev. Doug Christie of Highland Baptist Church, Rev. Steve Cannon of First United Pentecostal Church, Rev. Kevin Teague of Immanuel Baptist Church;
Memphis street missionary John Stewart, David Smith of Sardis Presbyterian Church, Robert Rawson of the Batesville Church of Christ, Donald Howie of Blackjack Presbyterian Church, Rev. Wes Sherman of Pilgrim’s Rest Baptist Church and Dr. J. Courtney Selvy of the Panola County Baptist Association.
The Immanuel Baptist Church Children’s Choir sang for those assembled. A candlelight vigil concluded with the lowering of the flag by the South Panola High School ROTC.