Headlines – 2/24/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – February 24, 2006

  From the 2/24/06 issue of The Panolian       

Covenant could be crossroads of commerce
First tenant could be named in coming weeks
By Billy Davis

Dirt work could start as early as this spring on Covenant Crossing, the coming retail and residential development in east Batesville. The first tenant could be announced in coming weeks.

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Phase one of Covenant will bring additional retail shops and restaurants to Batesville on acreage west of Lowe’s at Highway Six and Interstate 55, developer Alvan Kelly said last week.

In phase two, residential property that includes upscale homes and apartments could be developed on acreage behind the Lowe’s store.

Kelly, 55, unveiled his plans at the February 14 luncheon of the Batesville Rotary Club, where he announced the purchase of 134 total acres from Memphis developer John Hyneman.

Kelly’s total purchase from Hyneman includes 49 acres west of Lowe’s and east of I-55, and 47 acres surrounding Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

If Kelly can secure the tenants he’s touting, Covenant Crossing would be Batesville’s biggest planned development since the early ?90s, said Pam Comer, office administrator for the city’s code enforcement division.

The last large-scale development was Lakewood Villages, which brought the outlet mall, Lakewood subdivision and other businesses to the northwest corner of Highway 6 and I-55, Comer said.

"This will be big, especially for the tax dollars it brings in," Comer said.

Kelly has been in communication with the code enforcement office, Comer said, and his next step is a visit with the city’s planning commission with his plans in hand.

Covenant Crossing will be only the second project for Kelly, 55, who owns a trucking freight company, Covenant Logistics, in Olive Branch.

Reached by phone this week, Kelly said he stumbled into the development business after selling a warehouse he built and owned. Using the profit from that sale, he purchased a four-acre parcel near Wal-Mart in Hernando, later selling it to the Mi Pueblo Mexican restaurant chain.

Kelly said DeSoto County Realtor Ricky Garrett helped him sell the Hernando site and later put him in touch with Hyneman.

"From what I understand several people were trying to put a project together to buy the Batesville property and that deal fell through," Kelly said. "Ricky presented it to me, and I did some serious praying and investigated Batesville as best I could."

Kelly said his daughter April Perkins, who is a commercial real estate agent, researched Batesville’s demographic figures and saw signs of steady growth in Panola County.

"Don’t think these restaurants and other businesses aren’t watching Batesville," Kelly said. "It’s all a numbers thing."

The sale of the property from Hyneman to Kelly was recorded February 1 in the chancery clerk’s office, county records show.

Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey said this week that he invited Kelly to speak at Rotary after first hearing from the businessman last month.

"Mr. Kelly called me about a week before he closed the deal (on the land) to introduce himself and tell me what he was planning," Autrey said.

Kelly told Rotarians last week that potential tenants at Covenant could include a cinema chain such as United Artists or Malco Theaters, a national restaurant chain such as Applebee’s or Chili’s, and an anchor store such as Target.

A regional restaurant such as McAllister’s is also a likely candidate, the developer said.

Kelly told The Panolian Wednesday that two "real strong prospects" are in negotiations with him about locating to the Covenant development.

"In 30 days we should be able to announce a contract with a certain restaurant," Kelly said.

Kelly predicted the first construction at Covenant Crossing could come within six months.

Regarding the residential development in phase two, Kelly said he envisions upscale homes on three-quarter or one-acre lots as well as apartments.

Kelly said he would keep an open mind about Covenant’s phase two apartment plans, apparently aware that cities often frown on allowing a lot of apartment development.

"The city can make that decision," he said regarding the apartments.

The drawing suggests two roadways that would funnel traffic north of Covenant Crossing. One road would parallel I-55 as a frontage route while the second would continue the four-lane street next to Lowe’s and wind through the residential development.

Both roads would presumably connect Covenant Crossing to Brewer Road, the closest thoroughfare north of the planned development. Highway 35 N. lies north of Brewer Road.

Regarding the property that surrounds Tri-Lakes, Kelly said hospital administrator Dr. Bob Corkern plans to purchase that property.

According to Autrey, Tri-Lakes plans to develop the property into doctor’s offices.

Panola legislators vote ‘aye’ on cigarette, grocery compromise
By Billy Davis

Panola County’s state delegations voted "aye" on a compromise bill Tuesday that would cut the state’s seven percent grocery tax in half.

The state Senate passed its version of the bill 30-17 with Sen. Nolan Mettetal voting in the majority.

The state House passed its version 93-29 with Rep. Warner McBride of Eureka and Rep. Leonard Morris of Batesville voting in the majority.

The House and Senate versions differ, however, over an increased tax on cigarettes, McBride told The Panolian Thursday.

"The Senate version would raise the tobacco tax 80 cents a pack, "McBride said. "The House version is the same as before, which is $1 a pack."

The compromise bills come after Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed earlier legislation that would have raised the tobacco tax $1 a pack and would have phased out the tax on groceries.

A six-member conference committee will now work on a compromise between the 80 cent and $1 tobacco tax, and their compromise will then go to both chambers, McBride explained.

"If they work it out and we pass it, then it will go to the governor," he said.

Eliminating the grocery tax was a contentious subject for legislators during the current session since municipalities depend on sales tax revenue to fund their budgets.

While Panola County’s legislators supported the legislation, mayors across the state, including Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey, have voiced opposition to eliminating the grocery tax.

McBride said the compromise bill hopefully puts city leaders at ease.

"Some of the thinking was that the cities would take a beating," McBride said, "and the feeling among legislators was that may or may not be right with all the numbers that were being thrown around.

Aldermen, mayor hear another bill dispute
By Jason C. Mattox

Utility bill discrepancies brought another citizen to meet with the Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Phillip Herron attended the Tuesday, Feb. 21 meeting to raise questions about the bill for his home on Brinkley Lane but was limited by Mayor Jerry Autrey to 10 minutes.

Two weeks earlier, the mayor and aldermen listened for 45 minutes to another Batesville resident who questioned two higher-than-average gas bills.

During his 10 minutes, Herron explained that the bill in question came from a home on Brinkley Lane he has not lived in since September.

"I honestly don’t understand how I got a bill this month for 33,900 gallons when the previous month’s bill was for zero," he said. "I have an empty house and no explanation as to why this bill is so large.

"I moved out of the house September 1," Herron added. "I only occasionally use the water in the house to wash my hands or flush the toilet while I am checking on the property."

After receiving copies of meter readings, Mayor Jerry Autrey said it looked like the meter had not been read between May and November 2005.

"It looks like they didn’t think you were in the house and didn’t read the meter," he said. "Then they went back and read it and that’s why you got such a large bill."

Herron asked the board to forgive the bill since it was not his mistake.

"I know this kind of thing has happened in the past," Herron said. "It has happened several times."

Including charges for sewer, Herron’s bill for December was $485, which he paid.

"I waited a little while before I paid it, but the bill has been paid in full," Herron said.

The minimum bill in the City of Batesville is $24 per month. Water costs $5.99 for the first 2,000 gallons then $3.84 for each addition 1,000 gallons.

Water Department Superintendent Ricky Shirey said the employee responsible for reading Herron’s meter at the time is no longer employed by the city.
Since the new administration took office in July 2005, aldermen voted to have meter readers change up routes every six months.

"We do have a new man right now, so someone is having to ride with him to show him where the meters are, but we are switching up the routes like the board asked us to," Shirey told The Panolian Thursday morning.

Including the new man, the water department employs four meter readers.

Despite the problem with the meter reader, Shirey told aldermen that the water did go through the meter.

"If that is the case, we have to stick with what we have done in the past," Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley said. "This board has always been of the opinion that if the water went through the meter, the property owner was responsible for the bill."

Shirey said he personally checked the meter to make sure there were no problems with it that could have generated a false reading.

"In most cases, I go out and personally check every meter that gets called into question," Shirey told The Panolian. "There was nothing wrong with this one."

Ward 4 Alderwoman Bobbie Jean Pounders suggested the city forgive the sewer fees of $96.55. Board members unanimously approved the motion.

Manley told Shirey to make sure the department kept a close watch on the meter.

"We want to make sure we don’t have something like this take place again," he said.

Also see for these articles:



BJCC Blood Drive
     When the Batesville Job Corps Center held its bi-annual blood drive Thursday, workers singled out three young men as generous donors. Sharon Austin (far left) monitored Cr’derio Johnson as he donated blood for the sixth time. Kenneth Miller (left) of Starkville was waiting to make his fifth donation since arriving at the center over one year ago as was Altheodore Moore, who has been a student at the center for just over two years. Volunteers expected to collect about 60 pints of blood at the center on Thursday.


Alderman: city work program not working
By John Howell Sr.

City officials came close Tuesday to eliminating the municipal court’s work-release program.

The discussion came during a meeting between the Batesville Board of Mayor and Aldermen and city department superintendents.

Street superintendent Teddy Austin cited the difficulties of managing the group of eight to 25 people who are assigned by the court to work for the city in lieu of paying fines.

"I support Teddy in this," Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley said. "I know it’s going to be hard on a few people, … but if you start having to pay your fine – your mother or your grandmother or whoever – then you’ll start seeing an end to this," he continued, citing a large volume of repeat offenders who continually use the work release program to avoid jail time or fines.

Manley followed his statement with a motion to end the program.

Batesville Civic Center Director Roy Hyde said that he is willing to use people on work release for maintenance jobs at the civic center. Hyde said that he could manage eight to ten people three days a week and cited previous experience at using inmates for maintenance duties.

"Inmates are easy; these are not," Austin said. "Before the second day you’ll be calling someone to come get them," he warned.

Austin said that his supervision difficulties are compounded when rainy weather forces the workers inside.

"I don’t need any women over there, period," he added.

After further discussion which included the city’s liability exposure under Workman’s Compensation, Manley agreed to change his motion to asking Municipal Judge William McKenzie to meet with the board to discuss ending the program in an orderly fashion.

"If they can’t pay their fine and go to jail, can they work for me then?" asked Hyde.

Mayor Jerry Autrey told Hyde that once people were placed in jail they were under the supervision of the sheriff.

The wide range of topics that the city’s superintendents brought before the mayor and aldermen also included:

Advantages of paying city employees every other week instead of twice monthly and with direct deposit if the employee desires.
     "I think it’s an excellent idea," Fire Chief Tim Taylor said.
"Comp" time versus overtime for city employees. Requirements that comp time be used shortly after its accrual causes some employees to lose it, Austin said.
     Gas department superintendent William Wilson said that he preferred overtime. "There’s a lot of times I can get off," he said.
Availability of continued health insurance for city employees who retire with less than 25 years city service. Currently, employees who retire at age 62 or 63 with 20 years service are not eligible to continue at their own expense on the city’s program and are unable to buy insurance elsewhere.
     "I asked my employees what they wanted me to talk with y’all about today; the big thing was insurance," waste water treatment plant superintendent David Karr said.
     Water and sewer department superintendent Rickey Shirey told aldermen he had suggestions that would save the city money.
Eliminate hanging late notices on doorknobs of city utility customers, when they are about to lose service for nonpayment.
     "How many do you have to hand out?" the mayor asked.
     "It accumulates to a good bit of time every month," Shirey replied, referring to the time his department’s employees spend taking the notices to customers.
Increase water and sewer tap fees. "Some are costing us more now than we’re getting," Shirey continued.
Charge for road bores on lines four inches and above. "We don’t charge; we never have," the superintendent said of boring to place lines under existing streets.
Shirey also asked the aldermen to consider policy changes on the use of city vehicles, classifications of starting pay for newly hired workers and the extent to which continuing education is needed or required for workers.

Fire Chief Taylor asked aldermen to approve a grant application to locate the city’s gate valves, fire hydrants and gas valves on global positioning systems.

"I think that David Karr could tell you how important that would have been for them to have had down on the coast," Taylor added, referring to Karr’s trip with other Batesville workers and equipment to help restore water service in Katrina-stricken areas.

Aldermen approved the fire department’s applying for the grant to pay for the GPS identity.

Taylor also reported on progress in relocation of fire department generators that would allow electrical service to be maintained in most of the city hall building during an outage.

Police Chief Gerald Legge Jr. described his department’s efforts to keep its overtime at a minimum.

The department uses comp time within the twice-monthly pay period to avoid overtime. The time is allowed to accrue up to a limited number of hours, Legge said.

The police chief also asked assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell for clarification about overtime laws for non-law enforcement personnel employed by the department.

City pulls plug on ponds, will punt issue for more planning
By Jason C. Mattox

The City of Batesville has begun its third moratorium in just under one year with the latest one enacted to give the city time to determine regulations for ponds constructed in the city limits.

Code Enforcement Office Administrator Pam Comer suggested to city leaders this week that the city take a stance similar to that of the City of Hernando.

"Hernando has deemed ponds to be accessory structures, and under their ordinance, an accessory structure cannot be in the front yard," she said.

Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger said he felt like the city needed to let the planning commission examine the matter and approach the board with recommendations.

"We gave them permission to work with Bob Barber on strengthening the ordinances," Dugger said, alluding to a decision made just minutes before. "We need to let them see what will work best for the city."

McBride Engineering representative Blake Mendrop told the aldermen that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has regulations on file for ponds.

"If someone is wanting to construct a pond on their property," he said, "the board can instruct the owners to get a letter from DEQ. That would at least give you something to go on while you get your ordinances in line."

Ward 4 Alderwoman Bobbie Jean Pounders said the board needed to develop some guidelines and conditions for ponds in the city limits.

"We need to do a little more investigating on this matter and find out just what is in the best interest of the city," she said.

Comer said the problem was a lack of regulations regarding ponds.

"The city has regulated swimming pools for years," she said. "We require the owners to put up a fence. Ponds can be just as dangerous if there are small children around."

Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley’s motion for a six-month moratorium on pond construction passed unanimously.

"If we find a solution to this before the time expires, we can always come back to the table and end the moratorium," he said. "But we really don’t need to go into this blind."

Dugger echoed Manley’s sentiment, saying the city didn’t need to go off "half-cocked."

In other board business:
Batesville Main Street Manager Colleen Clark presented a preliminary sketch of the master plan for the Downtown Square.
Aldermen approved the hiring of Bob Barber to assist the Planning Commission in strengthening existing city ordinances.
Gas Department Superintendent William Wilson was given approval to attend the Sevier County Utility District’s annual code school April 10-12. Expenses will be paid by the city.
Board members approved the advertisement of a Notice of Intention to divert or withdraw for beneficial use the public waters of the State of Mississippi. The routine application would allow withdrawal of water from the Lower Wilcox Aquifer.
Meter reader Robert Duncan was moved from part-time to full-time status with an appropriate salary adjustment.
Two conditional use permit hearings and two setback variance hearings were scheduled.
Aldermen accepted the amended interlocal agreement for the Panola Narcotics Task Force. The amended version includes on oversight committee comprised of Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright, Batesville Police Chief Gerald Legge and Sardis Police Chief Mike Davis.
Legge was given approval, pending approval from the Panola County Circuit Court, to destroy several abandoned firearms.
Sgt. Kerry Pittman was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. Brad Shackelford was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
BPD communications officer Lucille Hentz was given approval for outside employment at Lowe’s.
Assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell informed the board of problems attaining an easement from John Womble.
The resignations of Billy Lambert and Jeff Wilson from the Batesville Police Department and David Hickey from the Batesville Civic Center were accepted.
Lance Fennel was promoted to Foreman 1 with the Batesville Civic Center and placed on a six-month probationary period.
 City Clerk Laura Herron was given permission to advertise for the re-averaging of the annual utility bills.
Brett Childs and William Stewart were given approval to attend the WMD air sampling techniques training, located at the DeSoto County EMA building Feb. 22-23 with expenses paid by the city.
The Batesville Fire Department was given permission to proceed with the purchase of a 40 ft. by 50 ft. metal building from Morrow Pump Service for the price of $14,990.
Aldermen approved the installation of gates at the "zip" lanes and payment for materials.
Board members declined a request to allow Autrey to sign a permit application to allow a road bore on Highway 35 South. The permit would have allowed an independent water association the use of the city’s road boring equipment. Mitchell explained the city could not legally allow it because there is no benefit to the city.


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