Headlines – 3/17/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 17, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – March 17, 2006

  From the 3/17/06 issue of The Panolian       

What’s up next for Downtown? Lots of choices
By Jason C. Mattox

Making Batesville’s Downtown Square more pedestrian friendly is one goal of a master plan being promoted by Batesville’s Main Street downtown revitalization program.

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Overall improvements on the Square would benefit the whole city, according to Colleen Clark, Main Street manager. The program operates through the Panola Partnership, the county’s chamber of commerce.

Clark told The Panolian during an interview Monday morning that a master plan for the Square has been in the works since Batesville became an official Mississippi Main Street Community in 1999.

The first phase of the plan was the Downtown Memorial Park, completed last year at a cost of $292.000. It included the pavilion, fountain, benches, a new flag pole, most of which was paid through grants, the sale of memorial bricks and private contributions.

Possible future projects on the Square could include landscaping, new lighting, staining sidewalks and another traffic flow study. Also being considered is moving power lines underground.

Main Street board member Mickey Aldridge said whatever project Main Street takes on next will probably have to be paid for similarly to the way the park was.

"We get most of our money from contributions from the business owners on the square," he said. "We get some money from the city board, but private money is a big part of our budget."

As for the next project, Aldridge said he would like to see the board move forward with improving the lighting of the square.

"I think the lighting is the thing we need to tackle first," he said. "Then we could move on to staining the sidewalks."

Business owners on the square have yet to see the master plan, Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow said.

Morrow owns and operates Stubbs Department Store and Williams on the Downtown Square.

"I think the plans are in such a preliminary stage that they haven’t been shown to the merchants downtown yet," he said. "I’ve seen them and liked them, but there were members of the board that had problems with some of it."

Proposed improvements "will allow PanolaPeople.htm to just spend time downtown shopping or mingling with their friends while showcasing our downtown," Clark said. "Our downtown area is a historical part of Batesville, and this will help PanolaPeople.htm take notice of what we have."

Clark said drawings for the preliminary master plan have been in development since October 2005.

"The Main Street board did move forward in getting a sketch done, but everything is really in the preliminary stages," she said.

"The thing to remember is that we are still in the very early stages and things are probably going to change before we finalize the plans."

City aldermen asked Clark to change from the preliminary plans is the traffic flow on the Square. According to the plans, traffic on the square would be one-way with entrances to the Square remaining both ways.

"This would basically mean the Square would be kind of a roundabout," she said. "Some of the aldermen didn’t want to do that, and we can still change it."

Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger, for example, said during a recent city board meeting at which the sketch for the master plan was presented that changing the traffic flow would inconvenience PanolaPeople.htm living on Panola Avenue.

"It is important that we get input from the city leadership," Clark said. "We want everyone to be happy with this project when it finally comes to fruition."

For PanolaPeople.htm expecting the entire Square to be revamped at once, Clark said that won’t happen.

"This is a step-at-a-time project," she said. "The downtown park was our first step."

Clark added that the Main Street Board of Directors will also look closely at moving existing power lines underground.

"That is something we have discussed, and it is something we will look at, but we have to weigh the cost against the benefits to see if it is really worth doing," she said.

As for which project is next for the Square, Clark said that decision has yet to be made.

"We don’t know where to go next," she said. "All of us want to work together and make this a project that will be a big plus for the city.

"The Main Street Board just wants to beautify the downtown area," Clark added.

Members of the Main Street Board of Directors include Aldridge, Kim Carver, Charlie Dulany,
Kim LaVergne, Adam Pittman, Maria Prather,
Sonny Simmons, Mary Troxler, Jann Williams and Lynn McCullar.

Aldermen vote down zoning request for low-rent apartment development
By Jason C. Mattox

After several Batesville residents voiced resentment toward a new low-income housing development, the Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to deny a request that would have allowed rezoning of property on Panola Avenue.

The request had previously been denied by the Batesville Planning Commission, according to chairman Nell Foshee.

H. O’Keefe Graham of the Providence Development Group appeared before the board asking for a zoning variance to allow the proposed duplexes in a residential area.

"We are talking about energy efficient, nicely constructed duplexes," he said.

Graham said rent for the development would be $306-$439 per month.

"The rent is set by HUD," he said. "Of course we want to charge the maximum we can."

The maximum income that would be considered for a tenant would be $36,000, Graham said.

"We want to operate a good, clean development," he said. "There will be background checks conducted on all of the potential tenants.

"We want PanolaPeople.htm that are going to be good neighbors and take care of the property," Graham added.

Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow asked where else the developers had property.

"We have apartments in Greenwood, Cleveland, Oxford and several other places," Graham responded.

Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley asked what the major complaints were at their other properties.

"We get trouble with PanolaPeople.htm trashing stuff and playing their music too loud," Graham said.

Following further discussion with the board, Autrey opened the meeting up to the more than 30 residents who attended the meeting.

"My concern is, how would you like 45 families moving into your front yard," Joel Chrestman asked about the proposed 23 building complex. "Sure they will start out looking really pretty, but they won’t stay that way."

Jerry Cooley reminded the board that a petition against the development had been signed by 82 PanolaPeople.htm living on or around Panola Avenue.

"We are trying to keep our neighborhood," he said. "Low-income will hurt the property values, and PanolaPeople.htm are just not for it.

"If you put those duplexes in there, you don’t know who will go in," Cooley continued. "Sure they will screen at first, but that will change when they need to keep the buildings full.

"PanolaPeople.htm will say anything they can if they feel like it will get them what they want," he said.

Manley asked the crowd if they had a suggestion of where the developers could go.

"They could go just outside the city limits," Chrestman responded.

Cooley said he felt like the community would support the development if it were single-family homes.

"PanolaPeople.htm take more pride in their property when it is only theirs," he said. "Why couldn’t you just put in houses man? We need those."

Graham said single-family residences were originally considered.

"We turned houses every which a way, but we couldn’t get the right setbacks on the property," he said. "Believe me, we would rather have single-family units. We make more that way."

Also see for these articles:


Yard Cows
Hungry bovines on Wednesday who know a broken fence when they see one found the spring grass was greener in the yard of this house in rural Panola County.
Voting’s giant leap means new lessons
By Billy Davis

Panola County Supervisor James Birge chose
B.B. King as Mississippi’s top musician and
Brett Favre as the state’s best football player during a demonstration Monday of the county’s new computer voting machines.

Circuit Clerk Joe Reid and election commissioner Ronald McMinn brought a Diebold machine to the supervisors’ "second Monday" meeting, where McMinn led supervisors through a 30-minute lesson.

With coaching from McMinn, Birge used a touch-screen system to progress through a mock election, voting for King and Favre, selecting "yes" in a mock referendum, and using an on-screen key pad to cast a write-in vote for his favorite food.

The entire process took Birge about five minutes to complete, though the supervisor moved at a slow pace while McMinn explained the process.

"The average time is one minute, 40 seconds," Reid later told supervisors.

The Panola County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in August to use the Diebold model machines per a recommendation from Secretary of State Eric Clark.

Reid said then that Panola County would need 100 Diebold voting machines for its election, of which the state would pay for 59 machines through a procurement program while the county will foot the bill for 41 more at a cost of $2,850 each.

The use of new, computerized voting machines is required by federal law per the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

Panola County voters currently cast their vote with a paper ballot, using a pencil to fill in an oval that is later scanned and tabulated by computer.

The November runoff race for Panola sheriff was presumably the last time paper ballots will be used in a Panola County election.

The first electronic votes cast will come in June during the Democratic primary for U.S. senator and representatives. An election for chancery judges is coming in November.

To help prepare voters for electronic voting, election commissioners are already making the rounds with the machines at churches and civic clubs, McMinn told supervisors.

"We’re going to be getting out in public more and more with these machines so PanolaPeople.htm can feel at ease with them and not be intimidated," McMinn later told The Panolian.

The new voting process will likely be an easy procedure for Panola County voters, Reid told supervisors Monday, but the circuit clerk also stressed that poll workers must undergo a learning process in order to properly operate the voting machines.

To open a polling place for voting, poll workers will have to arrive 30 minutes before the polls open to ready the machines, the circuit clerk said. The paper rolls must be installed, and each machine must be "zeroed" to show that no votes are already loaded.

The "zeroed" print-out from each machine will be posted in each polling place to show the integrity of the electronic voting, Reid also said.

When voters choose on-screen to complete their voting, their "ballot" is compiled into the memory of each voting machine. A printer attached to the machine shows each voter a tally of his or her final ballot choices.

When the polls close, the poll manager will upload the votes from each machine into a master memory card. That card will then be inserted into a main computer to count the votes, Reid told supervisors.

"It’ll take about five minutes to count the votes," he predicted.

To "cast" a ballot, each voter signs the traditional poll book and is then handed a temporary voter access card. When the voter’s home address is determined by the sign-in, a poll worker then scans the voter card with a playing card-size device called an encoder, allowing the voter access to the appropriate electronic ballot.

At the voting machine, the voter inserts the voter card into the machine and then follows the written directions to progress through the ballot. Voters can reverse the screen to change an earlier ballot choice if they wish.

When the votes are completed and the voter is content with the selection, pressing "complete" processes the vote and spits out the printed paper.

When the voting is done, the voter then hands over the voting card to a poll worker and the process begins again for the next voter in line.

Each polling place will have about four voting cards, Reid said.

For handicapped voters, each Diebold machine includes headphones to hear instructions. The screen can also be magnified.

Arson investigation under way after blaze eats up CRP
By Billy Davis

Firefighters from Batesville and several county fire departments beat back a woods and pasture fire Wednesday in the Mt. Olivet community that may have been set by an arsonist.

The fire burned about 50 acres of CRP pine and hardwoods south of Mt. Olivet Road, said Mt. Olivet Fire Chief Arthur Biggers. Homes and a church were close to the fire, he said.

Panola County sheriff’s arson investigator Gerald White confirmed Thursday that he is investigating the fire as possible arson.

The damaged acreage belonged to three different owners, said deputy civil defense director Daniel Cole.

Biggers said firefighters battled the blaze from about 1:30 p.m. until 5:30, gaining ground on the fire after it moved from woods into pasture land.

State forestry commission ranger Jeremy Moore said he unloaded a John Deere bulldozer at New Hope M.B. Church and began building firebreaks to help slow the blaze.

"We saved some of the CRP pine and hardwood," Moore said, describing the wind as a light breeze.

While the Wednesday fire may have been caused by an arsonist, Biggers urged Panola Countians to use "super extreme caution" when burning brush or starting a controlled burn.

"This time of the year is bad because of the high winds," he said.

Cole said responding fire departments were Batesville, Mt. Olivet, Bynum, Courtland, Sardis Lower Lake, and Cole’s Point,

City commission okays work center
By Jason C. Mattox

Approval for the construction of a facility in Batesville to house a sheltered workshop was given by the Batesville Planning Commission at its Monday night meeting.

The North Mississippi Regional Center (NMRC), which operates Panola Industries, proposes to erect a new metal building on McBride Street, located near Eureka Road and the South Panola Schools bus shop.

Dr. Carol Haney spoke on behalf of a contingent of NMRC representatives who were asking to have the property, which was given to them by Woody Loden, rezoned to I-1 to allow light industrial operation in the area.

"We are based out of Oxford and have been operating Panola Industries out of Sardis for over a year now," Haney said. "We serve as a work resource center."

Panola Industries provides employment opportunities to individuals with developmental disabilities. There are currently 32 employees who serve as outsource labor to companies around the county. A majority of the work is done for Batesville Casket.

"We want to build our own facility so our clients can continue to work," Haney said. "We are just asking that you allow us to move forward. As soon as we get past the zoning problem, we can get a building up."

"We have already selected our contractors," Haney said. "We just need to get moving on everything."

Commission member Brad Clark said he had no problem with the rezoning, but asked that it be conditional use.

"We don’t want to get into a situation where another company comes in here and can do whatever they want to with it," he said. "I think there need to be some conditions on it in case it is sold."

The matter will next go to the Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen for final approval.

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 4 at 3 p.m.


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