| Supervisors side with store owner on paving
| By Billy Davis
The Panola County Board of Supervisors effectively put an end to a year-old feud between the county land development commission and Stan’s Country Store by voting Monday that the store owner has complied with the county’s land-use standards.
At a recess meeting held in Batesville, supervisors voted unanimously that a strip of paving in front of the store complies with a county requirement that commercial properties operate with a paved parking lot.
Stan Holcomb owns and operates Stan’s Country Store at 24441 Highway 6 East, where most of the parking lot is gray rock.
The land development commission approved Holcomb’s business in August, 2004, granting him a special exception for a retail store operating in an area zoned agricultural. Since that date, however, Holcomb has rebuffed the commission’s repeated requests that he pave the parking lot, saying lately that he must first remove a row of towering pine trees.
The land commission routinely asks commercial property owners to pave the entire parking lot and to stripe a certain number of parking spaces according to the activity and square footage of the commercial building.
Reached Monday after the supervisors’ meeting, business owner Myron Hall said he recently finished paving the parking lot of his plumbing business south of Batesville per the land commission’s request. The total cost was approximately $3,000, he said.
"I was told that my customers should drive on a paved parking lot, park in a paved parking space and walk on a paved walkway," Hall said.
Told about the supervisors’ vote in favor of Holcomb, Hall said he would have paved his business regardless of the county’s requirements.
"I think to each his own, but if you’re going to do it, regardless of whether it’s required, you should do it right," Hall said. "I paved more than what was required because I wanted mine to look nice."
Holcomb appeared at the supervisors’ March 13 meeting, where he asked them to visit his store and allow him to keep his parking lot unpaved.
District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, who serves as president of the board, suggested Monday that Holcomb’s business is fine as-is after visiting the commercial property in recent days.
"I don’t think he needs to add anything to it," Avant told board members.
District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins, who works part-time for Holcomb, read a passage from the county’s land-use regulations to suggest that Holcomb is required only to provide parking spaces. The requirement cited by Perkins, "Article Four," states that a retail store provide one parking space for every 200 feet of retail space.
"I don’t think he’s asking us to change anything," Perkins said. "He says that he has complied."
Board attorney Bill McKenzie stressed to supervisors that he and the board are unfamiliar with the land commission’s ongoing disagreement with Holcomb and his parking lot.
"Does anybody know what the planning commission has done and what they’ve told him?" McKenzie asked.
"The press might know," Avant replied, addressing his question to the newspaper.
Still another issue raised by McKenzie was whether Holcomb was officially appealing the land commission’s decision when he appeared at the supervisors’ March 13 meeting.
"I don’t know if that’s what he was doing or not," McKenzie said, citing Article Five in the land-use regulations.
"Yeah, (Holcomb) said he had read that in here and that’s the reason he came to see us," Perkins said.
"I thought you said something about Article Four," McKenzie replied.
"Well, that’s what he said he had done, Article Four," Perkins said.
Reached Monday, county land commission chairman Danny Walker said he had no comment about the supervisors’ vote. Land commission consultant Bob Barber could not be reached by press time Monday afternoon.
| Unemployment shows jump
| By Billy Davis
Panola County’s employment climate kicked off 2006 with a 10.6 percent unemployment rate, state figures released last week show.
Unemployment figures released by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) showed 1,520 unemployed Panolians out of a work force of 14,800.
Panola’s 10.6 percent figure is lower than the January 2005 rate of 11.1 percent and higher than fall 2005 figures, which hovered around eight percent through the fall and winter months.
As usual, Panola County’s unemployment rate is lower than western neighbors such as Coahoma (13.5) and Quitman (12.2) and higher than its neighbors to the east and north.
The lowest posted unemployment rate came from DeSoto County at 4.6 percent while the highest rate, 18.5, came from Sharkey and Harrison counties.
The state’s January rate is 9.1 percent, up from 7.8 percent, "confirming that damage from Hurricane Katrina continues to wreak havoc with the state’s economy," an MDES press released suggested.
The same press release also noted, however, that the number of employed Mississippians rose by 23,000 since December "largely due to businesses along the Gulf Coast re-opening and to hurricane cleanup and reconstruction activities."
| Police chief: officer saw thief flee store
| By Jason C. Mattox
A suspect in the burglary of Junior Food Mart on Highway 51 in Sardis is being held for investigation at the Panola County Jail, according to Sardis Police Chief Mike Davis.
Tyrus Butler, 32, of 110 Percyville St., Sardis, was arrested Friday morning.
Davis said the incident occurred at 3:17 a.m. Friday when the suspect broke out a side glass to enter the business.
"At this point all we know was taken was money," he said. "There has been no report of missing merchandise. We do know he took the surveillance tape from the store."
The chief said there were no witnesses to the break-in, but an officer saw the suspect leaving the building.
"At that point a chase began," Davis said. "The chase happened through town until the suspect was finally arrested between 5 to 5:30 a.m."
| Memorial service Wednesday will honor Panola students
| A memorial service for Graham Carson, Leslie Pitcock and Camille Willis will be held at the University of Mississippi’s Ford Center Wednesday, March 22 at 5:30 p.m.
The three Ole Miss co-eds died December 10 in an automobile accident on Interstate 55, just south of the Pope exit in Panola County.
The memorial service is sponsored by the Ole Miss chapters of Delta Delta Delta and Chi Omega sororities. Carson, a freshman from Marks, and Pitcock, a sophomore from Pope, were members of the former; Willis, a freshman from Batesville, was a member of the latter.
The public is invited to the memorial, said
Dr. Whitney Rayner of Oxford, Tri-Delta alumni advisor.
| Make a wish
| Sara Grace Coaten, 4, enjoys a swing with her grandmother, Betty Matthews, at a party in Sara’s honor given Saturday by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Sara, who lives in the Mt. Olivet Community with her parents, Allen and Diane Coaten, is a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. She wished for and received a backyard playground, including a swingset, sandbox, and playhouse. Sara is being treated for leukemia and is in remission, her mother said.
| Hentz’s help mate released Monday
| By John Howell Sr.
Elizabeth "Lacy" Hentz was released Monday after serving two years for aiding prisoner escape, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections said.
In November, 2003, Hentz assisted her husband, Larry Hentz, in an escape from Mississippi’s Parchman prison and in a cross-country flight that eventually led to San Diego, California. The escape was featured on "America’s Most Wanted," exposure that contributed to their capture.
The couple was apprehended in a San Diego motel December 11, 2003, as they prepared to cross the border into Mexico.
Officials charged that Lacy Hentz smuggled a six-inch reciprocating saw blade to her husband during a visit at some time prior to his November 17 escape. With the saw blade, Hentz was apparently able to cut away bars over his cell’s window and get outside. Once outside the building, he was able to cut through the security fence.
Officials charged that Lacy Hentz was waiting in her car near the prison, and the two quickly drove out of the state and began an odyssey through Texas and western states on their way to San Diego.
Larry Hentz is serving two life sentences, one in the 1982 murder-for-hire death of James Williamson of Oakland.
| Utility bill passes state House; McBride backs firearms laws
| By Billy Davis
State legislation that could impact economic development in Panola County has passed the state House of Representatives and is in the Senate.
Rep. Leonard Morris said last Friday that a local/private bill that would allow a county-wide utility district in Panola County is now in the hands of state Sen. Ralph Doxey.
Doxey chairs the Senate Local and Private Committee. He represents Benton, Marshall and Tippah counties.
Panola County officials announced plans for the utility district in recent weeks, suggesting that it could play a role in the county luring an automotive plant or some other large industry.
Since such an industry would require massive amounts of water, sewage and electricity to operate, a utility district would help ensure the proper infrastructure is in place.
According to Morris, he and other Panola legislators, Rep. Warner McBride and Sen. Nolan Mettetal, asked Doxey in recent days to support the legislation in the Senate.
"All of us have gone and talked to him because he typically won’t take up local and private legislation until the end of the session," Morris said. "We don’t want to wait until the last (of the session). We need that bill on the governor’s desk."
Elsewhere in the state legislature, Rep. McBride said a bill he introduced that allows hunting on rural acreage that is annexed by cities has passed the House and is on the governor’s desk.
House Bill 1141 would permit shotguns to be used on 10 acres or more and rifles to be used on 50 acres or more.
Still another section of House bill 1141 would allow employees to keep a firearm in their vehicle if the parking lot is not gated or watched by a security guard. Government buildings and private companies would be exempt from lawsuits stemming from the law.
McBride earlier voted for legislation known as the "castle doctrine," which allows homeowners to use a firearm in their homes against an intruder if they believe their life is in danger.
| City employees hear insurance pitch
| By Jason C. Mattox
A Monday meeting between representative workers of the City of Batesville and an insurance broker allowed questions about proposed changes in dental plans.
Insurance broker Phillip Kennedy met with city personnel that included Code Enforcement Office administrator Pam Comer, Batesville Fire Department Assistant Chief Chris Olsen, Street Department Superintendent Teddy Austin, and Waste Water Superintendent David Carr, allowing them to ask questions about two proposed dental plans.
"The board and I feel like this is the right way to handle this situation," Mayor Jerry Autrey told The Panolian prior to the meeting. "We don’t want to make a decision like this without getting input from the people the change will effect."
During the meeting Kennedy, of Pontotoc, explained two plans to the city contingency.
"The mayor asked me to prepare a proposal that would match your current benefits from American Medical Services (AMS), and then an alternative," Kennedy said.
Rates for the proposed carrier’s (Guardian) first plan would save the city $1.48 per employee.
A switch to the alternative plan would save the city $6.54.
The City of Batesville pays 100 percent for employee dental coverage.
"You have a very rich plan as it is," Kennedy said. "It is very hard to find a $100 deductible over the lifetime of the plan anymore. Hardly anyone writes that anymore."
If the city elects to change its insurance carrier to Guardian, city employees would also be eligible for Vision Services Provider coverage free of charge.
"This is something we are going to throw in if we are selected as your dental carrier," Kennedy said.
Comer said she wanted to discuss the proposals with employees in her office as it involved an increase in price from one plan to the other on family coverages.
"I have some in my office with children and I want to get their input on this," she said.