| Price at the pump ‘is killing us’
| By Billy Davis
If gas prices were bullets, Mary Frances Woods and her trucking company would be ducking a barrage.
"It’s horrible. The price of diesel is killing us," Woods said of prices that are creeping toward $3 a gallon.
Woods co-owns Backwoods Express, a family-owned, short-haul trucking business based in Sardis.
She said gas receipts from April 29, 2005, show diesel at $2.25 a gallon versus $2.79 a gallon last week.
Backwoods Express hauls mainly for road construction company Lehman-Roberts, bringing asphalt to construction sites from President’s Island in downtown Memphis.
To pay for trucks that average four miles a gallon, Backwoods charges a 22 percent surcharge to its clients.
"We started (the surcharge) at the end of 2005 after holding off as long as we could," Woods said. "We just didn’t have a choice."
"I can understand why a lot of trucking companies are going under, especially the ones on the road," said Woods, referring to long-hauling work.
Graves Oil Co. employee Don Kilgore said he knows the gas prices are hurting consumers, particularly farmers and truckers, but be wants the public to know any blame lies far beyond local oil companies.
"We’re a puppet on a string because the big oil companies make their own rules," said Kilgore, who purchases wholesale fuel for the company.
"I was that guy who thought the gas stations were making mega-mega bucks, but I can tell you it’s not there," said Kilgore, who came to Graves last November with a background in trucking and farming.
Kilgore said he’s aware that farmers are hard-hit by the price of diesel, which he said Graves is hauling to their farms at a "bare bones" price.
Kilgore said purchase figures from April show gas and diesel both jumped 26 cents over a two-week period during the month.
Few consumers understand that oil companies such as Graves often lose money when their product is put "in the ground" at gas stations at one price ? then the price drops.
"Some days you lose money on (the gas)," Kilgore said. "It’s a crap shoot."
Woods said large oil companies such as Exxon and Mobil are to blame for the gas prices, but she added that the Backwoods trucks typically avoid Panola County’s gas stations.
"Batesville has the highest prices around here," she said.
| Supervisors revise paving requirement
| By Billy Davis
Panola County supervisors voted unanimously Monday to alter the county’s zoning guidelines to allow rock as a surface material for commercial parking lots in the county.
The vote Monday in Sardis came in response to a request from business owner Stan Holcomb, who had appealed to supervisors in recent months to allow his parking lot to remain mostly rock.
Holcomb had paved a strip of the lot in front of Stan’s Country Store, located along Highway 6 East.
A paved parking lot, including entrances and parking spaces, was a standard requirement for commercial properties that operate in the county before supervisors’ vote Monday.
The Panola County 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. The paved lot was part of that special exception.
The non-paving proposal was suggested Monday by Supervisor Robert Avant, who suggested crushed limestone, blacktop, DBST and concrete as materials can be used. Three of the four materials are hard surface materials.
Holcomb’s parking lot is filled with limestone rock, Avant told The Panolian after the board meeting.
Supervisor James Birge made the motion to alter the requirement, which found a second from Supervisor Jerry Perkins.
The board of supervisors attorney, Bill McKenzie, was requested to announce the change via a letter to Bob Barber, the DeSoto County professional planner who is a consultant for the county land commission.
The supervisors’ vote effectively ended a political drama that began in January when the land development commission voted unanimously to take Holcomb to justice court if he failed to pave his lot as requested.
Instead Holcomb appealed to the supervisors, who backed his request over the commission in a unanimous vote, agreeing that contended that the business owner had complied with the parking lot requirement with a rock lot and a patch of asphalt for parking spaces.
With the two public boards in obvious disagreement, supervisors Avant, Jerry Perkins and Bubba Waldrup attended the land commission’s April meeting, hearing commission members spell out the paving requirement and also pleading with supervisors to continue the paved parking requirement.
Land commission chairman Danny Walker told Avant the county would be "taking a tremendous step backward" if supervisors repealed the requirement.
Avant contended, however, that the county didn’t need a one-size-fits-all requirement for parking lot paving.
Nine businesses have applied for permits to operate in the county since 2004, and only one has completed its parking lot, both Avant and Perkins said prior to the board vote.
Avant and Perkins had apparently researched the county’s businesses, using a list from the land commission.
Those businesses are Boss’s, Stan’s Country Store, Auto Paint store, South Central Crop Insurance, Myron Hall Plumbing, Madison Tax and Associates, Tammy Welch (Dairy Bar), G.Q.’s Patriot Cycles, and Sunset South Developers.
"I found nine (businesses) and only one has completed (the paving)," Perkins said. "Eight more haven’t done it."
Of the nine businesses listed, six of them have yet to open for business, a copy of the list shows.
Prior to the supervisors’ vote Monday, Waldrup tried to temper the disagreement between his colleagues and the land commission by suggesting that the current parking space requirement be continued.
The county’s current commercial paving guidelines require a certain number of hard surface parking spaces based on a business’s square footage.
Continuing that requirement could serve as a "medium" between the two public bodies, Waldrup said, but the suggestion failed to find support around the board table.
"Why would we do that?" Avant replied. "Then you would have to asphalt the whole thing."
| Sheriff, staff ready jail for open house
| By John Howell Sr.
Panola citizens who have not been recently incarcerated will have their first opportunity to visit the David M. Bryan Justice Complex under the administration of Sheriff Hugh W. "Shot" Bright at an open house Friday, May 5, from 1 to 6 p.m.
"We’re really looking forward to Friday; we’re hoping a lot of people will come and see what we’ve got out here," said Robbie Haley, administrative assistant to the sheriff.
Guests will tour portions of the main jail structure. Also open for visitors will be the 911 emergency communications center, a separate facility which houses state trusties and a new building which will house the county’s new electronic voting machines under controlled conditions and provide a place for maintenance of county-owned vehicles, Bright said during a recent meeting of the Batesville Rotary Club.
The jail complex includes the new jail building constructed in 1999 and the three ancillary buildings constructed with trusty labor under a joint county work program. Sheriff Bright said that state inmate labor has saved the county substantially in construction costs. As an example, he said that the state inmate housing facility dimension of 30 feet by 100 feet "built totally by inmate labor" cost the county $38,000 and is comparable to a similar structure which would cost $300,000.
Other highlights of Friday’s jail tour and the complement of sheriff’s department personnel who will be hosting the event include:
||Investigators Mark Whitten and Barry Thompson, who have been recently joined by Albert Perkins, and their secretary, Lisa Mills;
||Rosa Wilson, and the 911 communications center she supervises during the day shift as well as Donna White, 911 dispatch center supervisor. "When somebody needs off, she has to fill in," Bright said.
||Daytime nurse Bonnie Daugherty and night shift nurse Rita Cook. "This is just like a doctor’s office," Bright said, describing the medical facilities for inmates inside the jail.
"These nurses save the county a lot of money," the sheriff said. "Dr. [Billy] Haire visits on Wednesdays" he added.
||Terry Bryant and Pat Tigner are day shift jailers; Cathy Wilson is jail administrative assistant. They work under the supervision of jail administrator Bobby Meek and his assistant, Edward Dickson. They oversee male inmate cells as well as a handicap cell and a female cell with capacity for two inmates, the sheriff said.
Television monitors have been placed to allow continuing observation of areas "back and outside of the jail. I wanted to make sure nobody was being abused or used," Bright said.
The booking area is not only under constant monitoring by the closed circuit system, activity there is also videotaped.
"A lot of people come in who are drunk," the sheriff said. "A lot of women come in who are really drunk."
Deputies involved in law enforcement and patrol work under supervision of chief deputy Otis Griffin. His administrative assistant is Carolyn Cauthen.
?Eric "Buck" Harris is the deputy who handles bad checks. "He helps pay for his salary," Bright said.
Other officers who handle special assignments include Ezell Pegues and Tony Ware, who process and serve papers.
"Before we got process servers, the deputies were the ones who served papers." The process servers "freed up the deputies," he added.
Wayne Morris, a 24-year veteran of the department, is the prisoner transport officer.
Deputy Bobby Walton targets roadside litter and will swear out a warrant on the basis of identification information found in roadside dumping investigations, Bright said. Ernie Munoz erects and maintains signs on county roads, he added.
A typical inmate census of 100 will include about half state and half county inmates, the sheriff continued. With the support of state trusty labor, the county saves about $300,000 per year, he said.
To the department’s 24 patrol cars have been added large stars and the sheriff’s name painted on the side. Bright said that in the past, people were unsure to what jurisdiction a patrol car belonged.
Sheriff Bright and the department’s employees invite everyone to visit during Friday’s open house.
"And we’re going to have refreshments; real good food," Haley said.
| New Voting Machine
| Bonnie Land, Panola County election commissioner, shows the new voting machine that will be demonstrated tomorrow from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Batesville courthouse. All voters will have the opportunity to practice on the new voting machines. The demonstration will also be held at the Sardis courthouse May 10.
| Mayor: Steelmatic scheduled to start production later in month
| Wire maker could expand
| By Jason C. Mattox
While modifications to the old Air Kontrol building in Sardis continue, Steelmatic Wire hopes to begin production there by the middle of this month, according to Sardis Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye.
Steelmatic is a producer of zinc-coated wire and could employ as many as 45 in the coming months.
"I know the current plan is for them to hire 15 people," Dye said. "But they have also told me that as they begin to expand, they will be hiring more people."
Dye said one reason the company has not started production has been the modifications that were needed to the building that once housed Air Kontrol. The building is located just off Highway 51.
The city of Sardis received a $150,000 Mississippi Rural Impact grant to fund the renovations to the building.
"They had to cut a large door in the building so they could move in all of their equipment," he said.
"Once the equipment was in, there were some changes made in the electrical system."
Dye said the start of production will be good for the City of Sardis.
"That building sat out there vacant for a long time," he said. "Steelmatic saw the facility on a Web site, made a visit in August or September, then announced they would be coming here in November.
"We are excited about them coming into the community," Dye added.
"All of us involved hope this will be a long-term investment."
| Construction worker dies from nail gun accident
| By Billy Davis
A construction worker died Friday after he pierced his chest with a nail gun while working on a home.
Marcus Stokes, 34, of Water Valley was working on a rooftop at 3704 Brewer Road when he shot a nail into his body.
The incident occurred about noon.
Stokes was taken from the scene by ambulance to Tri-Lakes Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:40 p.m., said Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge.
The nail penetrated Stokes’ aorta, the main artery of the heart, Gulledge said.
Guy Coaten, a second construction worker on the site, said Stokes yelled out, "Help! I shot myself in the chest!," then jumped down from the roof onto scaffolding, then jumped to the ground.
Coaten dialed 9-1-1 and waited for the ambulance at the intersection of Highway 6 East and Bethlehem Road.
The home is located near the intersection of Bethlehem and Brewer roads and sits mainly out of view.
The nail gun Stokes was using typically operates with 120 pounds of pressure, Coaten said.
Stokes was employed by contractor Brad Vanwinkle, who is also from Water Valley.