Headlines – 5/9/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 9, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – May 9, 2006

  From the 5/9/06 issue of The Panolian       

Lunacy, week two: county hears from two about court costs, housing
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Board of Supervisors continued its discussion of lunacy cases Monday, this time hearing from a chancery special master as well as the director of the local crisis intervention center.

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Batesville attorney Adam Pittman, who hears the lunacy cases, told supervisors he was grateful that the county was discussing the dilemma of finding housing for patients.

"I’m glad you are discussing this issue because it’s become an issue after the sale of the hospital," Pittman said, referring to Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock broached the subject last week, addressing concerns over an increase in lunacy cases flowing through the court system and court filings and other paperwork that often is paid for by taxpayers.

Lunacy court appearances are averaging two a week, Pittman and Pitcock agreed at the "second Monday" meeting.

"The vast majority of the people…need help," Pittman said. "It’s not like we’re sending these people to the doctor and the doctor says they’re fine."

The chancery clerk’s office is the starting point for mental commitment cases in Panola County. After papers are filed on a person, often by a family member, the process begins with a mental evaluation by a doctor followed by a chancery court hearing.

If the special master rules that treatment is needed, then the patient is "committed," meaning he or she is ordered to enter a state mental facility.
At the Monday meeting, Pittman said the county often holds patients for three to four days until they’re evaluated and appear in court.

A jail cell is not the "proper place" to house a patient prior to a court appearance, Pittman said, agreeing with Pitcock, however, that committed patients who are in jail are often received quickly by a facility.

A mentally ill patient’s $25,000 bill from Tri-Lakes jumpstarted the lunacy discussion last week when Pitcock reported receiving the bill.

The $25,000 bill sent to the county "won’t happen again," Pittman said.

"I can commit somebody to a private facility but I only do that if the bill is taken care of," Pittman said. "There was a misunderstanding where we understood that was taken care of."

Regarding the topic of court expenses, Pittman said the patient, not the family, is responsible for paying for court costs and other fees.

Ellen Waits, director of the Robert F. Maddux Crisis Intervention Center, appeared Monday after supervisors wondered aloud last week why the center’s presence doesn’t seem to help the housing situation.

Waits told supervisors the Batesville center is an eight-bed facility that serves female patients from an 18-county area.

Future patients are added to a main waiting list located at the Tupelo location, Waits said.

"When a bed opens, we call and get the next person on the list," Waits said, adding that a patient’s average length of stay is 28 days.

"Do you have any Panola County patients?" asked Supervisor Robert Avant.

"No patients are there right now from Panola County," Waits replied. "We had three patients from here about three months ago."

Waits said the facility is expected to double in bed capacity by July and could provide a walk-up service in about two years.

Supervisors did take action on the topic at their "second Monday" meeting, voting to allow Pitcock to contact Tri-Lakes about the cost of housing patients and report back to the board.

After city vote, Covenant developer can move dirt
By Billy Davis

Covenant Crossing developer Alvan Kelly is closer to starting dirt work on his Batesville project after city officials approved a letter indicating the city’s intention to handle water and sewer drainage from the development.

The document is needed so Kelly can draw a soil permit from the Miss. Department of Environmental Quality, which needed assurance of the city’s cooperation with Covenant.

The board of aldermen agreed unanimously to Kelly’s request after receiving its own assurance that the developer is responsible for putting in water and sewer infrastructure.

A two-minute presentation by Kelly led to a 20-minute discussion about who is responsible for what, stalling a motion and a second until aldermen felt comfortable with the letter.

Alderman Rufus Manley made a motion to allow the letter. Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders seconded the motion.

Manley asked that the motion pass with a letter from assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell that spells out Kelly’s obligations.

"We want the project," Manley told Kelly. "Don’t let all this discussion make you think we don’t want it."

To better explain the situation, planning consultant Jimmy Gouras of Vicksburg spoke to board members about a TIF (tax increment financing) program that would reimburse Kelly for his up-front cost of infrastructure at Covenant.

The TIF program uses a portion of the sales tax created by new development, such as a shopping center, to reimburse the developer who poured money into the project.

The TIF program isn’t entirely new to the city – aldermen used TIF to help bring Lowe’s, assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell noted during the meeting.

City aldermen weren’t being asked Friday to approve of TIF, Gouras said, but he wanted them to know they were not being asked to pay for the infrastructure.

Regarding the route of water and sewer from the new development, aldermen agreed the infrastructure would likely "go north" toward Brewer Road, where a road leading south will connect to the Covenant development.

City pledges more support to benefit
By John Howell Sr.

Batesville city officials voted to add $1,500 to funds raised by the Answered Prayers benefit held Saturday April 29 in Batesville.

Aldermen voted, Tuesday, May 2, in support of the donation of matching funds for the annual benefit which raises money for local children who face catastrophic health care needs.

In other business:
City officials voted to reject bids for resurfacing seven tennis courts. Bids in the amounts of $32,383 and $26,200 were received in response to advertisements for resurfacing. Aldermen voted to reject both when they were advised that the lower bid had not been submitted in compliance with bid specifications.
     "I put in a lot of work; now my price is out there," said Allen Vest, a spokesman for the company which submitted the higher bid and who attended the meeting for the bid opening.
Aldermen approved payment of $163,914.88 to Lehman Roberts Company for pavement of the Downtown Square. Five percent of the company’s bid of $167,000 was withheld pending resolution of several minor construction issues, city engineer Blake Mendrop said.
Three city employees will attend municipal clerk training offered by Mississippi State University through the Mississippi Municipal League. City Clerk Laura Herron and assistant clerk Susan Berryhill will update their certification as municipal clerks and Misty Jones will receive training towards her certification at the spring session of the certification program in Oxford.
Fire chief Tim Taylor requested pay adjustments for fire fighters Russell McCullar and Tim Smith to reflect completion of required training and rookie status, respectively. Aldermen approved Taylor’s request.
Taylor also requested and received permission for fire fighters James Snider, Rip Copeland, Cowles Horton and Williams Stewart to attend a "Juvenile Fire Setting Course" at the Mississippi Fire Academy.
Aldermen discussed a request by Covenant Crossing developer Alvis Kelly for a letter of intent from the city stating that the city would provide municipal services to the site. The city officials deferred the request until a meeting could be set with Kelly and consultant Jimmy Gouras (see related story page 1).
State inmates will soon be available for litter pickup on city streets as well as state rights-of-way under a joint program with the Mississippi Department of Transportation. MDOT will provide pay for a supervisor for the workers as well as a vehicle for their transportation, Mayor Jerry Autrey said.
City officials discussed a personnel matter in the police department with Police Chief Gerald Legge Jr. during an executive session near the meeting’s end. Following the reopening of the meeting to the public, assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell said that no action was taken.

     Panola County Deputy Sheriff Eddie Mathews fingerprints Amber Killough for a child identification program at the Heath Fair hosted last Saturday by Tri-Lakes Medical Center and co-sponsored by the Junior Auxiliary of Batesville. More than 350 people registered at the event.
     Mathews handed Amber’s parents the card with her fingerprints and said, "I hope you never have to use it."
Sunday beer sales at marina hinge on board
By Jason C. Mattox

The Dock Inc., a convenience store located at the Sardis Lake Marina, has asked the city for permission to sell beer on Sundays.

The convenience store is situated on a portion of the acreage the city has leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Sardis Lake Marina project.

Sardis Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye informed the Board of Aldermen last Tuesday that he had been approached with the request from the business’s operators.

"I wasn’t about to tell them whether or not they could sell beer on Sundays," Dye said. "Ultimately, that decision is up to you."

The mayor did remind the board that Mallard Pointe Golf Course does sell beer on Sundays.

"I think the issue for them is that people can go across the lake to the golf course and buy beer on Sundays," he said. "I am not for or against it, but they want us to make a decision."

Mallard Pointe is allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays because the golf course is a designated resort area by the state.

The Dock Inc. only operates Friday-Sunday.

"I can’t blame them for that," Ward 4 Alderman Rivers McArthur said. "That is when most of the business is out at the lake."

Ward 2 Alderman Mike Wilson asked city attorney Tommy Shuler if it was legal for people to consume alcohol on the lake.

"They are allowed to consume on the marina property," Shuler replied. "Once they leave that property and get onto the lake they can’t."

Ward 1 Alderman Joseph "JoJo" Still told fellow board members that allowing sales at the marina on Sundays concerned him.

"I know I am just one vote, but you all know as soon as we allow beer sales out there on Sundays, all of the other businesses in town will be asking us to do the same," he said.

Aldermen wanted more time to consider the request and took no action. The topic will be discussed again at a later date.

In other board business:
Aldermen were presented with information about the AirEvac Lifeteam.
City leaders voted to set a public hearing at their June meeting for condemned property.
Aldermen voted to purchase a new three-wheel street sweeper at a cost of $114,000.
Dye said he would be speaking with Bell South about raising the height of its phone lines on Pearl Street after several lines have been damaged by 18-wheelers.
Supervisors pledge plant to Rolando
By Billy Davis

Supervisors voted Monday to pledge the former Dana building in Crenshaw to a Maryland company that wants to move its operation there.

Supervisors’ discussion about Rolando Foods’ plans to relocate to Crenshaw, bringing 150 jobs to its plant, also included no-nonsense talk about the risk of putting the county-owned facility in new hands.

Board of supervisors attorney Bill McKenzie cautioned supervisors about the giveaway, saying he didn’t want to "sugarcoat" the deal.

"I just want to make it clear: if they take the building and promise jobs and don’t do it, there’s nothing you can do about that," McKenzie said.

Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons, while seconding McKenzie’s caution, also told supervisors the company seems stable as evidenced by two food contracts, one a $16 million contract and the second a $39 million contract.

Simmons told supervisors he would pursue documentation that Rolando does indeed have those contracts.

District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, who represents the Crenshaw area, said landing Rolando is worth the risk.

"I know the chance we’re taking," Avant said.

Supervisors agreed to a suggestion from Supervisor Jerry Perkins that Rolando will be responsible for legal fees incurred through the transfer.

"I think that would be fair to taxpayers," Perkins said.

Supervisors also voted to allow county road manager Lygunnah Bean to remove machinery from the facility that Dana has failed to remove.

Bean said a vat located in the floor has been in place about two years after Dana promised to remove it.

The Miss. Department of Environmental Quality will be involved in the process because of environmental concerns, Bean said.

Supervisors agreed that Bean will contact Dana one last time via a formal letter before removing the machinery from the plant.

Developer requests city services for proposed Sardis subdivision
By Jason C. Mattox

Developer Nolan West appeared before city leaders last week to request water and sewer services to a proposed residential development just outside the city limits on Highway 51 near North Panola High School.

The total number of lots for the subdivision was not discussed during the meeting.

West informed aldermen that had already met with the Panola County Land Use Commission about the development.

"They wanted to make sure I had a letter of commitment from the city to allow me to hook on to water and sewer before they would grant final approval of the subdivision," he said.

Ward 1 Alderman Joseph "JoJo" Still said he remembered the city approving the hook ups, but said there was a need to have city engineer David Evans inspect the lines before giving a commitment.
"We need to make sure that our lines out that way will be able to handle the additional customers," Still said. "I know we said we were okay with it last time you were here, but we just need to make sure our system will be able to supply the development."

West said he believed the lines on that end of town would be able to offer a plentiful supply.

"I have always heard that there was plenty of water and sewer capacity on that line," he said.

Aldermen instructed Evans to inspect the line and meet with West in the near future.

Upon inspection of the preliminary drawings, city attorney Tommy Shuler said West would need to rename the subdivision before getting his final plat recorded.

"There is already a Sardis Heights in the city," Shuler said. "That is the recorded name for the subdivision in Edwin Circle."

West said he was unaware of that, but renaming the development would not be a problem.

"Well, now that I know that, it really won’t be that difficult to change the name," he said.



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