| By Jason C. Mattox
Wild Dog Ditch is being tamed by an erosion control project spearheaded by Alvis "Rusty" Dye during his first year as mayor of Sardis. The problematic drainage ditch was one of the issues he faced when he took office a year ago after defeating Earnest "Lit" Scruggs.
This week he reflected on accomplishments of his first year in office and plans for the future.
"I think we both ran a good race and the people were ready to make a change," Dye said. "In my first year, I have done what I felt was in the best interest of the city."
Funds and Growth
In that first year, the city received a $409,000 grant for the Wild Dog Ditch erosion control project to correct problems that had plagued Sardis residents for years.
"We had been getting complaints on that ditch for quite some time," he said. "We knew there was money out there to help with erosion problems, so the city went out and applied."
The grant came from the USDA and Natural Resource Conservation Services.
In all, during Dye’s first year in office the city received $959,000 in grants. Another $500,000 in grant funding is pending.
"I am out there looking for whatever money we can find to help with some of the city’s problems," he said.
Perhaps more important than the ditch project was the recruitment of a new business to the city.
Dye and the board of aldermen advertised the old Air Kontrol Building just off Highway 51 on an internet site for a matter of weeks before a company expressed interest.
That company, Steelmatic Wire, Inc., recently opened for operations in the location, and now employs 13 people.
Once the city received a commitment from Steelmatic, they were able to secure $200,000 in grant money to help pay for modifications to the building.
Dye said Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons and James Curcio of North Delta Planning and Development worked diligently with the city to secure the resources.
"That building had been sitting there, and the city wasn’t getting anything off it," Dye said. "It was being used for storage and warehousing for a couple of other industries in the city, but the rent was really minimal, and those companies didn’t hire any new employees."
Dye said Steelmatic has indicated to the city they plan to eventually hire as many as 45 employees.
"The people here need jobs," he said. "So, we are very happy that Steelmatic is taking a step to increase their staffing."
Dye said the revitalization of downtown that many people have been hoping for is closer to becoming a reality.
"We have a developer who is looking in to what it will take to make our Main Street popular," he said.
Alderman-at-Large Roy Scallorn said the mayor has done an excellent job during his first year in office.
"He has been very prolific in going out and finding money to help make improvements in the city," he said.
Growth can be seen in areas other than industrial and commercial.
Since last July when the new administration took the oath of office, there have been 63 new water deposits made, meaning several new residents have moved to a city one developer called "a sleeping giant."
One big development that may wake the giant from its sleep is Phase II of the Sardis Lake Marina Project.
"We have worked diligently to find a developer with an interest in the next phase of development at the marina," Dye said. "Emad El-Turk has worked hard to secure a developer and to help get the next phase of this project moving."
With the election last summer of Dye in Sardis and Jerry Autrey in Batesville, the two new administrations have demonstrated a spirit of cooperation between Panola’s larger municipalities.
"(Batesville Mayor) Jerry (Autrey) and I both realize that when something happens that impacts one of our cities, it will indirectly impact the other," Dye said.
The bond between the two mayors goes back to their college days as fraternity brothers at the University of Southern Mississippi.
"With the relationship we have, each of us wants to see the other succeed," Dye said. "Since day one of our administration, we have not tried to make this a north or south of the river issue."
Never was that more evident than in the spring when a tornado touched down in Sardis, causing damage to several businesses and knocking out power to the entire city.
"We made a call to Batesville and Jerry sent people down here with trackhoes to help with the clean-up," Dye said.
"The city owes a great deal of thanks to the City of Batesville, the Panola County Board of Supervisors and Panola County Civil Defense for their help in getting Sardis put back together," he added.
Dye also commended Panola County Sheriff Shot Bright for help with improvements at City Hall.
"Shot and his workers really helped us out when they came in and helped us repaint City Hall," he said.
Landscaping and other improvements to the exterior of City Hall were completed by Dye’s wife Lynn and their daughter-in-law Diana Thornton, with help from the mayor.
"I want to thank everyone who has worked with me in the last year to make the improvements we have, no matter how large or small they were," Dye said. "I am optimistic about the future of this city, and with the work of the board of aldermen and our friends elsewhere, I anticipate continued growth."