| New plant could hire 250-plus
for product lines
| Piece by piece, a so-called vulcanizer must be cut up before it can be removed from the former Dana plant in Crenshaw to make room for a new owner, Rolando Foods. The giant metal tube is used to cook rubber, but Rolando will use the facility to manufacture and package several food products.
| By Billy Davis
When rice, juice, bottled water and baby formula are rolling off Rolando Food’s assembly line, the sole plant in Crenshaw could employ more than 250 workers, company CEO and chairman Roland Butler said Tuesday.
About 30 workers will be the first hirings at the plant, Butler said, but more people will be hired and trained in coming months as more food products are introduced to the new locale.
The Maryland-based company is relocating its entire business to the small Delta town, lured in part by possession of an abandoned plant that was owned by Panola County government.
With urging from District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, who represents the area, Panola County supervisors voted unanimously last week to hand over the property to Rolando for a promise of new jobs.
According to Butler, Rolando’s customers will range from the Tunica casinos, which will purchase coffee, water and juice, to African counties that will purchase rice and a client that will sell powdered milk and baby formula to Middle Eastern companies.
The food company began more than 25 years ago as B and B Foods when Butler imported coffee from Africa to sell in bulk in the United States.
"Because the profit margin was not great, we decided to start processing and packaging the coffee ourselves," Butler said. "That’s how we got into the food industry."
Butler said he had to look beyond Maryland for lower wages, believing the move was necessary in order for Rolando to increase its product line and compete for clients.
"We now have a growing business that, because of our labor rates, will put us in a different market," Butler said. "A good example is that we can now sell coffee – the same as other companies do – to the dollar stores."
Butler was scouting locations in New Orleans when a friend there suggested that he look at Mississippi. Like hundreds of other industries, Butler discovered a state filled with workers accustomed to wages that are lower on average than northern states.
According to state statistics, manufacturing wages in Panola County average $11.65 an hour, a number that includes management salaries, compared to $13.60 statewide and $21.53 nationally. Manufacturing jobs are the county’s leading job producer, accounting for one-quarter of employment.
Hourly wages at Rolando Foods will start around $7 for line workers and rise with training, said the CEO, who added that some non-management wages could climb into the $10-$15 range.
"We also really want people to have health insurance," Butler said. "We feel that’s a necessity."
In Crenshaw, more than 500 willing workers have visited the coming employer, giving their names and phone number for a chance to be on the payroll, Butler reported.
The actual job hirings for Rolando will go through the WIN Job Center in Batesville, however. The hiring process could begin in about a month for plant workers as well as truck drivers.
Crowds began visiting the plant when word spread through the community that Rolando representatives were on the site, said Avant, who reported the swelling crowd last week.
"The people there want jobs. They’re ready to work," said Avant.
Unemployment in Panola County has hovered around eight to nine percent during the current year, but Avant has said in the past that unemployment in north Panola County could range as high as 25 percent.
| Supervisors opt for a centralized E-911
| By Billy Davis
Panola County supervisors voted unanimously Monday to reorganize the countywide E-911 dispatch system into a centralized location despite the objections of Batesville and Sardis officials.
The current Motorola emergency system is nearly obsolete due to age and technology, leaving supervisors to decide on the next system since the board acts as the Panola County E-911 Commission.
"The current system is 13 years old, and after January 1 Motorola will consider it obsolete," Deputy Civil Defense Director Daniel Cole told The Panolian Monday.
"It’s fine until it breaks because then you can’t get parts for it," he said.
The centralized system puts police dispatchers from Batesville and Sardis under one roof along with sheriff’s department dispatchers, and under the day-to-day management of Panola County government.
The second option was a "stand alone" system that operates similarly to the current system, allowing dispatchers to remain in the police departments in Sardis and Batesville and the sheriff’s department.
Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey and Sardis Mayor Rusty Dye, who were not present Monday, had voiced support for the stand-alone system, supervisors acknowledged Monday.
Reached Monday after the vote, Autrey said he was disappointed in the supervisors for voting for the centralized system over the cities’ wishes.
"When I left our last meeting, I was under the impression that we would have the stand-alone system," Autrey said. "I guess I should have been at the meeting because they didn’t hear our side."
Despite the vote Monday, Autrey said he plans to attend the supervisors "second Monday" meeting next week to ask them to reconsider the vote.
Autrey said the dispatchers at the Batesville Police Department act as receptionists for foot traffic into the station, which he says serves an important role for the public.
"If we have to move our dispatchers, then we would have to hire three full-time people plus another two as fill-ins," Autrey said. "We’ve got to keep our station open 24 hours a day."
Cole presented the two options to supervisors Monday, telling them repeatedly about the cities’ preference while also reporting that the stand-alone is the more expensive option.
Passing along Autrey’s concern about losing the dispatchers, Cole said the cities estimated the cost for receptionists’ salaries at $100,000 a year.
"I can say you’re probably stirring up a hornet’s nest," said Cole, who had met with Autrey and others to discuss the two options and costs.
Both Cole and County Administrator David Chandler suggested to supervisors that the centralized emergency system resolves a liability concern.
According to Cole, if one of the stand-alone systems goes down, emergency calls would be rerouted to a non-emergency number.
"That dispatcher wouldn’t have any information in front of her about what’s going on," Cole said.
District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant made the motion to choose the centralized system followed by a second from District 3 Supervisor Mack Benson.
| Burn ban back after near-rainless summer
| By Billy Davis
Panola County is operating under a burn ban following a letter signed Monday by Supervisor Robert Avant.
The burn ban was recommended by Deputy Civil Defense Director Daniel Cole, who told supervisors he had conferred with a district forester with the state forestry commission.
The ban puts the county under a no-burn rule for 30 days unless adequate rainfall is reported.
"That means no burning leaves or trash, no limb burning and no land clearing," Cole told The Panolian.
Even if thunderstorms roll into Panola County in coming days, the county will finish the summer weeks with little or no rain since spring.
Panola County last operated under a burn ban in January that continued through the entire month.
Panola County firefighters responded to about 15 grassfires over the weekend, Cole told supervisors.
| Man faces federal child porn charges
| By Jason C. Mattox
and John Howell Sr.
A 66-year-old Batesville man is facing federal charges of possession of child pornography and manufacturing child pornography.
Charles Wayne McGee, 209 Musgrove Rd., was arrested on a federal indictment and charged last Thursday at 9:38 a.m., according to Sheriff’s Department investigator Mark Whitten.
McGee is free on $50,000 bond and is being electronically monitored. He is restricted to the confines of the interior of his residence and must post signs at all entrances to the residence stating no one under the age of 18 is permitted.
McGee must receive clearance from a probation officer to leave the residence and he is not allowed to have a computer in the residence, Whitten said.
Whitten said the indictment stems from an April 15 call investigator Barry Thompson received.
"Barry was called in regard to a possible child fondling," Whitten said.
Based on information Thompson gained, a search warrant was executed for the accused’s property where "items of interest" were seized.
"Some of those items were turned over to the FBI for forensic analysis which resulted in the federal indictment," Whitten said.
Whitten said the state charges will be presented to a Panola County grand jury.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Roberts said that there was "no evidence of (monetary) gain" in the federal case against McGee.
State investigators have recently made five arrests in Tupelo, four in Oxford and eight in Hinds County through sting operations that begin when officers establish presences in Internet chat rooms posing as minors willing to engage in sex, Roberts said.
The federal attorney said that of the eight Internet pornography cases he has prosecuted in the last five years, four have involved 14- and 15-year-old victims.
| Patton park troubles, murder sparked plea
to ‘get involved’
| By John Howell Sr.
"Operation Takeback’s" first step looked tentative as it began Saturday morning. It grew bolder as the minutes brought more people into the Patton Lane Community Center.
By the meeting’s end, another had been set for Saturday, August 26.
"Let’s invite everyone," said Alderman Rufus Manley.
Drug selling, beer drinking and gambling in Patton Lane Park were cited among neighborhood concerns by Deputy Police Chief Tony Jones, minister Robert Govan, Manley and others.
The meeting was prompted when residents who live near the park and leaders of the African-American community approached Mayor Jerry Autrey about illegal activity in the park and unsupervised teenagers who walk the streets during late hours of the evening.
Panola Sheriff Hugh W. "Shot" Bright and Chief Deputy Otis Griffin offered input on the county law enforcement’s role with the problems in Batesville
Looming in the background of the Saturday Takeback meeting was the July 14 shooting death at the West Ridge Apartments of Jamie Rochell Milam, a 28-year-old mother. Milam’s murder was thought to have stemmed from a drug deal gone awry, but investigators have been unable to pinpoint the murderer.
"Somebody knows about that, the young lady who was killed," said Le Anne Cannon.
"I will make a commitment to go to my church and tell them how important this is," Cannon continued. "When I hear people say ?I don’t want to get involved’ – we’re already involved. If you don’t do nothing, you’re already involved!"
Cannon continued, her statement triggering nods and murmurs of agreement among the 25 to 30 people who gathered for the meeting.
"We’re already involved" became the mantra often repeated during the 50-minute meeting. Police officials have said that they can come and clear out loiterers in the park only to have them return as soon as police are gone.
"If you don’t help us stop it, it’s going to get worse," Jones said. He urged residents to get involved by calling the police department to report illegal activity.
"Take it one step further; go out and sign papers; be willing to go to court," the deputy chief added.
|Various officials and citizens offered other observations and suggestions for solutions.
"Everybody take your own house back," he said, suggesting active parental supervision of teenage children, "and then everybody get together and go to the house that ain’t got nobody and help them take it back."
"If you’re scared to call the police, call me," Manley continued. Or "if you call the police, tell them to put it out on the cell phone," the alderman suggested. "Everybody’s got scanners," he said, and can monitor police broadcasts to warn lawbreakers.
"We’ve been working hard on this case; we’ve been trying to get that solved," in cooperation with Batesville police, Panola Sheriff High W. "Shot" Bright said, referring to the Milam murder.
Bright said his department has also encountered "little gangs out there, white and black" in other areas of the county, including "Sardis Lake Estates. Now it’s under control; young people is who it was and they were trying to take control and they were white," the sheriff added.
In the city’s upcoming budget, the mayor pledged "more funding into the police department. We’re going to try to get a drug dog."
"Let’s don’t let this (concern about unlawful activity) be here today, gone tomorrow," Autrey said.
Other suggestions that came from the group included approaching parents first to talk with them about teenagers who walk the streets of the neighborhood during late hours, talking loudly and using profanity.
"These are little girls. If they are walking the street then it’s something wrong," someone said.
The suggestion of a curfew for teenagers was briefly mentioned but turned aside. Most people agreed that it was a parental problem and not a law enforcement problem.
"Our children are running us; we’re not running them," another said.
"It may be that God is letting our children treat us this way to show us how we’re treating him," Manley said.
| Tax listings included in this issue
| By Rupert Howell
The Panolian readers will find a 10-page section containing listings of property owners and land parcels that have delinquent taxes against them for Panola County, City of Batesville and towns of Courtland, Crowder and Pope.
The list contains approximately 1,200 parcels and may be a "little more" than usual, according to longtime Deputy Tax Collector Billy Bright.
"This publication gives property owners a final opportunity to pay delinquent taxes before property is sold for the amount of taxes due," Bright said.
Publication of the list is required by law and must be published twice before the county sells the property on Monday, August 28.
Bright emphasized that property owners must pay the delinquent taxes, plus penalties and publication fees on or before Friday, August 25 at the tax collector’s office at the Panola County Courthouse. The sale is the following Monday.
But just because you pay the taxes doesn’t mean it’s yours according to Bright.
By paying the delinquent taxes plus penalties and fees, you are entitled to a tax lien. After taxes are delinquent for three years, the County Chancery Clerk’s office notifies the owner that a change of ownership is about to occur.
At that point the original property owner can redeem the property by paying the unpaid taxes, fees and interest of as much as 1-1/2 percent per month which can add up to be a rather large sum according to Bright.
The listings in today’s C-Section include only those delinquent taxes in the Second Judicial district of Panola County and the four municipalities listed.
Delinquent taxes for the First Judicial District which includes the Sardis, Como, and Crenshaw areas, can be found in The Southern Reporter newspaper.
Property taxes are used to fund government services such as fire and police protection, road maintenance and also contribute toward maintaining public schools.