Headlines – 8/22/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – August 22, 2006

  From the 8/22/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

     Ryan Koehn was promoted to the rank of Sergeant during a ceremony at the Batesville Police Department last Friday. Koehn (left) has his badge pinned on by BPD Administrative Assistant Nita Taylor (right) as Col. Tony Jones looks on.
Batesville officials grinding out new year’s budget
By Jason C. Mattox
and Rupert Howell

Department heads’ "wish lists" were slashed during two sessions of the Batesville City Board with a third session scheduled after press time yesterday as city leaders attempt to create a balanced budget for the 2007 fiscal year.

The two-day cut-fest began Monday afternoon and continued Tuesday following city leaders’ regular meeting.

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At the start of the process, the city needed to cut $3 million to have a balanced budget.

"Keep in mind, this budget is a worst case scenario," CPA Bill Crawford of the William H. Polk CPA firm said. "That is the figure you have if you allow everything the department heads asked for."
Batesville Police Department was proposing a $186,000 budget to fund new equipment and software.

"Let’s cut that down $36,000 and make it $150,000," Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders said. "They will have a figure and be able to spend on what they think is the most important."

The next cuts, and perhaps the largest, came from the Batesville Fire Department’s proposed budget.
"I see one thing we can cut right off the bat," Pounders said, referring to proposed sleeping quarters in Station 2.

That single item was budgeted at $500,000.

"It’s almost time to send this back to them and say come up with something realistic," Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger said. "They have been asking for that for years and we keep having to cut it."

Other items cut from the BFD included:
– $40,000 for a pick-up truck
– $4,000 for a storm shelter
– $30,000 for a weight room
– $8,500 for an equipment shed
– $50,000 for purchase of land to construct
   a training facility.

An addition to this year’s budget is $200,000 to pay for the construction and upkeep of an animal shelter.

"We are really getting to the point where we have to do something about this," Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow said. "Our lease on the current location is going to run out, and we don’t know if we can re-up."

Another major cut went to the Batesville Civic Center.

Director Roy Hyde had been requesting $519,000 to construct an equine arena for horse shows.

"We all know the big money is in the horse shows because people will be here for several days at a time," Pounders said implying that local business and taxes earned by the city would increase with weekend events compared to one night events. "But this is just something we can’t afford to do this year."

These major cuts along with smaller ones made throughout the meeting resulted in the city cutting nearly half of the proposed deficit.

"We have cut the problem in half, but I don’t know where we can cut the other half from," Pounders said. "We might be in trouble."

On the following day during the budget session cuts, hospital sale proceeds and a potential bond issue for capital improvements were discussed as solutions for closing the gap between revenues and expenses on the budget which totals almost $20 million.

CPA Crawford, who advises the city on the budgeting process, later explained that using a potential bond issue for capital improvements frees cash on hand or projected for operating costs to be used in the budgeting process.

The city had more income that anticipated last year and cut back on expenses and capital expansion projects didn’t get started which virtually helped the city stay within budget without raising bonds or taxes.

Although the city did not discuss a tax increase, a one mill rate increase would produce $87,000 in revenue.

The city must agree on a budget by September 15 to meet mandated deadlines.

School officials report smooth opening day
By Rupert Howell

School principals throughout the South Panola District reported a smooth transition into the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year at last Tuesday’s August meeting of the district’s board of trustees.

Batesville Elementary School’s principal Carolyn Graham whose faculty is charged with taking care of the youngest and the newest described school opening as, "Exciting. We’re having a good time."
Graham attributed the smooth opening to a dedicated staff and having girls register on one day and boys the next, an idea she admitted she "borrowed."

"We didn’t have any lost children this time," Graham reported.

Intermediate School principal Betsy Ferguson reported that her school building was hot, noting that it was 96 degrees in the upstairs hallway.

Classrooms and the auditorium of the yellow two-story building on Atwell Street are air conditioned but Ferguson explained that the some of the window units have been replaced by smaller units from other school buildings and did not keep the rooms as cool as they needed to be.

School superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer noted the weather had been unusually hot, stating, "We will survive this fall."

He explained that there was not enough electricity coming to the building to add additional cooling equipment but that could be a priority before another summer.

Ferguson said she had moved all but three classes to the cooler first floor of the building and bought bottled water to keep students and teachers hydrated.

Middle School principal Mrs. Willie Chapman bragged about "very cooperative students" at the beginning of the school year.

Chapman’s school received a level four achievement rating for the first time exceeding learning growth expectations.

Junior High School principal Darrell Tucker reported the largest crowd he had ever witnessed at a junior high school open house.

Tucker said he was excited about new staff members and reported that his school was crowded but not over-crowded with 961 students.

Pope School principal Susan Vance reported 545 students in her school that entered into the new school year with a "smooth transition."

South Panola High School principal Dr. Gearl Loden reported 1,270 students beginning the school year with fewer seniors than last year and pledged to meet the new ninth graders’ needs so that they would become seniors.

Loden said the high school has been able to reduce class size in many classrooms creating a better learning and teaching environment.

Two armed robberies net one, local suspect
By Jason C. Mattox

A Batesville man who allegedly fled the scene of his crime on a bicycle has been arrested for his involvement in armed robberies of two Batesville businesses last week.

Michael Taylor, 40, of Batesville, has been charged with armed robbery at the Exxon station on Power Drive and Tobacco World on Highway 51. The Exxon robbery occurred on Wednesday night, August 16, at 11 p.m. and Tobacco World was robbed Thursday night, August 17, at 8:45 p.m. Police did not disclose the amount of cash taken.

Taylor, who was apprehended in Memphis by city police over the weekend, faces two counts of armed robbery and two counts of kidnapping, according to Col. Tony Jones of the Batesville Police Department. At press time he was awaiting extradition to Batesville.

"The suspect’s bond has been set at $250,000 for each count," Det. George Williford said. "That brings his total bond to $1 million."

Williford explained that the kidnapping charges stem from the suspect forcing the employees of the store to leave the building.

"It doesn’t matter if it’s for 30 seconds," he said. "If they were forced to leave the building against their will, it is kidnapping."

"The (Exxon) clerk told us the robber was armed," Jones said.

He was last seen "speeding down Highway 6 on a bicycle."

The suspect fled Tobacco World the next night on foot, Jones said.

Aldermen split on variances; mayor’s vote breaks ties
By Jason C. Mattox

Batesville’s city board allowed a variance in the city code to permit the new Tractor Supply Company on Highway 6 East to avoid the "20 percent shade" stipulation for parking lots at businesses in the city.

The store’s manager, A.R. Robinson, met with the mayor and board of aldermen at a public hearing last Tuesday to request the variance, stating that placing shade trees in the lot would reduce the total number of parking spaces by 19.

"We are more than willing to plant the trees in other areas around the property and properly landscape it, but the trees in the parking lot would really hurt our business," Robinson said.

Robinson said his company wants to make the store as cosmetically pleasing as possible, and feels they can do so without placing trees in the parking areas.

"We are willing to place some trees on the berm we have and around the property," he said. "We have a good landscape design."

Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders said the city needed to consider the potential sales tax generated by the business.

"These people have done and good job and we need to support them," she said. "When they make money, so do we."

Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger, who has provided staunch opposition to variances in the past, said it wasn’t a matter of not supporting the business.

"I really do support them and hope they do well," he said. "If fact, I am going to try my hardest to be their first customer.

"But the fact is, we have to start somewhere, or we might as well just do away with all of our ordinances," Dugger added.

Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley pointed out that the two largest stores in that area of Highway 6 have both received variances on the same shading ordinance.

"Wal-Mart and Lowes both got variances for the same thing," he said. "That’s all they are asking us for."

Planning Commission member Brad Clark said he wanted to see the city uphold the ordinance’s requirement.

"One thing we on the planning commission are trying to do is draw a line in the sand," he said. "We are trying to set some guidelines, and we would like you to uphold the ordinance."

After the public hearing, the vote was tied with aldermen Pounders and Manley for allowing the variance and Dugger and Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow against. Mayor Jerry Autrey voted with Pounders and Manley to break the tie due to the absence of Alderman James Yelton who is recovering from a stroke.

After a second public hearing that day, Pride Auto Sales dealership owner William Pride was permitted a variance to allow a larger sign to advertise his new line of Hyundai vehicles.

Initially Pride had asked for a variance that would allow a "reader board" attached to the sign that would allow him to change messages.

The board voted that request down, but approved the larger sign without the reader board in Pride’s subsequent request.

City to provide water, sewer, gas to Stewart’s ‘self-help housing’
By Jason C. Mattox

Batesville aldermen voted last Tuesday to provide utility services to a new subdivision being developed just outside the city limits by Ted Stewart.

Pending some tweaking to a subdivision plat, the Panola County Land Use Commission last Monday approved an application from Stewart to reclassify 27 acres from agricultural to residential (R-1) at 1456 Hadorn Road.

Stewart said the location will include a subdivision of so-called "self-help" housing, a home ownership program of the USDA.

Stewart agreed to change the subdivision plat, which listed the lot sizes as 80′ x 100′, to the minimum lot size of 12,000 square feet.

The subdivision property borders Batesville’s city limits, and Stewart said the homes will receive utility services from the city.

Aldermen initially told Stewart they had no problem with providing water, sewer and gas to the first phase of the development during a meeting Monday afternoon.

"We can probably handle phase one on the existing system, but if it goes past that, we will need to look at possibly adding another lift station," Sewer Department Superintendent Ricky Shirey told aldermen.

Stewart said all of phase one will be in the county, but several houses will be in the city when the entire project is complete.

"Keep in mind you are only approving phase one," he said. "Anything other than that, I will be coming back to you."

In other board business:
Bids for uniform rentals were opened. G & K of Memphis, Paramont of Memphis, Unifirst of Greenwood and Ameripride of Memphis all submitted bids. Ameripride was the apparent low bidder at $283.50 per month. Bids were taken under advisement. The uniforms will be worn by city public works employees.
A pay increase for Batesville Civic Center foreman Lance Fennel was approved. Fennel recently completed his six-month probationary period.
Street Department Superintendent Teddy Austin was given permission to hire five part-time employees to replace five who resigned.
Aldermen voted to place stop signs in Phase II of Hunter’s Trace.
The moratorium on pond construction in the city limits was extended 90 days for further study.
The Batesville Police Department was given permission to hire Allen Gibson, Scott Cagle and Tommy Crutcher as patrolmen.
Officer Ryan Koehn of the Batesville Police Department has been promoted to the rank of sergeant.
No Parking signs were approved for the Tubbs Road area.
(Panolian staff writer Billy Davis contributed to this report.)


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