Headlines – 8/25/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 25, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – August 25, 2006

  From the 8/25/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

     His shoulder rolled and his eyes mostly hidden behind a helmet visor, South Panola Tiger quarterback Leroy Diggs watches his pass find its target during practice Thursday afternoon. The No. 1 Tigers travel to face No. 2 Clarksdale tonight, seeking their 46th consecutive win and a 1-0 start to the season. Please see related stories in today’s "Playbook" section included in this newspaper.
Supervisors extend ‘hold the taxes’ stand, mull pay raises
By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors stuck to a no-tax-raise pledge during a lengthy budget meeting Tuesday, and a board vote on raising the pay of county employees is expected at a second meeting set for Thursday evening at the county courthouse in Batesville.

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Led by County Administrator David Chandler, supervisors plowed through most of Panola County government’s expected revenues and expenditures, all prepared by Chandler, during a three-hour meeting Tuesday evening.

The yearly summer ritual comes before the start of the fiscal year, which is October 1, leaving supervisors to divide the taxpayers’ pie before a September 15 state deadline.

Last year, supervisors introduced a $16.3 million budget and a millage rate of 54.91, a number that excluded tax increases by the South Panola and North Panola public school districts.

A three-percent pay raise and a vision insurance plan for county employees was also part of last year’s 2005-2006 budget.

Reached after the Tuesday meeting, Chandler said he readied the coming county budget with instructions from supervisors to "hold the taxes."

"They basically told me to keep taxes where they are if we can help it," Chandler said. "They don’t want any more tax burden on taxpayers."

Chandler said supervisors have held Panola County’s ad valorem millage at its current rate for "seven or eight years," relying instead on growth in the county’s property taxes for additional funding.

Chandler told supervisors Tuesday, however, that the county’s assessed value has slowed to a trickle due partly to elderly homeowners who pay little property tax and the large number of mobile home owners whose property actually depreciates over time.

The county’s total assessed value grew by only 1.6 percent since last year, which is less than $50,000 in new taxes, Chandler later told The Panolian.

"With as little growth as we’ve had, it will bring in a little money but not enough to do anything with," Chandler told supervisors Tuesday.

At the Tuesday meet, county expenditures ranged from the sheriff’s department and road department, which together account for $5 million of the county’s $16 million budget, to smaller expenditures to Panola Playhouse, Coahoma Community College, and various government offices such as Soil Conservation, the Miss. Department of Health and First Regional Library.

When supervisors returned Thursday, they were expected to finalize the road department budget and analyze the solid waste department budget, and choose either a three-percent or five-percent pay raise for employees.

Panola County road manager Lygunnah Bean told supervisors Tuesday that he had included a five-percent pay raise for road department employees but later added that he may have to rethink that raise in order to balance his budget.

"I’ve got to get that down some kind of way," Bean said, referring to his 2006-2007 road department budget.

District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant told his colleagues Tuesday that he wants a five-percent pay raise for all county employees, citing the rising gas prices as a main concern.

"Some people are taking home $600 every two weeks, and you can’t survive on that," Avant said.

Chandler had told supervisors that he had inserted a three-percent raise into the budget, replying after Avant’s comment that he will show supervisors a comparison of both pay raise figures Thursday.

City approves pay raises in new budget
By John Howell Sr.

City officials completed work Monday on a $20 million budget that results in the sale of the police department’s Harley Davidson motorcycles, raises for city employees and no property tax increases for city property owners.

The budget for fiscal 2007 begins October 1 and must be adopted by September 15.

CPA Bill Crawford met with the mayor and aldermen for the final work session before the budget is presented at a public hearing on September 5. Crawford had prepared new figures following budget meetings on August 14 and 15 when decisions were made for deep cuts in requests from the fire and police departments and the Batesville Civic Center. The revision that Crawford presented Monday included further additions and subtractions to bring the expenses under the projected revenue.

Monday’s discussion was dominated by pay raises.
In addition to the across-the-board percentage increase, Alderman Rufus Manley pushed for monthly increases for secretaries and dispatcher in the police department, code office and city court to bring their pay closer to the amounts received by administrative workers performing similar jobs in City Hall.

"We kind of promised these people we were going to do something," Manley said.

"I know I try awful hard not to promise," responded Alderman Bill Dugger.

The give and take among the mayor and aldermen in the city hall board room was interrupted as city officials and visitors walked outside to close vehicle windows at the approach of a thunderstorm that promised the first significant rainfall in weeks on the parched town. A sudden squall forced wind to whistle through the building, vacant except for the meeting room.

The decision to adopt Manley’s motion for raises gained unanimous approval when Deputy Police Chief Tony Jones said that the department would be willing to sell the motorcycles to offset the cost of the raises in the budget. Jones said that the sale of the motorcycles, their trailers and related equipment should raise $30,000. He said that the motorcycles see very limited use and that the cost of certified motorcycle training for an officer is high.

Other notables included in the city’s budget and the discussion surrounding it include:

Provision for a $1.8 million bond issue if needed. Budgets during recent years have routinely included the provisions for a bond issues, but department heads have controlled spending sufficiently to make them unnecessary, Crawford said.
Budget figures do not include $872,000 in proceeds from the sale of the hospital. That amount is being held aside.
Budget figures also don’t anticipate proceeds from the sale of city-owned property near the intersection of Highway 6 and House-Carlson Drive. That property is for sale and has generated interest from restaurant franchises.
Crawford added $100,000 to the budget on the recommendation of assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell who said the amount would be needed to pay the city’s legal fees in the Robert Shepard lawsuit against the city.

Aldermen Manley asked other city officials to consider moving the meeting time to 5 p.m. on a regular basis. Manley said that more citizens might become involved if meetings were conducted after working hours.

The city officials also discussed what would happen if Mayor Jerry Autrey becomes unable to sign checks. City checks require two signatures – the mayor or vice mayor and city clerk .

"What if you went on vacation for two weeks?" Crawford asked.

"He can’t go on vacation for two weeks," Manley said.

The question has been looming around the meeting room since last December when Ward Three Alderman and Vice Mayor James Yelton suffered a stroke. Yelton has been unable to return to his city duties.

With outside downpour subsiding and the streets cooling, the meeting slowly wound down as the group awaited until the rainfall slowed sufficiently to allow reasonably dry walks to vehicles. In a comment that foreshadowed what the mayor and aldermen will face in a coming budget year, someone said: "Batesville is growing so fast that we’re outrunning our infrastructure."

Former officer found guilty
     of sexual abuse of a minor
By Billy Davis

A Panola County circuit jury took less than an hour Wednesday to convict a part-time police officer of sexual abuse of a minor.

Danny Lee Williams showed no emotion when the jury of eight women and four men convicted him on three counts of fondling and six counts of sexual battery of a minor.

The girl told jurors she was 11 when Williams first kissed her.

The Panolian does not publish the names of sex victims.

On the witness stand Tuesday in Batesville, the girl described Williams’ abuse in detail, prodded by Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly to describe the acts for jurors to hear. Some jurors looked away or stared down at their feet as the girl described Williams’ deviant behavior.

"Did he do anything else to you?" Kelly would ask, and the victim would describe sexual acts that occurred.

After the girl froze on the stand more than once, apparently embarrassed by the subject matter, Kelly gently prodded his main prosecution witness to help convict Williams with her courtroom testimony.

"How many times do you get to do this?" Kelly asked.

"Once," the girl replied.

"And you realize this is our only chance?"

"Yes, sir."

Jurors on Tuesday also heard 40 minutes of phone conversations that occurred while Williams talked to the victim and her mother from the police academy at Miss. Delta Community College.

Armed with the knowledge of the alleged abuses, the mother cleverly tried to implicate Williams by telling him the girl was pregnant and saying "she told me you had something to tell me."

Williams was heard on the tape telling the girl, "I need some help on this," and "We gotta stick together, right?"

The girl faked having a stomach virus and later told Williams that a doctor confirmed the symptoms were caused by pregnancy, not a virus.

Jurors heard the girl tell Williams, "It’s yours," to which he calmly replied, "We’ll talk about it when I get home. We’ll get that fixed, okay?"

"If my baby’s pregnant I’m gonna kill somebody. I don’t care how old he is," the mother told Williams in an early conversation, inching the closest she came to revealing what she had learned.

Batesville Police Detective Paul Shivers testified that he loaned the phone recording device to the mother, hoping to implicate Williams, but said the pregnancy ruse was planned and executed by the mother and daughter.

Shivers told The Panolian that Williams was working as a part-time police officer for the town of Lambert when he was arrested at the police academy by Sunflower County deputies.

Williams’ defense attorney, David Walker, managed to get three counts of sexual battery thrown out due to a lack of court evidence, leaving his client to face three counts of fondling and six counts of sexual battery.

Sexual battery of a minor carries a maximum 30 years in prison per count with no minimum sentence. Fondling of a minor carries a minimum two-year sentence with a maximum of 15 years.

Circuit Court Judge Andrew C. Baker, who presided over the trial, did not set a date for sentencing.

North Panola ‘not satisfied’ with latest, low test scores
By Jason C. Mattox
and David Howell

The good news from the North Panola School District is that all but one of its schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Superintendent Glendora Dugger announced this week that North Panola High School did not meet AYP in two areas ? reading and language arts.

On the more dismal side, the Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT) scores released last Thursday by the Mississippi Department of Education had significant decreases in some subjects compared to the previous year.

The scores released last Thursday were generated from testing during the 2005-2006 school year in grades second through eighth in reading, language and math.

"We are not satisfied," North Panola Superintendent Glendora Dugger said about the district’s performance.

All of the schools in the district will remain at Level Two with the exception of Crenshaw Elementary, which maintained its Level Three rating according to Dugger.

"Last year was a very difficult year for us," Dugger said adding she took over the reins in the school in mid-stream last year.

Dugger started the 2005-2006 school year as assistant superintendent but was appointed as interim superintendent following the resignation of Robert Massey.

Massey was placed on administrative leave on September 26 last year. He had just started his third year as the district’s superintendent. A resignation from Massey followed several months later.

"We are satisfied that we held our ground with all of the changes during the last year," Dugger said.

"This school district was up in the air about how to handle some things last year," she added. "We really didn’t know what the situation was with Mr. Massey until it was resolved in December."

However, more changes are on the horizon. Dugger said Wednesday that she intended to step down as the superintendent at the end of this school year.

Test Scores
In second grade, the number of students who scored proficient or advanced decreased this year in reading and math, but increased in language.

Third graders who scored proficient or advanced slipped in all three subjects tested according to test results.

One bright spot was fourth graders scored better in all three subjects tested on the MCT.

Test scores for fifth graders who scored proficient or advanced dropped in reading and slightly in math. Language scores for fifth graders remained the same.

Another bright spot was grade students who scored proficient or advanced increased in all three subjects tested.

In the seventh grade, the number of students who scored proficient or advanced dropped in all three areas tested.

In the eighth grade, the number of students tested who scored proficient or advanced increased in all three subjects.

Looking Ahead
"Much work has been done over the summer with the curriculum," Dugger said who added that a Tupelo school style curriculum previously adopted had not met the needs of North Panola.

"We are trying to align our curriculum with South Panola," Dugger said.

North Panola Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Mock said some of the things that will help with test scores next year will be mandatory use of the district’s Orchard software, and having all computer labs up and running.

"Last year it was near the start of the second semester before we got our computer labs running," she said. "The labs are going and now we are focussing on getting the computers working in the classrooms."

Those computers will allow more access to the Orchard software which will monitor a students academic level on an individual basis.

"The software will allow students to work on the frameworks for the state testing," she said. "Not all of the teachers used it last year, but we are making it mandatory for this year."

The 2006-2007 school will mark the first year that students will continue through the eighth grade at their elementary school. This means Crenshaw, Como and Sardis each have a kindergarten through eighth grade school.

"A community-based school is more effective," Dugger said.

"Statistics show that students who are in the same school will perform better in the classroom," Mock said. "We really have high hopes for the new K-8 format."

Previously all students attending North Panola, whether they lived in Sardis, Como, or Crenshaw, were bused to Como Middle School, which will be eliminated.

‘Take Back’ meeting II set for Saturday morning
By John Howell Sr.

Citizens, church, law enforcement and civic officials will meet Saturday in the second installment of "Operation Takeback," an effort to mobilize grass roots community support to discourage illegal activity at Patton Lane Park in surrounding neighborhoods.

The August 26 meeting follows an initial meeting on August 5 where citizens expressed concern about the sale of drugs, consumption of beer and gambling in the park and a lack of parental supervision for many youth in the community. Law enforcement officials encouraged citizens to get involved and be willing to testify when they are witness to laws being broken.

"Everybody take your own house back," Alderman Rufus Manley urged as a starting place to influence youth in the community.

Saturday’s meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the Patton Lane Community Center. Anyone who is interested is urged to attended, Batesville Deputy Police Chief Tony Jones said.


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