Headlines – 9/5/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – September 5, 2006

  From the 9/5/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

     Pew painting is not a pastime – it’s a business with Frederick Hardeman, who along with co-workers took advantage of mild sunny weather recently to do some inside pew painting outside at Henderson Funeral Home in Sardis.
     Alonzo Hardaman, (far left) and his crew from Hardaman Construction Company of Tunica are remodeling the Sardis funeral home, located on Highway 51.
Trailer troubles: tax base shows slowdown
Mobile homes, tax exemptions cited as source
By Billy Davis

Over the course of two budget meetings, Panola County Administrator David Chandler repeated comments he made a year ago: the growth in the county’s tax base is slowing.

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The county administrator made similar comments during last year’s budget meetings, blaming the slowdown on a growing number of over-65 and disabled citizens, who receive a greatly reduced tax bill, and also the depreciation of mobile homes.

Panola County’s southern end is actually growing at a steady clip, managing six-percent growth in total assessed value over the last fiscal year. The trouble is and has been in north Panola County, where county tax figures show a decrease in total assessed value.

The Panola County Board of Supervisors uses the county’s total assessed value to fund county government. The five-man board depends on steady growth on tax rolls for additional revenue, which in past years – and this year – has allowed supervisors to keep millage rates from rising.

Panola is roughly divided between north and south by the Tallahatchie River, which shoots southwest from Sardis Lake, snakes its way across the county and falls south to Tallahatchie County.

The tax collector/tax assessor’s office uses the county’s two judicial districts, the First in the north and the Second in the south, in its assessments of north and south. The dividing line roughly follows the Tallahatchie River, though the south part includes areas north of the river in the Barnacre, Macedonia and Curtis communities.

Figures provided by the tax assessor’s office show north Panola county’s assessed value dropped from $54.7 million in 2005 to $54.4 million in 2006, a difference of $348,000, while south Panola County increased about $2.6 million – from $143,421 million to $146,029 million – over the past fiscal year.

South Panola and North Panola school districts also use the river as a divider, though the Curtis community, the Barnacre Road area, and southwest Panola County are located in the South Panola School District.

Chandler told supervisors that the county grew at an overall rate of 1.6 percent during the current fiscal year, later clarifying that the loss in the "north end" undercut the steady growth in the "south end."

"I’ve been saying it on and off for six or seven years," Chandler told The Panolian last week. "If the county doesn’t start operating as a unit…It’s like this: what affects the north affects the south."

In north Panola County, the only long-term answer to taxable growth is good-paying industrial jobs, said District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant.

"It’s all about job creation," Avant said, "but you’ve got to have decent schools, healthcare and recreation, and we’re lacking all those things."

Avant also blames north Panola County’s decline on the large number of mobile homes, which depreciate in value similar to automobiles.

An assessment chart provided by the tax assessor’s office, which is prepared by the state tax commission, shows a 2007 single-wide mobile home is assessed at $5,215 while a 1996 model is assessed at $4,666, a value difference of $549. A 1997 model is assessed at $1,943, a difference from a new ?07 model of $3,272.

A conventional home, meanwhile, typically increases in value over time, creating value and equity for the owner.

"A mobile home is destructive," Avant said. "It’s a quick fix, but it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a major wound."

Gene Nichols, co-owner of Champion Home Center in Como, pointed out that mobile home buyers qualify for FHA loans, not just conventional home buyers.

"They wouldn’t allow you to do that if they didn’t believe the homes were of good quality," Nichols said.

"People from all spectrums are choosing mobile homes because of the value and the quality," said Nichols, who estimated that one-third of dwellings in Mississippi are manufactured homes, citing state figures.

Since January, the county has handed out sewer permits to homeowners for 59 conventional homes and 30 new mobile homes, said county permit clerk Diane Stewart.

Stewart pointed out, however, that those mobile homes are merely moving onto new property.

"Unlike the houses, that doesn’t mean the mobile home is new," she said.

The Panola County tax collector’s office recorded 7,860 homestead exemptions for homeowners last year, county figures show. Of that number, 3,361 – not quite half – came from citizens who are disabled or age 65 or older.

Sheriff’s candidate decries HIDA pullout
By Billy Davis

Panola County sheriff’s candidate Jamie Tedford is crying foul after Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright pulled him from a federal drug agency last week.

Tedford, a third-place finisher in last year’s sheriff’s race, called the move "all political."

Not so, said Bright, who withdrew Panola County on September 1 from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s HIDA (High Intense Drug Traffic Area) program because the number of drug-seized funds had slowed to a trickle.

Tedford had been assigned to HIDA by former Sheriff David Bryan nearly four years ago. HIDA targets illegal drug activity in a wide corridor that extends from Arkansas to Alabama.

The task force currently includes four agents as well as a commander, Bright said, and will be short one agent in coming weeks because one of the agents is moving away.

Word of Bright’s decision had reached county supervisors two weeks ago, who discussed it briefly during a budget meeting with County Administrator David Chandler.

According to Tedford, he heard about Bright’s decision from a DEA official and later could not reach Bright about what his assignment could be.

Instead, reached Thursday by this newspaper about his decision, Bright said Tedford was welcomed to return to his previous job with Panola County Drug Task Force, where he represented the Batesville Police Department before Bryan’s reassignment.

"Jamie’s got a job if he wants it," Bright said.

"There was a little bit (of money) coming in," Bright said, "but I can get more out of a man working in Panola County rather than in 32 or 36 counties."

Asked about the slowdown of drug-seized funds, Tedford acknowledged that fewer dollars had come back to Panola County over the past year but blamed the slowdown on a backlog of looming court cases.

"When you’re having to prosecute in court you can’t be out seizing money," Tedford said. "You’re going to have down periods."

Tedford ran third against Bright in a crowded primary last year after Bryan’s death left a vacancy in the county’s top law enforcement job.

Tedford vowed to run again even as the final votes were being tallied, and supporters held a fund-raiser for him, a skeet shoot, August 19.

Bright said he was not concerned about the decision or any perceived politics, reiterating that he chose to pull out of HIDA due to the trickle of drug funds and a need for more task force manpower in Panola County.

Batesville retail zooming, booming and looming
By John Howell Sr.

The old Wal-Mart building will likely be remodeled into a facility to house a regional service center for a hospital billing firm, Wendy’s Restaurant will relocate further east next door to Western Sizzlin’ Restaurant, and developers Chris Brocato and Alvan Kelly are seeking occupants for land they are developing.

There are also potential buyers for a city-owned lot in a prime location at House-Carlson Drive near Covenant Bank, Mayor Jerry Autrey said.

Batesville’s Highway 6 East corridor is bustling as retail activity realigns itself toward I-55 along the Highway 6 corridor, real estate broker and former mayor Bobby Baker said.

Brothers Bob and Jerry Burkes sold the land on the north side of Highway 6 for a new Wendy’s location.

"They were locked in with no parking" at their current Dell Street and Highway 6 location, Bob Burkes said.

Since the sale of the land, Boyett Construction Company has removed much of the hill that formerly occupied the site, bringing it nearer the level of the highway.

"We’ll be building another building there," said Kimberly Jones of the Batesville Wendy’s. She was not sure of the timetable for completion.

"I’m hoping to attract somebody who wants to build a strip mall," utility contractor Brocato said of the 185′ by 600′ lot he is developing on the south side of Highway 6 between Neail’s Package Store and Dollar General Store.

"I got the dirt from ?Whiz’ Whitaker," Brocato said, referring to the area behind the nearly-completed Tractor Supply Company at Highway 6 and Civic Center Drive which is part of the James S. "Doc" Whitaker estate. He hauled and compacted fill to raise the south end of the lot, he said.

Brocato said that he bought the site from the estate of the late Juanita and Leslie Carlton which included couple’s home.

"Johnny Fowler’s daddy (the late Coleman Fowler) built that house in 1957, Brocato said adding that his purchase of the property led to contact with many friends of the late Carltons who told him they had been "getting cuttings (from her flowers) for 40 years." He said he appreciated how "kind and considerate" passersby had been in expressing lament at the old home’s removal. "It’s just progress; they understand," Brocato added.

Tri-Lakes Medical Center has rented three units from Mrs. Ann Haynes in the East Oaks Shopping Center, TLMC spokesman Bobbie Jean Pounders said. Two units will allow the relocation of the medical center’s pediatric unit from Highway 6 West to more spacious quarters. A third unit in East Oaks will house offices for the hospital’s oral surgeons, she said.

Dirt work in the northeast quadrant of the intersection of Interstate 55 and Highway 6 should be complete in the next two weeks, Covenant Companies spokesman Alvan Kelly said. Kelly is planning on developing 49 acres for multi-use retail, restaurants and entertainment. Completion of the dirt work will allow street and drainage construction to begin.

Meanwhile, Teddy and Allyson Morrow have announced that Williams Department Store will be closed after 54 years on the Batesville Square. The Morrows will continue their expansion of Stubbs Department Store, concentrating on the men’s and ladies apparel and shoes and new additions to the children’s department, baby gifts and registry, Allyson Morrow said.

Holiday delays garbage pickup
Garbage pickup service in Panola County and Batesville will resume today following the Labor Day holiday yesterday.

Solid Waste manager Dean Joiner asked customers for patience as the department catches up on its routes.

Joiner said last week that the service will run one day behind but will be back on schedule by Saturday.

With help, Crenshaw readies next budget
By John Howell Sr.

Panola County Administrator David Chandler and county road manager Lygunnah Bean presented a recommendation of a $507,683.85 budget for Crenshaw’s mayor and aldermen at a called meeting Thursday, August 31. The town’s anticipated general fund revenue is $511,965, according to the figures presented.

A decline in the value of taxable property in the Town of Crenshaw will make a 10-percent ad valorem tax increase necessary if the budget is to be funded.

Contributing to the decrease in assessed valuation are the large number of mobile homes and a large number of senior citizens who are exempt from ad valorem taxes on the first $75,000 of their homes’ value, Chandler said.

"Manufactured homes are on a depreciated rate," Chandler said. "We have a tremendous number of manufactured homes in the county; the assessed value is going down," he said.

Regulation and restriction of mobile homes has been a controversial issue among Crenshaw city officials and citizens during recent months.

Chandler and Bean pointed to several areas where revenue could be increased in addition to the 4.37 mills tax increase including eliminating water leaks in the town’s distribution system and closer monitoring of fine payments.

"You’ve got to continue to work on water leaks; a backhoe is essential," Bean said.

"You’ve got a good budget, but it’s a tight budget," Bean said. "If you do anything extra – if you hire somebody who’s not in here – it’s not going to work. Somebody’s got to to manage this budget every day," he continued.

Among the Crenshaw budget features:

Expenditure to cover the town’s portion of PERS Retirement for municipal employees previously not covered. All town workers should be included, Chandler said. Workers previously not covered will see a 7.25 percent paycheck deduction starting in October. The recommended budget includes the town’s portion of 11.75 percent, Chandler said.
The budget recommendation includes $3,900 for the Panola County jail which has not been paid by Crenshaw since the county facility six years ago started charging $20 per day to house municipal prisoners. Crenshaw owes $15,700 to the jail, Chandler said. The $3,900 will address the old amount as well as applying to prisoners housed there during the coming fiscal year.
The budget includes an hourly raise of at least 50 cents for all town employees.
Annexing the Rolando Foods building and nearby apartments could bring an additional $20,000 to $30,000 to the city, Chandler said.

"You’re not going to get the benefit of the industry if you don’t bring it into the town," Bean said. He said that the budget included an amount for legal fees triggered by the annexation process.

Chandler and Bean have been employed by the municipality to assist with budgeting and financing. City officials will consider the budget at the regular September meeting tonight. State law requires that the budget be adopted by September 15.


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