Headlines Cont. – 9/22/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 22, 2006

The Panolian: INSIDE STORIES – September 22, 2006


Board approves ‘tight’ budget
By John Howell

Batesville city officials wrapped up a $20 million budget for fiscal 2007 at a public hearing Thursday, September 14.

Only city officials and accountant Bill Crawford of the Will Polk firm attended the hearing that was the culmination of weeks of meetings to pare down requests from city department heads to adopt a budget that was within anticipated revenues.
The final figure adopted allowed for $19,946,650 in expenditures against anticipated revenues of $19,143,405. The shortfall of $803,245 will be funded from the city’s beginning cash balance, dropping that amount from $2,001,481 to $1,198,236.

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The budget was unanimously adopted by a 3-0 vote as was the millage assessment for fiscal 2007. Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow, Ward 1 alderman Bill Dugger and Ward 2 alderman Rufus Manley were present at the meeting. Ward 3 alderman James Yelton has been unable to attend board meetings since a stroke last December; Ward 4 alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders was out of town on business.

"This is a pretty tight budget, expense-wise," Crawford said. The accountant had been prepared with conservative anticipation of revenues and liberal anticipation of expenses.

However, the budget requires no ad valorem tax increase within the city, and it does not take into consideration $872,000 that the city received as its portion of from the sale of the hospital or any sale of city-owned land near the site of the Batesville Civic Center.

"If the land does sell, then we can amend the budget," Crawford said.

A potential buyer interested in a city-owned lot near the intersection of House-Carlson Drive and Highway 6 East was scheduled to meet with the mayor and aldermen today, according to the itinerary distributed prior to today’s meeting of the mayor and aldermen.

The city expects its greatest revenues from the gas department at about 30 percent and the water and sewer department at about 17 percent. Other major sources of city income are sales tax rebates from the state to the city based on collections from city retail sales which provide about 20 percent of the revenue. Ad Valorem taxes provide almost 14 percent. The only other sources providing over one percent of city revenue are road taxes, franchise taxes, refunds and rebates, police fines, and money received in lieu of taxes.

Likewise, the city’s gas and water and sewer departments consume expenditures at about the same rate as they generate revenue. The city’s police department takes about 20 percent of the city’s budget, street maintenance slightly over nine percent and the fire department slightly less than eight percent. Six percent of the city’s expenses are classified as general with expenditures by department and classification as follows: public health and sanitation, 2.7 percent; parks and recreation, 2.16 percent; library, 1.9 percent; city court, 1.44 percent and city code office 1.87 percent.

Crawford urged the city officials to build in additional cash reserve. "The way Batesville is growing we’ve got to have up-front money," the accountant said, referring to infrastructure construction required as development moves east.

"We’re going to spend our money on the front end, and its going to be two years before we start recovering" (with ad valorem taxes), Crawford said.

New school board policy requires manifest of traveling students
By Rupert Howell

School groups using school escorted buses on trips must now provide the escorting vehicle with a copy of a manifest.

The action came at Tuesday night’s school board meeting following a Friday night accident where 31 were injured in a bus accident from another school district. Many South Panola School employees were involved with assisting with transporting victims and counseling victims and their families from that accident.

Superintendent Keith Shaffer said Sheriff Department cars usually escort band and football buses.

Board President Lygunnah Bean, who involved with assisting victims and families at Tri-Lakes following the wreck, spoke of the trouble identifying victims following the accident.

In other business Tuesday night:
Trustees learned that computers used in the third grade are now wireless;
Approved the purchase of propane gas at a price of $1.599 per gallon from Sayle L. P. Inc. Dowdle Gas Co. was the only other bidder at $1.769;
Gave permission to seek a $700,000 to $800,000 matching grant to complete work on the two-story red brick building;
Received a report that showed 4,687 students currently enrolled in the district;
Voted to advertise to accept bids on a 1994 International bus that the transportation director said had a good motor and transmission;
Accepted new bus turn-arounds which will be presented to Panola County for maintenance.
The South Panola trustee board meets regularly each third Tuesday of the month on College Street at 7 p.m.
VFD ‘membership’ questioned
By Billy Davis

The Mt. Olivet Volunteer Fire Department is moving ahead with plans to request annual dues, its fire chief says, but is also working with others to ensure the plan will work.

"We’re still working on the wording of it," Mt. Olivet Fire Chief Arthur Biggers said this week.

Mt. Olivet plans to alter its by-laws to increase yearly dues and charge more for non-member fire calls, citing as reasons rising costs for fuel, insurance and firefighting equipment.

Volunteer departments already charge insurance carriers for their costs when firefighters respond to structure fires, most often a house or mobile home fire, but Mt. Olivet plans to add grass fires and vehicle wrecks to the list of required payments.

Mt. Olivet currently charges up to $250 for "non-members," meaning property owners who have not made a yearly dues payment of $25, but will increase that maximum amount to $500 and begin charging non-member residents regardless of whether or not they have insurance to cover the bill.

The fire department’s annual membership dues will jump from $25 a year to $35 a year if the by-laws are passed.

The increases will begin January 1, 2007.

The department’s plans reached the public when a letter from its board of commissioners was presented to county supervisors at their September 11 board meeting in Batesville.

At issue, however, is the legality and liability of requiring a "membership" from citizens who already help fund the fire department through their property taxes. Two mills are levied in each of the county’s fire districts to pay for fire protection.

The liability issue was first raised by Daniel Cole, deputy director of Panola County Emergency Management, who called Mt. Olivet’s plans "ill advised" at the supervisors’ meeting.

According to Biggers, the board of commissioners plans to hear Cole’s concerns when the commission meets for a monthly meeting October 3.

"What I intend to tell them is that they can request donations but can’t ask for memberships," Cole told The Panolian this week.

"A county down south attempted this ?membership’ idea, which led to an opinion from the attorney general’s office that you can’t do it," Cole said. "So basically if Mt. Olivet just calls it what it is – a donation – then the issue will be settled."

The fire department is also corresponding with state fire officials about the proper wording, Biggers said.

"We feel positive we can work it out to where we can get support from the community," Biggers said. "We understand that, before we can get there, we’ve got to have everybody’s blessing."

Panola County’s non-municipal areas are divided into 10 fire districts that are served by volunteer fire departments such as Mt. Olivet. In addition to the millage monies, the fire departments also depend on state rebate funds that go to each county and are divided among the departments. Other sources of funding are fund-raisers, yearly donation drives, and often the firefighters’ own wallets.

The Pope Volunteer Fire Department holds one fund-raiser a year, a Halloween "haunted house," said Fire Chief John McCollum.

"We added onto our fire station and hope to knock down the payment with the money we make from the haunted house," McCollum said. "We hope to raise at least $6,000."

The Halloween event, which draws crowds on the last two weekends in October, has been a fund-raiser for Pope for nearly a decade, the fire chief said.

Asked about Mt. Olivet’s situation, McCollum said he has seen the department’s coverage area undergo a "growth spurt" in recent years.

"Their calls seem to have increased, too," McCollum said.

At the Bynum Volunteer Fire Department, Fire Chief Tony Ragon said the department mans three fire stations and seven vehicles.

"The fuel is killing us, but we manage our money pretty good and we work hard to raise funds," said Ragon.

Bynum’s fund-raisers include a mail-drive donation drive every January and a family picture fund-raiser at Easter, the fire chief said.

Mettetal meets with SP board;
affirms support for education
By Rupert Howell

Senator Nolan Mettetal told South Panola School district trustees, administrators and principals that he fully supports the Mississippi Adequate Education Program at the September meeting Tuesday night.

Mettetal and his wife, Kay, were visitors at the meeting where he addressed the room, affirming his support for education.

Mettetal also stated that he supported a balanced state budget and was obligated by law to pass a budget that was funded.

The State Senator said that never before had Mississippi had multiple years of a flat economy which had influence on votes taken during the past legislative session.

"Thank goodness last year was the best (economy wise) in a long time," Mettetal said.

Mettetal’s voting record in the area of education did not coincide with some of the district’s decision makers, according to Board President Lygunnah Bean who said he had invited Mettetal to come and speak before the board.

Mettetal told school trustees and administrators that South Panola was their "favored district" as both he and his wife had graduated there and stated, "Education is our hearts. Sometimes we wear our hearts on our sleeves."


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