Headlines – 12/1/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 1, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – December 1, 2006

  From the 12/01/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

Hopes for Amtrak stop not derailed yet
By John Howell Sr.

Amtrak officials meeting with government leaders of Marks and Quitman County, and Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey, said that construction criteria for a train passenger access ramp in Marks had changed drastically since the officials first sought the stop in the late 1990s.

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Todd Stennis, Amtrak’s Director of Governmental Affairs, South, said that the Federal Railroad Administration now requires all new Amtrak passenger stops to have a platform eight rail cars long – approximately 700 feet – and 15 inches high to assure car-level wheelchair access to rail cars in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The new dimensions for the rail passenger stop are far more costly than the 200′ platform that would have been approved when civic and government officials were stopped in their efforts to build a passenger stop in Marks by the purchase in 1999 of Illinois Central Railroad by Canadian National.

Quitman County supervisors, Marks aldermen and Marks Mayor Aubrey Columns, Batesville Mayor Autrey, Sammy McCrae, liaison for Congressman Bennie Thompson, and others heard the Amtrak officials in a meeting organized by State Senator Robert Jackson of Quitman and Tunica counties. Jackson has joined the Quitman County Chancery Clerk and County Administrator Butch Scipper to rekindle the efforts to create the Amtrak rail passenger stop in Marks.

Scipper reviewed his efforts from 1995 to 1999 to establish the passenger stop in the Quitman County seat. The county has received approval for a $25,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation to use towards the total cost of $62,500 then thought needed to build the site. Amtrak had already listed Marks as a stop on its published timetable, and Quitman County gravel trucks had begun hauling in gravel for site preparation.

"In the midst of this, Canadian National purchased Illinois Central," Scipper said. "They put a stop to it; we thought it was temporary," the county administrator said.

The delay and enlarged construction requirements will increase the cost to approximately $300,000, banker Frank Sibley, after quick calculation told the group.

"I think you have a very good argument to have a stop here," Stennis told the group after hearing Scipper and other officials.

"The deal with the platform, that’s just the law of the land; we’ll just have to deal with that," Scipper said. He said that since the earlier, unsuccessful attempt to establish the rail passenger stop in Marks, the growth of Clarksdale’s blues tourist industry and the Mississippi River casinos have increased potential for a Marks stop to be utilized.

Following the meeting in the Marks Public Library, the Amtrak officials accompanied the local group to the Canadian National rail line through the city. Scipper said later that they found sufficient space along the tracks for the increased construction requirement.

200 ‘first-timers’ still need Christmas help
By Jason C. Mattox

The Panola County Department of Human Services (DHS) still has children on its Christmas adoption list who are in need of help for the holiday season, according to Diane Davis, county homemaker for DHS.

The state does not require DHS to assist needy children at Christmas, but each year the agency helps at least 500. To date, Davis said 338 children are on the list for assistance at Christmas.

"The ones on our list this year are all first-timers," she said. "These are people we have not assisted in the past, and we want to do whatever we can to make sure they have a merry Christmas this year."
Of the 300 new children, Davis said 108 have been adopted out so far.

"We expect it to pick up in the coming weeks," she said. "It is just after Thanksgiving and a lot of people are starting to think about Christmas now."

That 108 adoptions is an increase of 68 since Monday, November 27, she noted.

Although DHS is trying to help new children this year, there is a waiting list comprised of children who have been adopted out in the past.

"We don’t want to turn anyone away," Davis said. "But we want to help those who are new to us this year before we start working on those we have helped in the previous years."

Davis said DHS helped nearly 600 children last year.
In order for a family to participate in the program, they must complete an application that provides DHS with all of their financial information including income and expenses.

"We check the applications closely to make sure we only assist those who are really in need," she said.

The application deadline for 2006 is December 15.

November not too appealing for county supervisors, critics
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Board of Supervisors waded into new territory during the month of November, working its way through an appeal from a business owner and fielding probing questions from Panola Countians who wanted supervisors to turn it down.

Supervisors voted 4-1 Monday evening to reverse an October decision by the county’s land development commission, which had turned down Chris Aldridge’s request to open a scrap metal business on property he owns west of Batesville.

District 3 Supervisor Mack Benson, in whose district Aldridge’s property is located, made the motion Monday to overrule the land commission. Supervisors James Birge, Robert Avant and Jerry Perkins voted with Benson.

District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup was the lone dissenter.

(See related story, page A3).

An appeal by Aldridge came on November 14 at the supervisors’ "second Monday" meeting, but residents of the Chapeltown community had already camped out at board meetings on October 23 and November 7, expecting to face Aldridge.

Supervisors agreed at their November 14 meeting to improve the appeal process after hearing a plea from board attorney Bill McKenzie to work with land commission consultant Bob Barber on improving the process.

"It’s pitiful that these people have to run up here every time we have a meeting," McKenzie told supervisors.

At that same meeting, District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant had assured the residents that their vigilance was unnecessary since Aldridge was not on the board’s agenda. Aldridge was actually waiting outside the boardroom, however, for a planned 11 a.m. appearance before the board of supervisors.

A chief concern voiced by Chapeltown resident Susan Roberson regarded enforcement of the county’s land-use regulations, such as hours of operation of a business and the cleanliness of the commercial property, practices that could affect quality of life and property values.

Roberson and other residents were concerned that Aldridge’s plans would mirror the site’s former use as a concrete plant that they said was the cause of snarled traffic, a dirty and noisy work yard, and working hours that stretched past midnight.

(Aldridge had assured residents he would maintain a clean facility).

Such concerns are discussed at the monthly meetings of the land development commission, which sets requirements such as business hours, landscaping needs such as fencing and shrubbery, and parking issues.

To date, however, the land commission has no means to enforce the requirements it requests, a dilemma noted repeatedly by Roberson at the recent board of supervisors meetings.

Avant, who serves as president of the board, has repeatedly told Roberson that the sheriff’s department would enforce those rules and again repeated that promise Monday, saying the county would "shut him down," referring to Aldridge, if he failed to meet the requirements set by the county.

Asked Monday by Avant to respond to Roberson’s concern, Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright suggested instead that the sheriff’s department is not permitted to interfere in such matters.

"I can’t do anything about that," Bright said, a statement that created howls of protest among the Chapeltown residents since Bright was obviously contradicting what Avant had told them over several weeks.

Prior to the board voting Monday, Roberson also asked Avant if the board of supervisors planned to set Aldridge’s hours of operation, and make any other stipulations, if supervisors reversed the land commission’s vote.

"If it had been approved, the land commission would have made certain requirements of Mr. Aldridge," Roberson told Avant. "Are you going to ask Mr. Aldridge for any of those requirements or let the land commission set them?"

Avant replied that Aldridge would be held accountable by the "standards of the board of supervisors," a comment that brought chuckles from the residents.

"What in the world is that?" one of the residents asked in response.

Amid a scattering of laughter, Avant explained that he was referring to the same land-use ordinances that are used by the land commission.

Supervisors did not make any requirements from Aldridge other than asking his father, Noel Aldridge, about hours of operation. The father said the business would be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"We’re not out to hurt anybody," the father told supervisors and the Chapeltown residents Monday.

The Chapeltown residents also pressed supervisors about communicating with the land commission, responding to Avant after he said he didn’t understand why the land commission turned down Aldridge’s request.

Avant said Monday he saw "no justification" for turning down Aldridge.

"Did you read the minutes?" asked Sherry Elmore, referring to the October minutes of the land commission meeting.

"No," Avant replied. "I visited the site."

The Chapeltown residents also asked District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins if he read the minutes, obviously remembering his statement to them at the November 14 meeting that supervisors would read the minutes before voting.

"I didn’t look at the minutes," Perkins replied.

Tigers Rule
     The Panolian sports editor Myra Bean (second from back) welcomed football players from the campus of the University of South Panola Thursday evening to the pressroom of the newspaper, where they watched copies of a special football section roll off the News King press. The 12-page tabloid includes a special "Tigers Rule" pullout for fans who attend tonight’s state championship game in Jackson. A roster for the Tigers and Meridian Wildcats is located on the other side of the pullout.
     Football players visiting The Panolian and showing off the pullout were (front to back) Terrance Pope,
Cameron Wagner
, Ortiss Robertson,
Jevon Robertson
, Marlon Wilks, Justin Carothers and Jonathan Wilson.
State figures show registers are ringing
By Rupert Howell

The City of Batesville received almost $300,000 in revenue from the collection of sales tax paid by consumers on retail purchases during the month of October.

Municipalities receive approximately 18 percent of the seven percent tax on each dollar spent in retail stores within the town’s limits. Merchants report and pay that tax to the State Tax Commission who returns the city’s portion the following month.

Sales taxes paid in a community reflect the amount of retail sales and can be used as an indicator of the health of the local economy.

The city’s share of the sales tax income finances a large part of the budget. The city also receives an additional three percent tax on hotel/motels and restaurants that is used for economic development such as expanding infrastructure and paying for the Civic Center.

Batesville’s actual figure was $298,621, an increase of five percent over last October’s total. The city’s sales tax for the fiscal year, which runs from July to June, is up 12 percent over the past fiscal year with the total amount of $1,263,693.
The statewide total for the month was up eight percent and for the year-to-date is up 11 percent.

The economic development tax increased 12 percent over the same month last year, totalling $64,733. The year-to-date figure is also up 12 percent totalling $287,840.

Como’s share of sales tax increased 19 percent both for the month and year to $17,049 and $65,427 respectively.

Courtland was up 20 percent to $1,663, Crenshaw was up one percent to $3,208 and Crowder was down four percent to $1,314.

Sardis was down 14 percent to $19,406, but up three percent in the year-to-date category with a total of $89,394. Pope remained almost the same at $1,893.28

Charleston increased to $27,670 from $25,119 for the same period last year while Clarksdale decreased to $237,468 from $243,474.

Other nearby municipalities received payments for the month of October 2006 and 2005, respectively, in the amount of: Lambert, $3,097 and $3,235; Marks, $23,924 and $23,097; and Oakland, $3,624 and $3,404.

Nearby municipalities received payments for October 2006 and 2005, respectively: Clarksdale, $237,468 and $243,474; Grenada, $314,968 and $324,619; Oxford, $485,913 and $443,094; Senatobia, $176,192 and $161,684 and Water Valley, $36,062 and $40,649.

Sales taxes paid in a community reflect the amount of retail sales and can be used as an indicator of the health of the local economy.

Court upholds ’05 conviction
By Billy Davis

A Panola County man is behind bars again after the Mississippi Court of Appeals upheld his 2005 conviction on statutory rape and child fondling charges.

John Poynor Sr. reported November 21 to the David M. Bryan Justice Complex, where he is awaiting transport to a facility in Rankin County that processes state prisoners, said Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright.

Poynor had been free on bond while he awaited the outcome of the appeal.

In August, 2005, a Panola County jury in Batesville found Poynor guilty of statutory rape and child fondling after hearing testimony from two teenage sisters.

The sisters’ mother had dated Poynor and rented a home from him. A third sister had made another accusation of statutory rape, which led to a second indictment, but that charge was tossed out during the girl’s courtroom testimony

Poynor pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintained his innocence when he testified during the trial.

Poynor was 61 last October when he was sentenced by Judge Andrew C. Baker to 10 years in state prison, five years for statutory rape (five years were suspended) and five years for fondling.

Poynor is a well-known figure in Panola County, where he operated a radiator shop, owned rental property, and in past years served in elected office as a justice court judge.

Prior to the sentencing, defense attorneys for Poynor argued before Baker that he overturn the jury’s guilty verdict or order a new trial.

Poynor was represented by former district attorney Bobby Williams, Charleston attorney Alison Kelly, and Williams’ daughter, Paige Williams.

In court filings, the defense attorneys suggested that a jury member failed to disclose to the judge a "sour" business deal with Poynor.

Still other defense arguments centered around Poynor’s trial attorney, Jay Westfaul, whose performance during the trial was called "constitutionally ineffective" in court papers.

The defense attorneys filed similar claims in their appeal to the state, listing six issues in all, which the state appeals court struck down. At the end of 15 pages of legal documents, the court ruled that the arguments "are without merit" and affirmed the jury’s conviction and Baker’s sentencing.

After the appeals court upheld the conviction and sentencing, Poynor was instructed by his bonding company to report to jail, the sheriff said.

"He came in on his own," Bright said.

Supervisors vote to allow business
By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors voted Monday evening to reverse an October decision by the county’s land development commission, which had turned down a business owner’s request for a county permit.

The overturned vote allows Chris Aldridge to open a scrap metal business on a five-acre lot he has purchased west of Batesville on Chapeltown Road.

Aldridge had sought a special exception permit from the county that would allow him to operate a commercial business in an area that is zoned agriculture. He appealed the land commission’s vote to supervisors at their November 14 meeting.

The supervisors’ vote, which passed 4-1, came at an end-of-the-month recess meeting at the county courthouse in Sardis, where Aldridge and his father, Noel Aldridge, awaited the board’s vote along with Chapeltown residents who have vocally opposed Aldridge’s plan.

District 3 Supervisor Mack Benson, in whose district Aldridge’s property is located, made the motion Monday to overrule the land commission. Supervisors James Birge, Robert Avant and Jerry Perkins voted with Benson.

District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup was the lone dissenter.

Prior to the vote, Avant, who serves as president of the board, told Aldridge and the Chapeltown residents that he personally looked at the property and believes it would work well as a site for Aldridge’s plans.

Both Avant and Benson suggested that the new business would be a boost to economic development.

"It’s a benefit as far as employees," Avant told his colleagues.

"It would put somebody to work," Benson agreed.
Aldridge told the land commission in October that he and one other hire would be employed. Aldridge currently operates a similar business in Batesville.

After the supervisors’ meeting Monday, the businessman would not comment to a reporter about any plans for hiring more employees.

"I’m not trying to be ugly," he said in the hallway of the courthouse. "I’m just not going to say anything."

The supervisors’ 4-1 vote Monday marked the third time in recent memory that the five-man board, which oversees the land commission and appoints its members, has overheard and acted on an appeal.

The supervisors turned down an appeal in 2005 from Anthony McCoy after the commission refused to allow him to rent a so-called "party barn" on Eureka Road. Earlier this year, supervisors eased the county’s paving rules for commercial parking lots after hearing an appeal from store owner Stan Holcomb.

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