Headlines – 12/22/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 22, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – December 22, 2006

  From the 12/22/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

Panola shoppers hit home stretch
     Randy Hutto of Pope mugged for a photographer as he browsed candles at The Candle Shoppe in Batesville with his wife, Jill Hutto. The Huttos said they were shopping for gifts for teachers and co-workers.
By Billy Davis

Christmas shoppers and sisters Taylor Capwell and Courtney Capwell were on day four of a four-day shopfest when they browsed Batesville’s Stubbs Department Store Wednesday morning.

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"We’re shopping for our mom, and I’ve still got to get my sister something," said Taylor Capwell.

The sisters said they began attacking the stores last weekend after finishing their classes at Northwest Community College. They cruised through Stubbs after stops at Wolfchase Galleria in east Memphis and Towne Center in Southaven.

"Now we’re shopping the shops," Taylor said, which included a stop at Stubbs.

Research by Forbes.com shows Americans will spend a record $154 billion on Christmas shopping (minus Santa’s own spending, of course), an average of $795.86 per person and a five-percent jump from 2005, thanks in part to gas prices that are no longer $3 a gallon.

The Forbes article also suggests Americans will spend a record amount on gift cards this year, $24.8 billion, up $6 billion from 2005. Fifty percent of shoppers were expected to make an online purchase.

Amy Thomas of Curtis was shopping Stubbs Wednesday for "last-minute" gifts. She was looking at the baby section for a gift for Ruth Thomas, her great-niece.

Thomas said she has done "90 percent" of her Christmas shopping in Batesville.

"And I work in Memphis, if that tells you anything," she said.

In Batesville, sales tax figures from November show a six-percent dip from 2005 totals, which indicates fewer Christmas shoppers spent their Christmas bonuses in the city limits. (See related story, page A3).

In the Forbes article, 24 percent of shoppers surveyed by Forbes said they doubted they would find the gift they asked for under the tree Christmas morning.

Santa Claus was unavailable for comment.

City asks for details about road giveaway
By Jason C. Mattox

The City of Batesville moved one step closer to adding a new road to its inventory during Tuesday’s meeting this week of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell informed city leaders he had been approached again by property owners whose land includes Neal Road.

Neal Road connects Eureka Street with Highway 51 South directly across from Dunlap and Kyle.

Blake Mendrop, of McBride Engineering, told board members it would cost an estimated $25,000 to bring the road up to city standards once it is donated to Batesville.

"The road has not been deeded to the city, but we all know they want us to accept the road and bring it up to city standards," he said.

Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley said the board was aware of what the Dunlap and Neal families wanted from the city, but it had not been asked to take action.

"When they came to us at one point they wanted to know if we were interested in buying the road," he said. "Then they said they would deed it to us, but they have yet to ask us for anything."

Manley suggested having Mitchell draft a letter to the owners of the road outlining what the city would do if the property was deeded to the city.

"We don’t want to back ourselves into a corner," Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger advised. "We need to let them know exactly what we are willing to do to the road.

"They need to donate the road before we commit to building it," Manley said. "They need to know that this will be a road with a basic overlay and no curb and gutter work."

Mitchell advised the city that the present owners of the road will want to know a time frame for the road construction.

"We have to tell them we will handle the road within a reasonable time frame," he said. "You don’t want to just go to them and say you are going to do it in the future."

Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow suggested 18 months to handle the construction of the road.

"That will give us two budgets to handle the construction of the road," Morrow said. "Really, we aren’t going to be able to do anything for the next six months anyway due to the weather."

Mayor Jerry Autrey said the construction of the road will open up property on either side for commercial development.

"We know they will either expand the existing businesses or bring new ones in once we do the work to the road," he said. "But that is additional tax money that will be coming into the city."

Mitchell said he would draft a letter then await a response from the property owners.

Avant advises NP to build newer schools
By Jason C. Mattox

Panola County Board of Supervisors President Robert Avant dressed down the North Panola School District Board of Trustees about the condition of school buildings and low pay during the school board’s meeting Monday night.

"This district is in dire need of new schools," Avant said to the board. "We need to build schools and recreation areas for our children."

Avant said the advancing age of the schools is not appealing to the people of the county.

"We have schools in this county that are older than a lot of jails around the state," he said. "We need to build some new schools so our children can take pride in their school and want to be there."

Avant also said he wanted to see the beginning salary for employees of the school district raised to $8 per hour.

"We need to pay our people a livable wage in Panola County," he said. "Anything less than $8 an hour is not a livable wage. If the people do not have insurance, you need to pay them $10."

Avant said correcting these two "problems" would make the district a better place.

"It would make it easier for you to get quality teachers and administrators if you paid a better wage and gave them buildings they can take pride in," he said.

After those topics, Avant recommended the trustees reject two donations made to the school district by a local business.

"Our children need support," he said. "Take that $100 back to the bank and tell them thank you, but if you can’t make $1,000, we don’t want it," he said. "You go to the records and I assure you, you will find they gave more money to South Panola.

"Our children in this part of the county are just as important," Avant added. "We need to make them feel that way."

In other board business:
Trustees accepted the hearing officer’s decision to officially dismiss Anthony Knight. Knight was previously employed by the district as a technology discovery teacher.
The district policy manual was approved.
A donation of 1,500 books from Carlisle Syntech Company of Senatobia was accepted.
Como Elementary School principal Dawn Ausbon was given permission to have school day pictures on January 25.
The sixth grade class at Green Hill Elementary were given permission to take a field trip to Huntsville, Ala. May 18-19, 2007.
North Panola High School’s senior class was given permission to take a class trip to Orlando, Fla. April 26-30, 2007.
Technology equipment donated by Ole Miss was accepted for use at Green Hill.
Christmas, New Year’s closings
Panola County government:
Closed Christmas Day and December 26.
Closed New Year’s Day.
Trash pickup will run a day behind schedule due to the holidays.
City of Batesville:
Closed Christmas Day and December 26.
Closed New Year’s Day.
Trash pickup will run a day behind schedule due to the holidays.
Batesville City Court will not convene on Wednesday, December 27.
City of Sardis:
Closed Christmas Day and December 26.
Closed New Year’s Day.
Trash pickup in Sardis will be Wednesday, December 27.
Trash pickup after New Year’s Day will be Tuesday, January 2, and Thursday, January 4.
Panola County First Regional Libraries:
Closed today and Saturday, Christmas Day,
and December 26.
Closed New Year’s Day.
South Panola Public School District:
Teachers return Friday, January 5.
Students return Monday, January 8.
North Panola Public School District:
Students and teachers return
Thursday, January 4.
School board accepts donation
By Rupert Howell

Seven more South Panola teachers have earned national teacher certification, and the district has received about $19,000 in donated exercise equipment, school trustees learned at their December meeting held Tuesday.

District Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer did not name the teachers who successfully completed the national board certification but noted that four were in the Intermediate School and one each is employed in the Elementary, Middle and Pope schools.

Teachers who receive the national certification traditionally are honored each spring at a reception.

Former Batesville business owner Johnny Fava had offered the school district three storage cubicles of exercise equipment with no strings attached, Schaffer said.

Fava formerly operated a gym on Power Drive in Batesville and has since pursued other interest.

Trustees voted to accept the donation which officially puts the equipment in the school’s property inventory.

Board members approved the recommendations to hire seven employees and accept resignation/retirement of six others.

Jeff Darby was hired as district maintenance electrician at a salary of $36,000.

Shaffer had discussed employment of an electrician at a previous meeting, stating the salary and benefits would be comparable to the amount being paid by the district for electrical maintenance. Shaffer also explained that a having a licensed electrician on staff in the maintenance department would enhance the district’s ability to construct and remodel small jobs in different schools.

Hired at Batesville Intermediate School were Gina Roberson, Natasha Franklin and Brook Carmichael. Christina Flint and Crystal Shepherd were hired at Batesville Middle School and Katherine Quaka transferred from the high school to Batesville Elementary.

A school bus turn-around was approved for Lawrence and Mary Smith on Tidwell Road, and a request for a turn-around at Stan’s Country Store on Highway 6 east was withdrawn prior to the meeting.

Trustees also discussed lighting at the new softball and baseball fields across from South Panola High School and having a brief swearing-in ceremony for trustee Sara Dale Gray, whose new term will begin at the next meeting in January.

City sales tax took Nov. dip
By Rupert Howell

There is good news and bad news on the local economic front.

Using sales tax figures as a barometer, retail merchants in the City of Batesville did not do as well in November as they did in 2005.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that collections are up 8.5 percent for the fiscal year-to-date that began in July. And while the November sales tax figures are down by six percent from the previous November, the state averaged a nine percent decrease.

Figures provided by the State Tax Commission represent approximately 18 percent of the sales tax collected within a municipality that is returned to the municipality where it was collected.

Those figures indicate that $29,595,121 was returned to Mississippi municipalities for the month of November compared to $32,595,086 returned last November.

The City of Batesville received $269,867 of that amount which is used to fund local services in the city’s budget. Since July the city has received $1,533,560.

An additional three percent tourism and economic and development tax on restaurants and hotels raised another $68,352 for the City of Batesville. That figure is up four percent over last November.

The City has received $323,273 since July from that tax which is 10 percent over the amount received during the same period last fiscal year. That money is used for infrastructure improvements, including the Batesville Civic Center notes payable.

Other municipalities in or almost in Panola County received sales tax disbursements for the month of November 2006 and 2005 respectively as follows:

   – Como, $18,243 and $10,515, +74%;
   – Courtland, $1,516 and $1,536, 0%;
   – Crenshaw, $2,816 and $3,013, -7%;
   – Crowder, $1,390 and $980, +41%;
   – Pope, $1,498 and $1,860, -19% and
   – Sardis $21,793 and $20,120, +4%.

Other municipalities in the Batesville trade area received disbursements for November 2006 and and 2005 respectively as follows:

   – Charleston, $25,183, and $26,512, -5%;
   – Lambert, $2,831 and $3,898, -27%;
   – Marks, $21,435 and $23,113, -7%;
   – Oakland, $3,390 and $3,278; +3%; and
   – Water Valley, $36,211 and $38,090, -5%.

Other nearby trade centers received disbursements for the same period as follows:

   – Clarksdale, $220,411 and $221,795, 0%;
   – Grenada, $277,875 and $313,553, -11%;
   – Oxford, $452,074 and $456,839, -1% and
   – Senatobia, $151,009 and $157,117, -4%.

Construction nearly complete on Home Grant program houses
By Jason C. Mattox

The construction is nearing completion on three homes paid for with the Mississippi Home Grant Program in Sardis, according to grant administrator Bill Coker.

Sardis aldermen at their Tuesday, December 19 meeting also voted to request supplemental funds to pay for the completion of two more homes.

"It will be better for us to go ahead and request the money now rather than waiting around until the two new houses are complete," Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said.

Coker explained that the three homes presently under construction are nearing completion, but not as soon as he would have liked.

"We had all hoped to get the people into their homes by Christmas, but that isn’t going to happen," he said. "I feel pretty confident they will be in their homes before the first of the year."

Coker said one home was 99 percent complete while small delays have hindered progress on the other two.

"We had a problem with some sheetrockers being available," he said. "Now they are moving along and we will have them finished sooner than you think."

Coker was given permission to request funds from the state to pay contractors upon the completion of the homes.

Alderman-at-Large Roy Scallorn asked about the retainer fees being requested.

"The retainer fees will be put into a savings account for a period no shorter than one year," Coker said. "After that time frame is up, the money will be released to the contractors."


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