Panola County at crossroads, Flint says
By John Howell
Panola County leadership faces unprecedented challenges with the loss of two key advisors and a significant portion of its ad valorem tax base, according to Panola County Board of Supervisors President Cole Flint who spoke Wednesday to the Batesville Exchange Club.
Kelley Magee retired in 2016 as County Administrator and Board of Supervisors Attorney Bill McKenzie died May 12.
“They knew everything, and they could go and find a file,” Flint noted.
Supervisors have since hired Kate Victor, an attorney with a degree in accounting, as County Administrator. They are presently conducting a search for a new board attorney, according to Flint.
In fiscal 2019, the county will face a loss of almost $700,000 in ad valorem tax revenue with the closing of Batesville Casket Company and the hospital ownership change to the non-profit, and thus tax exempt, Curae Health, according to Flint. He said that the impact will not be felt in fiscal 2018 because both entities operated for part of this year and will thus will be responsible for its taxes.
“As of today, one mill on our side (Second Judicial District) is around $210,000 to $215,000, so to recoup $700,000, you’re talking about a pretty good increase,” Flint said.
“Every time anything large comes in, the county’s going to lose because about the only thing we can do is give them a tax break,” Flint said, referring to ad valorem tax revenue exemptions usually offered to industry as a location incentive.
“With the casket company, there have been multiple companies come look at that building, and we always get asked ‘Are you going to give them a 10 or 15 year tax exemption?’
“Yeah, but that’s 15 years we’re going to lose that,” Flint said.
On a more positive note, the board president cited recent consolidation of E911 dispatching at the Emergency Operations Center in the former Sardis National Guard building and the new ambulance service that will begin service in the county July 1.
“It’s 100 percent brand new; all new equipment, all new computers, everything in there is state-of-the-art,” Flint said about the dispatching center.
Flint said he is encouraging the City of Batesville to allow further consolidation of radio communication to include the Batesville Police and Fire departments, which presently do not operate on radio frequencies that allow direct communication with other agencies through the county’s Mississippi Wireless Integrated Network (MSWIN). He cited problems that cropped up with the May 10 pursuit of a nude driver along Highways 6 and 51 and through Batesville.
“They bypassed the same spot three times, and that never should have happened,” Flint said, attributing coordination problems between city and county officers to an inability to communicate directly by radio.
“That could have been stopped a lot quicker, but nobody could talk to anybody,” he said, except for a few city and county task force officers who share frequencies.
Flint said that he is also asking the City of Batesville to help fund the operations of the Lifeguard EMS, the ambulance service that will begin operation in the county July 1.
“The new ambulance company we just signed on with, they’re going to put a 24-hour ambulance at the EOC also, so now we’ll have the ambulance and dispatch sitting side-by-side, and we’re going to start dispatching for the ambulance service,” he said.
(Lifeguard EMS officials will request at the Batesville Planning Commission’s Tuesday, May 30 meeting a conditional use permit that will allow them to establish their Batesville base at 543 Highway 6 West)
“It didn’t matter where you were in Panola County, if you dialed 911 and needed an ambulance, there was at least a 40 second delay in you getting from one phone to the other phone and then you had to relay your whole conversation again,” Flint said. “With the new dispatch center that’s gone.
“When you’re talking two or three minutes, that’s a long time when you’re sitting there on that phone with somebody needing that ambulance right there,” he said.
The board of supervisors president said that ambulance/dispatching transition will also include additional training for personnel and additional software.
“We’re going to put these computer screens on the wall, basically just big, flat screen TVs where our dispatchers can look on the wall and see where the ambulance is. Where we are now, we don’t know where anybody is. We woke up some mornings and there wasn’t an ambulance in county. They were gone on who knows what call, and it didn’t originate in Panola County,” he said.
“We’re paying $17,000 a month for ambulances to be in this county, we’d wake up and there wouldn’t be any here,” he said.
Flint also cited Lifeguard EMS’s higher pay scale for ambulance service employees, a strict uniform policy and better communication with company officials.
“With this company the man who will be working in our county can make a decision without calling anybody,” he said.
Pending State-Aid road projects include digging out and repaving Old Panola Road from Curtis Road to Viney Creek Road, according to the supervisor.
That work will begin when repairs to a bridge on the Viney Creek alternate route are complete.
Flint said that repaving on county roads has begun but was recently hampered by lower temperatures and rain.
“Roads are getting clipped; roads are getting paved,” he continued. “Probably we’re going to start grinding up roads pretty soon. You’re going to see paved roads turned to gravel in certain spots so we can come back and put that DBST (double bituminous surface treatment) on top of it.
“We’re finding out that if you grind these things up it helps get all these little sink holes and rough spots wherever they put that cold mix on top of pot holes, you can mix it in and it makes a better base,” he said.
When the paved base is ground up into gravel, “sometimes those things have got to stay out a while,” to properly set up, the supervisor continued “If you see that, just bear with us so we can get if fixed.”