Batesville preparing for growth

Published 4:29 pm Thursday, September 5, 2019

City board considering option of moving City Hall

By Jeremy Weldon

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Batesville officials believe the city is poised for a period of population and economic growth spurred by the groundbreaking plans for The Concourse combined with increasing interest from industry prospects considering Panola County for relocation of factories, or expansions of existing business.

Two proposed bond issues have public hearings set, although no organized opposition has been voiced to the city board. Public Works Director David Karr said his conversations with citizens have convinced him people are willing to pay higher rates for city services and additional property tax if they believe the additional spending is justified and prudent.

“Nobody wants their taxes sky high and we understand that,” Karr said. “I’m very conscious of the amount of money we’re talking about with these bond issues, but we simply can’t wait any longer to make these improvements.”

The problem, Karr said, is the fact the city is attempting to complete infrastructure projects and upgrades that are 20 years overdue. “We’re playing catch up at this point, but it’s something we have to do. In the long run these improvements will position the city to have growth like we haven’t seen in 20 years.”

The city board met several times in the past two weeks hammering out a budget plan for the  coming year that includes raises for almost every city employee. The largest percentages were given to lower level employees as officials looked for ways to reward the workers who perform the most labor intensive jobs, often for the least pay.

Much of the overtime pay for department supervisors and other managers will be curtailed under the new pay guidelines. Raises for firefighters were also a focus for the board as the ongoing  problem of retention in that department is being addressed.

Several land developers have made purchases, or serious inquiries,  about land in and around Batesville. Although no major subdivisions are currently under construction, several sites are under serious consideration for significant housing starts soon.

Should those developments  become a reality – all are in east Batesville – the current infrastructure efforts will be a major factor in the success of any expansion. Infrastructure loads are currently at maximum capacity in the city and any new building will demand upgrades.

Also being discussed is the possibility of relocating City Hall from College St. to the Smith Phillips building on Shamrock Dr., across from the Post Office. The building, valued around $3 million, is nearly empty housing just a few attorney’s offices and a private company that uses a few offices.

On the real estate market for $950,000, the two story building has 19,000 square feet. It was built in 2003.

Mayor Jerry Autrey and Alderman Stan Harrison were the first to push the idea to other board members. Along with Karr, they believe the transformation of the old Outlet Mall into a workforce development campus overseen by Northwest Mississippi Community College will pump new life into a sagging Panola County economy and further move the center of Batesville activity to the east.

A modern City Hall would make a statement about Batesville’s future while providing better service for the citizens, Harrison said. Supporters of the move say very little renovation would be needed other than the addition of a drive-thru window for customer service.

Opponents of moving City Hall suggest the action would hurt the Downtown Square area because that traffic would be steered away. Not so, others say,  because of schools and the Courthouse in that area.

Panola Partnership, which currently leases office space on the Square, might could purchase the current City Hall property and move its operations there, some have speculated.

The matter is expected to be discussed further, among other agenda items, when the City Board meets today (Sept. 3) at 2 p.m. at City Hall.