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'Everything old is new again'

“Don’t throw the past away/You might need it some rainy day/Dreams can come true again/When everything old is new again.”

When songwriters Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager penned the lyrics to their jaunty 1979 song, they probably didn’t realize just how popular feelings of nostalgia would become. There’s something comforting about the past.

It’s nostalgia that’s led local business owners and merchants to pursue making the downtown Fulton, a one-time thoroughfare, a sought-after destination again. Just like the good old days.

“We envision a Main Street Association,” Fulton business owner Jimmie Wilson said. “We want to develop a ‘drive’ to get people to come to downtown.”

Wilson, along with his partner Bill Gary, opened Porch Swing Pickings two years ago and more recently Main Street Vintage and Antiques and Southern Belle Antiquities. The pair, along with Angie Palmer and Tony Wilson, have created a core group who have made re-creating the downtown area a priority.

“We would like to see this become a ‘walk about’ area with a variety of businesses,” Gary said. “We love this area, but right now there’s nothing else to do.”

In decades past, Fulton was a bustling thoroughfare for people traveling from Alabama to Tupelo and beyond, back when Highway 78 ran straight through town. There were four service stations located at the intersection of East Main Street and Clifton Street that accommodated the heavy traffic.

“My father, P.W. ‘Perdie’ Montgomery, owned the Lion Station on the northwest corner,” Larry Montgomery said. “Across the street was the Standard Station, where Dr. Jason Digby’s dental office is currently.”

The Texaco Station once stood where the Fulton Post Office now resides, and a Gulf Station was located on what would eventually become holy ground – the local Catholic church.

“They were all busy stations,” Montgomery said. “There was a lot of traffic coming through downtown Fulton in those days.”

In the 1940s, downtown shoppers could purchase a beautiful new General Electric “Thrifty-Six” refrigerator at Mattox’s Store on Main or ladies could dress for success in the “coat of the month tailored with finesse and guaranteed satin lining” at Gorden’s on the south side of the courthouse.

Montgomery recalled his purchase of the Western Auto store that was once in business in the space previously occupied by Bob Steele’s Flower Shop and now home of Main Street Vintage and Antiques. There was also a “Hi-Lo” store that was a favorite to many in the area.

“I remember when I was young walking to the 5-10 cent store downtown,” Wilson said. “It’s that kind of nostalgic feel we want to create again. We’re hoping there are others who may be thinking about opening a new business, and they’ll consider downtown.”

Itawamba Community Development Council (ICDC) Director Vaunita Martin and city officials have been meeting with downtown merchants and business owners to toss around ideas on how to boost their revitalization efforts. This upcoming weekend’s “Endless Summer” event is one of the many ideas the group is bringing to fruition.

“ICDC has hosted planning sessions with city officials and businesses to help support those efforts in revitalization,” Martin said. “With three new businesses being celebrated this Friday, it shows that the work that has been put in is now being realized.”

Ribbon cuttings for new downtown businesses, Farmhouse of Fulton, Southern Belle Antiquities and Company and Main Street Vintage and Antiques, will be held Friday beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday’s events will include inflatables for the children on the courthouse square, face painting, homemade ice cream and a variety of events for all ages.

“Our downtown was once a thriving hub. It was the central location for businesses, restaurants and entertainment,” Martin said. “It can be that again, but it takes vision, teamwork and networking with our existing businesses and elected officials to make it a reality.”

ICDC is also paving the way with the “Fixer Up” small business grant to help make storefronts more inviting. Martin told The Times that attractive entrances, murals, planters, benches and lighting can add so much interest and help to draw people into downtown.

“We are nothing without our small businesses. They are our lifeblood that brings tourists and locals to town and helps drive our tax revenue,” Martin said. “It is important to us to ensure they stay and grow. This will also help to recruit new businesses in.”

Both groups agree they all have a common goal and are willing to put forth the effort it takes to make it happen.

“At the end of the day, we all want the same thing,” Wilson said. “We want downtown to become a destination.”

FTC making progress on fiber optic upgrade

Fulton Telephone Company (FTC) is making headway on their plans to bring faster internet service to their customers.

Contracted laborers are currently boring and pulling fiber optic cables in the Dorsey and Fawn Grove areas as part of the company’s ongoing upgrade. FTC General Manager Eddie Hardin told the Times workers will soon be in the area of South Adams Street and Davis Subdivision areas.

“We’ve had a few delays with weather and materials, but we are pleased with the progress and moving along well,” he said.

FTC’s goal is to get the foundation of their fiber optic system in place. It will essentially tie into Tupelo to the west and east to Hamilton, Alabama. Assistant General Manager Kevin Timmons said this will create a backup service and allow a feed to the two as well.

“Moving down Highway 178 will strengthen the backbone of the system,” Timmons said. “We’ll be going into the Tremont area once that is in place and feed Hamilton a service and create the backup for us.”

FTC announced their plans to replace their copper cable platform with new fiber optic cables in January, utilizing funds provided through U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service loans.

When approval for the loans took longer than anticipated due to the government shutdown in late December and early January, the company opted to move forward with the project without the aid of federal dollars.

“We have been looking into funding options for years and we are still looking into grants,” Hardin said. “We just decided not to wait any longer and make the investment ourselves. And it is a major investment.”

Marketing Director Jonathan Goodin told The Times the cost of fiber optic cable is approximately $68,000 per mile.

“A lot of companies don’t want to make the investment,” Goodin said. “Our future plan is to reach out into the rural areas that nobody else is willing to invest in.”

Hardin also noted that FTC has to pay for the internet just like their customers do.

“Sometimes there might be a misconception that we get it free, but we don’t. We have to pay a carrier as well,” Hardin said.

Running fiber optic cable first requires boring under roads and streets so that pipes can be placed.

“Some areas will move along faster than others because there are less hills and valleys,” Hardin said. “When we do reach the more rural areas, the ground can be plowed instead of bored and that will speed things up.”

After the pipe is placed, fiber cables can be pulled through them and pedestals can be set. The final and most time-consuming step in the process is splicing the fiber cables. Once the process is complete, they will be able to turn customers on.

“Our intention is to further expand in the years ahead,” Timmons said. “We are not excluding any of our customers.”

Hardin said they hope to have several active customers by January.

“It’s important that people go onto our website and sign up. We already have around 450 customers on the list,” he said.

FTC will start making decisions concerning where to put emphasis on completion based on the customers who have shown an interest.

“We want to be as loyal as we can to our customers,” Hardin said.

FTC services roughly 6,000 customers throughout Itawamba County.

Supervisors begin prep work for upcoming census

Itawamba County supervisors are prepping for the upcoming national census.

On Monday, Rachaelle “Rae” Pounds, Partnership Specialist with the Atlanta Regional Census Center, spoke with supervisors during their regular bimonthly meeting to emphasize the important role the decennial head count plays in determining state and federal funding.

“All state governments, local governments and nonprofits rely on the information collected by the census,” she told supervisors. “The first census was done in 1790, and one has been done every 10 years since then.”

Data collected during the 2020 census will be used to determine the makeup of Itawamba County’s population, including income levels, race, gender, etc. This information is then used to determine the eligibility of state and federal grants.

Population data garnered from the census also has political implications, including determining seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. At the local level, county districts are drawn to have the populations within be as even as possible for the fairest representation. Itawamba County’s district lines saw some drastic changes in 2013 due to the results of the 2010 census, which showed population spikes in the second and third districts.

Pounds asked the board to consider forming a local committee to lead the upcoming count. She referred to this hypothetical group, which she said could be as large or as small as supervisors deemed fit, as a “complete count committee.”

Ideally, the committee would be made up of trusted people who represent the breadth of Itawamba County’s communities. As examples, she said the board might consider appointing a Hispanic member, someone who represents Itawamba Community College, and members of each local municipality.

“It’s as big as you want to plan or as small as you want to plan,” she said. “The goal is to make sure every voice is heard on April 1.”

April 1 marks the official start of the 2020 census.

This census year, people will be encouraged to fill out the census via an online form. Those who don’t will be visited in-person to try to collect household data, including the number and makeup of each person in a household.

Pounds said she will be able to train members of the count committee.

County leaders seemed receptive of Pounds’ suggestion and supported her statements about the importance of an accurate count. County Administrator Gary Franks said the 2010 census had some inaccuracies – Tremont, in particular, had a low response – that have affected the amount of federal dollars the county has received.

Pounds said the U.S. Census Bureua is making a concentrated effort to collect data from parts of the country that didn’t respond well last time.

Pounds called any efforts the county makes to improve the accuracy of the census a “win-win.”

“Remember, the ultimate goal is to get the word out,” she said.

5th District Supervisor Steve Johnson suggested tapping the local volunteer fire departments to help with the census.

“That’s going to affect the fire departments,” he said. “They ought to be really interested in getting those numbers up.”

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Officials tackle more issues with garbage bills

Questions concerning double billing of garbage fees were brought to the attention of both Mantachie and Itawamba County officials during their July board meetings.

Mantachie Water and Waste Department Manager Rod McFerrin brought two billing issues before the town’s board. Both customers, he said, had been billed by the Town of Mantachie and Itawamba Solid Waste. The issue came to light after a comparison and verification of billing reports were completed between the two entities by the town’s officials.

According to McFerrin, in one instance, the home in question wasn’t within town limits, but the water meter was. This resulted the customer being billed for solid waste service by the county. The fee was also included on the town’s water/sewer bill. The customer overpaid $69.

In the second instance, the customer originally set up a bank draft in 2010 through Itawamba Solid Waste. Since February 2018, when a family member moved into the home, the garbage fee has been included on the water bill issued by the Town of Mantachie. The owner was unaware the bill was being paid to both entities. The resulting over-payment was $234.

Mantachie’s water, garbage and/or sewage fees are combined on one bill. The town oversees their own processing, printing and collecting each month, unlike Itawamba Solid Waste, which uses Pontotoc-based nonprofit Three Rivers Planning & Development District for their billing. After Mantachie’s garbage debts are collected, the town pays Itawamba Solid Waste $12.09 of the $13 collected per household. The town keeps the remaining 91 cents for processing costs.

Since both residents in question are in the town limits, the board agreed they should only be billed by Mantachie. The question at hand was who owed the customers a refund after double billing.

Town of Mantachie attorney Chip Mills said Itawamba Solid Waste should be liable for the refund.

“The procedures, or lack there of, that Itawamba County and Three Rivers have put in place over the years for garbage liens have proven to be unreliable,” Mills said. “From no bills, to double billing, to ghost billing, their record-keeping procedures have hurt a lot of honest folks. They need to wipe the slate/records clean.”

During the July 16 Itawamba County Board of Supervisors meeting, Randy and Barbara Burleson appeared before the board concerning garbage bill charges against one of their rental homes. The couple recently received a bill from five years prior and had never rented to the person in whose name the bill was listed.

Since running into a previous issue with unpaid garbage fees on their rental properties, the Burlesons changed their rental policy to include the garbage fee. After doing so, they confirmed with Itawamba Solid Waste that their debts were clear. Then they received a bill.

The couple questioned the board on how an account was opened for someone who had never lived at the address and why they were receiving a bill five years after the fact. They also asked if the county verified proof of residency before opening accounts.

Chairman Eric “Tiny” Hughes noted they do verify accounts through Tombigbee Electric Power Association’s listings. Itawamba Solid Waste Clerk Stephanie Wright confirmed that there is a verification process.

The Burlesons reiterated their concern that the bill had lingered for four years and ask the board why it hadn’t surfaced earlier.

County attorney Bo Russell stated that the system used by Three Rivers has changed over the last several years possibly causing the error. He also noted that state law mandates a delinquent garbage bill remain tied to a property, even if that property changes ownership.

The couple met privately with Wright to compare their records with those of the Solid Waste Department. According to Wright there was a duplicate billing issue for the Burlesons rental home and they were not responsible for the debt.