Supervisors apply for bridge-repair funds 

Tech talk dominated the most recent Jones County Board of Supervisors meeting, with topics ranging from installing hotspots at the community centers to switching to electric trucks. 

Representatives from the Laurel-Jones County Library asked for permission to get bids for setting up hotspots and service at all of the community centers and volunteer fire departments in the county. The FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund will pay for the equipment and a year of service to set it all up, library officials Karen Walsh and Michelle Anderson-Jones told the board. 

They emphasized the fact that the board only needs to grant permission, not any matching grant money. The service will be provided by federal funds to “help fill the homework gap” for local students, Walsh said. Anyone will be allowed to connect to the internet when close to the hotspots, but they will be equipped with filters to prevent users from connecting to obscene content. 

Cspire is providing free wireless service to qualifying household plans through the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, and library officials have been helping patrons do that. People can find out if they’re eligible for free service or a $50 credit by filling out the form at getemergencybroadband.org

“This is fabulous what y’all are trying to do,” board President Johnny Burnett said. 

Supervisors agreed to issue utility permits to Bay Springs Telephone, Inc. to install fiber optic lines along 11 locations in Beat 2 and one in Beat 4. 

They also heard from Mona Gautier of Pine Belt Mental Health, who gave the annual report to the board about services that were provided to residents over the last fiscal year — most via telehealth because of COVID-19, she noted. A total of 2,168 patients got help, including 586 children between ages 2 and 18, she said. Of those who were helped, 236 had chemical-dependency problems and got help at outpatient facility WestWay Behavioral Healthcare or residential facility Clearview Recovery Center, she said. 

Seven more local law enforcement officers received Crisis Intervention Team training, pushing the total number of Jones County officials who are CIT-certified to 92. 

“The training helps them recognize mental-health issues to possibly divert some people from jail to get the help they need,” Gautier said. 

That report came on Monday after a weekend in which the Jones County Sheriff’s Department worked four suicide attempts — one of which was successful — and an overdose in which the victim was saved by a dose of Narcan from deputies. 

Pine Belt Mental Health employees 155 people in Jones County and has 14 open positions, Gautier said. 

“A lot of people don’t see all of the needs and results of what y’all do … but we appreciate it,” Burnett said. 

Chancery Clerk Bart Gavin, whose office deals with matters of sanity and juvenile cases, said, “We couldn’t do our job without you.” 

On a lighter note, Lion Electric Trucks sent a written proposal to the board, offering a free truck to replace each diesel-burning truck that is sent to the salvage yard. There wasn’t much discussion before that offer was declined. 

“They’re trying to do away with these bad fumes,” Burnett said. 

Supervisor Larry Dykes expressed doubts about electric vehicles, saying, “Let a thunderstorm dump four or five inches of rain and you’ll be sitting on the side of the road.” 

In other business, the board agreed to apply for assistance from the legislature’s $89 million Emergency Road and Bridge Repair Fund to fix bridges on Ovett-Moselle Road, Three-Mile Stretch Road, West Drive, Pleasant Grove-Sandersville Road, Bush Dairy Road and Springhill Road. Supervisors and engineer Wiley Pickering came up with the list of proposed projects at a work session last week. Cities and counties across the state are competing for the funds, which are being administered through the Mississippi Department of Transportation. 

Supervisor David Scruggs has applied to Pat Harrison Waterway for work on River Road and West Side Drive in Beat 4. 

Burnett’s appointment of Beck Brewer to the South Central Regional Medical Center board was approved as was his appointment of Joe Johnson to the Jones County Economic Development Authority board to replace his brother Jim Johnson, who asked to step down after serving several years. Scruggs’ appointment of Randy Laird to the Jones College board was also approved. 

The board also agreed to refund $10,000 in bond money that was put up by Heather Jones to get Michael Touchstone out of the Jones County jail in 2019, Sheriff Joe Berlin said. 

“There was no video of the search by Choctaw PD, so the DA declined to prosecute it,” Berlin said. 

When asked details of the case, he told Dykes, “I don’t know, that was before me.” 

Berlin emphasized that the check needed to be made out to Jones, not Touchstone. 

Jail records show that Touchstone was arrested for possession of methamphetamine in October 2019. 

Berlin also told the board that he planned to go with Nutrisystem, which handles food service through supplier Sysco, to handle inmates’ meals on an annual budget of $120,000. 

Board Attorney Danielle Ashley and Deputy Clerk Chasity Grey recently completed updating the county employee handbook — the first such update since 2006. “They put a lot of hard work into this,” Chief Financial Officer Charles Miller said. 

Supervisors also agreed to sponsorships of $1,700 each to Laurel-Jones County Dixie Youth and Dixie Majors programs, and Burnett and Dykes donated $500 each to the West Jones Touchdown Club. 

The board also agreed to donate $250 to the Pine Belt Women’s Sertoma Cornhole Tournament and decided not to enroll in a county-wide beaver-control program because it already contracts to someone to handle that.

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