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Service with or without masks at county offices

Flint says no taxpayers will be refused service over face covering

Board President Cole Flint opened Monday’s meeting of the Panola County Board of Supervisors with a statement directed at the department heads of the various county offices, clearly stating again that no county employee is to deny service to any citizen because they aren’t wearing masks.

“We have gotten word multiple times during this Covid-19 situation that we have refused services, or tried to make a citizen wear a mask, or just not provided them service. We have no authority to do that, and the Sheriff is not going to prosecute anybody,” Flint said.

Flint has covered the matter in previous meetings when supervisors discussed safety policies at the two county courthouses. Plastic shields were installed for every office and each department has guidelines for limiting the number of citizens that may be served at one time and signs are posted everywhere saying masks are required.

Several citizens a day, though, walk through the metal detectors at the courthouses with masks on their face and remove them when they reach the office in which they have business. Flint said he and other supervisors have continued to hear citizens complain about clerks demanding masks be worn.

January is the busiest month at the courthouses with the majority of the county’s property owners paying their taxes. Lines have been 10 people long at times this month and the clerks in the Tax Collector’s office have worked long hours to properly collect and receipt taxpayers’ money.

Tax Assessor/Collector O’dell Draper, Jr., said last week much of the courthouse congestion could be eliminated if citizens would use the dropboxes provided at both Batesville and Sardis locations.

Checks or money orders can be safely deposited in the boxes, and taxpayers who have no special circumstances can pay their taxes quickly with no human interaction. Receipts are promptly mailed to citizens, but Draper said far too few people take advantage of the convenience.

Perhaps, he noted, a citizenry that is generally distrustful of any level of government is only satisfied to hand deliver their tax payments and receive a marked receipt at the time of the transaction in the same fashion their ancestors have for generations.

“People are funny about their taxes,” Draper said.

An abundance of drivers seeking renewal stickers for their current vehicle, or purchasing license plates for a new car, also add to courthouse traffic in January each year.

“We are not going to refuse services over a mask,” Flint said. “I’m going to wear one to protect myself and other people, but if they don’t want to I’m not going to fight and argue with them.”

Each of the supervisors have been wearing masks at meetings since the beginning of the year. For much of the pandemic period only Supervisor Earl Burdette wore a mask to meetings and very few department heads had face coverings.

At Monday’s meeting almost all county employees and elected officials, and other attendees, wore masks for much of the hour-long meeting.

In Batesville, City Clerk Susan Berryhill has closely monitored the daily infection rate in the county and has periodically closed City Hall to walk-in traffic – with the blessing of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen – when numbers were highest.

Although there are several ways to easily pay utility bills without going to City Hall, a large portion of CIty of Batesville customers make the monthly trip to pay gas, water, and garbage charges in person.

City Hall also has a depository box that customers can securely make payments, and Berryhill also has deputy clerks who can assist customers at the door.

Like many office managers in Panola County, Berryhill is concerned not just with the safety of employees, but the real possibility that customer service will be severely hampered if workers contract Covid-19, or have to be quarantined due to a coronavirus exposure.