Collins shines bright with a $700K grant for LED street lights

The corridor through the City of Collins is about to be a lot brighter thanks to a $717,000 grant.
The city received a grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) for new LED light fixtures.  The fixtures and extended service area will provide a more consistent lighting footprint thus increasing visibility as well as providing a safer, more attractive means of travel.  The LED bulbs are also more efficient due to the longer lifespan and increased energy efficiency when compared to the existing high pressure sodium lighting.
The lighting project will be along U.S. Highway 49 and the new Highway 84 bypass.  New street lights will be installed on Highway 49 from the bypass north to the Rutland Lumber Yard and along the 84 bypass. Existing lighting will be updated along Highway 49 through Collins.
The grant is a 20 percent match with the city’s share being $143,000.
“This project will provide a safer means of travel at night,” said Mayor V.O. Smith of the project.  “It will also help economic growth
for the city by attracting new customers and making nighttime travelers and shoppers feel safer on the highways.”
Smith noted that the addition of the new lights would present a good image for the city.
“It makes Collins feel more like a city than a rural area thus bringing more businesses to the area,” he said.  “We are excited about the project.”
Work on the project is tentatively set to begin in June with the submission of plans, specifications and cost estimates.                              Advertisement for bids is expected to take place in January 2017 with construction beginning in June 2017.
“The project is expected to be completed by October of 2017,” said Smith.

Mayor V.O. Smith creating a legacy

Mayor V.O. Smith was featured in the Spring issue of Our South Magazine.

Story by Joanna Holbert • Our South Magazine

Growing up as a young boy in rural Covington County Mississippi, V.O. Smith had no ambitions for holding public office. In fact, the path he created for himself after graduating from Lone Star High School was that of an ambitious man.

“I was more interested in business,” he said. In his early adult life, Smith owned and operated several businesses in the City of Collins. He owned a Sears catalog store, the Chicken Box restaurant, a discount bread store and a convenience store, “Smith’s Curb Mart.” “The Curb Mart was the first quick stop store in Collins,” he recalled.

It was during those days of operating the businesses that he was approached to run for office. “Several merchants came to me and asked me to run for alderman,” he said. After much consideration, Smith agreed to run for a seat on the board. He was elected to the Board of Alderman for the city in 1977. During his time on the board, Smith realized his love for helping others.

“I have always liked to help people,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to help them solve their problems.”

It was only a few short years later that he ran and was elected to the Mayor’s office. Now, 35 years later, Smith joins Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler of Madison as the two longest serving mayors in the State of Mississippi. It’s a position he has held because he has not forgotten his commitment to the residents and, today, still strives to help them solve their problems.

“In the early days, the city was very small and we had limited equipment,” he said. At the time, Collins only had one garbage truck, one dump truck, one backhoe and one tractor. “Now we have about 40 different types of equipment for the city,” Smith noted.

It was always the Mayor’s goal to keep spending down and protect the taxpayers of the city.

“We wanted to save the taxpayers’ money, and one of the ways we have done that over the years is by doing some of the work ourselves on projects that the city has taken on.”

With his eyes set on helping the city grow and prosper, Smith had to address current issues. “In those early days we had a lot of abandoned houses in the city limits,” he said. Smith learned early on that the way to help the city was by searching for grant monies that are available to municipalities.

“We submitted an application for a grant and received it,” he said, “and we were able to take down the abandoned houses.”

Infrastructure issues were also a concern for Smith during the early years. Serving as a volunteer fireman for 27 years for the city, his calling to serve was put to use.

“Early on, the rating for the fire department was at an eight,” he said. “The lower the number, the better the rating you have. In order for us to lower our rating, we had to face the challenges of our water.”

The city spent much time and energy working to improve the water lines and the city’s water pressure. They also added two new water tanks and fire trucks. “When we were able to do that, the department’s rating dropped to a five,” he said.

Today, the city enjoys excellent service from all departments.

“I acted as the police chief and the judge when I started out as Mayor,” Smith laughed. “I just made sure I thought before I answered as the judge!”

In those early days while he played dual roles, Smith as the police chief received phone calls day and night.

“There were a lot of nights that I would get called out,” he said.

Today, Smith still considers his telephone number a public number.

“I have it posted on the door of my office,” he said. “I am a 24-hour-a-day mayor.”

That ‘round the clock title is one he wear proudly. Often times Smith can be seen in the evenings up and down Main Street in Collins planting flowers, watering trees and maintaining the green spaces.

“I just enjoy it,” he said.

The beauty of the city’s Main Street is something in which Smith takes much pride.

“It took me several years to convince our Board of Aldermen that we needed to work on our Main Street,” he said. “I was finally able to convince the board to let me redo one block. It set the community on fire and the board agreed to doing two more blocks. That was a $530,000 project that took us two years to finish.”

When it comes to city projects, Smith gets to work alongside city crews doing whatever needs to be done to improve the city.

“My hobby is working,” he laughed. “I don’t hunt or fish or play golf. I like to go antiquing and travel to antique auctions.”

The Mayor, often times, can be found at his antique store on Main Street in Collins unloading his newest finds in the evening hours after tending to the city’s business.

“Every night after work, I go to work on my own projects,” he said. “I usually work until 8 or 9 at night.”

He owns a number of rental properties in the city and spends countless hours fixing and maintaining the properties.

“I was laughing with someone the other day when I told them that my relaxing time is when I’m painting a building,” he smiled.

Today, the City of Collins enjoys much growth. It boasts a larger, progressive police department under the direction of Chief Joey Ponder; a state of the art fire department under Chief John Pope; a solid, quality public works department under Director Bob Shoemake and an innovative online presence under the guidance of City Clerk Suzette Davis. Smith noted that he is proud of the fact that the police officers have body cameras and the city already has six video cameras in the police cars.

“We had eight men on the police department when I started, and now we are up to 18 with full and part time men. We have a good fleet of cars and everything in our department is up to date.”

As a longtime, small town mayor, Smith has been active in organizations throughout the state. He is the past president of the Mississippi Municipal League and now serves on the Board of Directors. He’s also the chairman of the Mississippi Service Company, a board on which he has served since 1989. The Mississippi Service Company is for insurance for Mississippi cities and towns, and Smith is the longest serving member on the board.

“Over the years, I’ve been able to see a lot of changes in our city,” he said. “I’m thankful for our longtime city employees who come to work each day. I’m also very appreciative to the voters of Collins for allowing me to serve them. Working over the years with 15 different aldermen has been something I have enjoyed. We could not have done anything in the City of Collins without their support.”

Today, Collins enjoys new growth and expanding and new businesses in the city.

“Our new Peoples Bank and Woolwine Ford dealership show growth in the city. We are proud to have these new businesses like the new Clayton Pharmacy, Taylor Place shopping center, McDonald’s and many others coming to Collins,” he said. “It saves our residents from having to go out of town to shop, and it helps our city too.”

Smith prides himself on the fact that in his 35 years as mayor, Collins has never seen an increase in the millage rate.

“We are at 11 mills just like we were then,” he said. “We run the city like a business and we watch our spending. We do most of our own work and stay within our means. We don’t spend it if we don’t have it.

“One thing I’ll say about our growth is that we couldn’t have done it without the grant money we have received,” said Smith. “We have received millions and millions of dollars in grant money. The City of Collins has probably received the most grant money of any city our size.”

Smith explained that part of the reason for Collins receiving the money is knowing where to go to get it.

“That’s one thing I think I have learned pretty well over the years,” he said. “I’ve learned where to go and who to talk to for us to find funds to do the things we have wanted to do in the city.”

Smith said the city works with grant writers out of Jackson. One of Smith’s favorite undertakings was the grant to restore the Collins Depot which now acts as a meeting place for weddings, receptions and special events. It’s complete with memorabillia from the old days in Collins. Although the funds are available, it doesn’t mean that they are quick to get.

“It took us 13 years to get the Civic Center,” he said.

The Collins Civic Center which opened just a few years ago was a project that Smith made his personal mission.

“We are very proud of the civic center,” he said. “We are even more proud of our new Senior Citizens Center which opened in December.”

Smith knew he wanted to open a Senior Citizens Center in the city for the senior adults.

“It was something we wanted to have as a place where seniors could go and enjoy a meal, play games, take a quilting class or exercise class and just enjoy spending time there,” Smith said.

The Senior Citizens Center was also built with grant funds which Smith was able to secure for the city. Other projects within the city have included restoration of the city’s eight ballparks, three walking trails, two tennis courts and other two playgrounds. He noted that he keeps in mind that the City of Collins should be a place where families enjoy living and working. That’s the way it has been for Smith, his wife Ada, and their children Neil, Lynn and Lana. Now he gets to enjoy spending time in the city he helped grow with his grandchildren.

“It’s our goal as a small town to do anything that will make the quality of life for all of our citizens better,” he said. “When our citizens are happy that’s the best part of the job.”

Collins Fire Chief named to Top 50 Under 40

Collins Fire Chief John Pope was named to the Mississippi Business Journal’s “Top 50 Under 40” 2016 class. The Top 50 Under 40 program seeks to identify and recognize individuals who have made signficant contributions to Mississippi’s overall economic progress, often working at their own local levels. Since its inception in 1993, the Top 50 Under 40 program has honored hundreds of Mississippi business leaders who are playing active day-to-day roles in moving the state’s economy forward. However, the Top 50 Under 40 is anything but a single-business awards program. Recipients have come from virtually every walk of life. Individuals are nominated by friends or business associates who best know their professional and civic involvement. “It is humbling to even be considered to be a part of this group,” said Pope. “I’m honored to know that someone would nominate me.” Pope attended an awards luncheon held at the Jackson Hilton on Thursday, April 7 where he was presented with a plaque. Pope actively protects the largest petroleum industry infrastructures in the southeastern United States, located in Collins and has served his community and state for nearly 20 years. Active in civic and professional organizations, Pope and his family live in Collins.

Okatoma Festival Tshirts on sale in Collins

The Okatoma Festival t-shirts are in! The shirts are available at all the banks in the City of Collins, according to Covington County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marie Shoemake. The shirts cost $15 and represent the theme of this year’s festival, “Home Sweet Home.” The Okatoma Festival will be held on Saturday, May 7 in Downtown Collins. This year’s honored guest will be Miss Mississippi Hannah Roberts. Roberts, a Mount Olive native was first runner-up to the Miss America title.

CPD hosts statewide training session

The Collins Police Department organized and hosted a statewide training session on Friday, April 22 at the Collins Train Depot. The Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) program was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to address the gap in training between the Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) and the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC/DRE) Program. The SFST program trains officers to identify and assess drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, while the DEC/DRE program provides more advanced training to evaluate suspected drug impairment. The SFST assessment is typically employed at roadside, while an officer trained as a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) through the DEC program conducts a 12-step evaluation in a more controlled environment such as a jail or a detention facility. “This program was open to officers throughout the area,” said Collins Police Chief Joey Ponder. “The training they received will give them another tool to help get impaired drivers off the street.” The class, according to Ponder, had about 30 people from various departments including Wiggins, Ellisville, Hattiesburg, Jones County and others, and was the largest one in the state. “This class helps officers know what to look for with drivers under the influence,” said Kevin Poole with the ARIDE program. “There are more and more people under the influence of different types of substances while at the wheel.” Ponder said CPD plans to host another class.

Annual Okatoma Festival set for May 7

Covington County is gearing up for the 27th Annual Okatoma Festival to be held in Collins on Saturday, May 7, 2016, beginning at 8 a.m.
“Our honoree this year will be Miss Mississippi Hannah Roberts,” said Covington County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marie Shoemake. “We are thrilled to invite Hannah back to Covington County to help us celebrate the day.”
Roberts, a native of Covington County, was named Miss Mississippi last fall and traveled to the Miss America Pageant where she placed first runner up to the Miss America title.
The Okatoma Festival will also feature great music from artists like headliner Travis Clark. A native of Sumrall, Mississippi, Clark will be performing some of the songs from his 2009 album titled “Somewhere in Mississippi.”
In the summer of 2015, Clark spent time in Nashville, TN recording a third album alongside members of Luke Bryan’s band. This album was released in November 2015 and contains a few name songs that he wrote including the title track, “Home Sweet Home.”
Also performing will be the band The 6550’s. The 6550’s are a three-piece band based in Hattiesburg made up of Joey Odom, Wes Brooks and Ben Jones.
Although the band was born in 2010, each of its members has over 20 years of live music experience playing in the Gulf South and have shared stages with national and internationally known artists.
Their catalog of music includes “80’s music,” classic and modern rock, rockabilly, R&B, oldies, blues, and classic country.
Among other performers is Nashville artist Rachele Lynae and her band. Lynae, who is adept at combining deep, vivid, moving country storytelling with the edge of guitar‐driven rock and the big hooks of pop, is reminiscent of Shania Twain, who was the queen of country‐pop during the ‘90s.
This admission-free event will kick off with a 5-K Run/Walk at 8 a.m. and Children’s Fun Run at 8:30 a.m. at the Collins Presbyterian Church.
Opening ceremonies will begin at 9 a.m. on the main stage at the courthouse square.
The Okatoma Parade will take place at 10:30 a.m. and will include Okatoma Festival Queens, elected officials and Roberts will serve as the Grand Marshal.
“Following the parade we will have a meet and greet reception with Hannah in the Chancery Building,” Shoemake noted.
Meanwhile, numerous arts and crafts booths and food vendors will be located at every corner in downtown Collins. Live entertainment, a health fair, quilt exhibit, art display, children’s park, fair rides, rubber duck race, golf tournament and much more will be provided. The traditional street dance will be from 6 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. with the Cowboy Blues Band.
“It’s going to be a fun day full of activities for families. We are looking forward to it,” Shoemake said.”
For more information about the festival, contact the Covington County Chamber of Commerce at 601-765-6012 or go to CovingtonChamber.com.

Woolwine Ford Lincoln opens new, state of the art dealership in Collins

“It’s all because of God. I’ve done what little bit I have done, but it’s all because of Him and what He has done.”
That’s the way Richard Woolwine explains the growth of his business, Woolwine Ford Lincoln.
Woolwine started out in 1971 washing cars in Collins at Sanford Sullivan Motors. He worked his way up into the parts department and then to the title of Parts and Service and Body Shop Manager.
“I then moved over to sales and worked my way up to general manager,” Woolwine said. “I have to thank Gerald Sullivan and Tom Sanford for giving me the opportunity.”
During his time at Sanford Sullivan Motors, Woolwine had watched the Ford dealership, D.L. Ford, in town become for sale.
“It had been for sale for a couple of years,” he said. “In July 1991 I contacted Mr. Stuart Leggett and Mr. Bobby Joe Dykes about the dealership. God gave me the chance, and He had a plan. It had nothing to do with me. I never dreamed of anything like this.
“My mother (Ivell Woolwine) used to say, ‘God can do exceedingly abundantly more than you could ever ask or think.’
“Growing up, my daddy (Cecil Woolwine) used to say that if you were not working by 7 a.m. you had wasted half the day.”
Doing abundantly more than Richard Woolwine could imagine is what God has done with Woolwine Ford Lincoln.
When he was about 10 years old, Woolwine went to work on his neighbor’s chicken farm. When he received his first paycheck, his mother had words of wisdom for him.
“She told me, ‘You’re supposed to give 10 percent to the Lord, but to love the Lord is to give much more,” Woolwine said. “That’s something I’ve tried to live by.”
Woolwine was determined that his business would be based on faith.
“On our first day, August 17, 1991, I had our preacher Brother Billy M. Lowery on the dealership floor to pray with us.
“I’ve always said the blessings were because the Lord did it, if it’s been messed up it’s because I did it,” Woolwine laughed.
Today, in a new building, the dealership continues to grow, and Woolwine has brought on his two sons John and Daniel to work alongside him. His philosophy hasn’t changed. He still treats every customer with respect.
“That’s what has kept us going,” said John. “Our numbers have grown because people have come in and had a good experience.”
Richard agreed.
“We built this building for our customers and employees,” he said.
In recent years, the dealership had become a tight fit for the employees, cars, and customers.
“We were on top of each other,” said John.
“Ford asked all the dealers to upgrade their facilities,” said Richard. “It had been in the back of my mind for the last five years. One of the people from Ford was in the dealership and told us that we could be the last to change or the first to change, but that at some point we were going to have to change.”
“We knew we had to follow the company’s policies,” John added.
Woolwine Ford Lincoln was one of the first dealerships to build a brand new building.
When Richard made the decision to build a new building, he began looking around locally for someone to do the construction.
Using local people is exactly what the Woolwines did. Richard Woolwine contacted Sammy Davis of Davis Construction in Collins about the project.
“All of our bids were from local people,” John said.
Ultimately, Davis Construction won the contract on the building and went to work.
“Sammy went above and beyond on this building,” said Richard, “and I think it’s turned out to be a great thing for Collins.
“I’ve had owners of other Ford dealerships all over Mississippi calling me to tell me how good it looks on the highway as you come into Collins.”
The construction of the building took about 18 months and including very specific instructions from Ford.
From the color of the tile in the showroom to the paint color to the type of furniture in all the offices, Ford was very stringent on the details.
“We built the building using their ‘theater look’ parking lot that had to be approved by Ford Motor Company,” said John.
John described the theater look as the building sitting up higher than the parking lot so that it looks down on the cars on the lot.
“Every single detail had to be approved by Ford Motor Company,” Richard added.
The Woolwines agreed that the building was built for their customers. From the comfortable waiting area complete with large screen tv and fireplace to the latest technology offered to customers, every detail was thought out and planned for an enjoyable experience.
“We’ve doubled our shop space so that when our customers bring in a vehicle for service we can get them back on the road quicker,” John noted.
In the dealership, the sales offices went from 10 to over 20 office spaces.
“We’ve got a spacious parking lot with more room to display our cars,” said John, “and Blain Company in Mount Olive did all of our paving.”
“We are truly blessed to have a place like this in South Mississippi,” said Richard.
Looking ahead for Woolwine Ford Lincoln means looking to the next generation. Sons John and Daniel went to work as boys in the dealership washing cars and mowing grass and now work alongside their father.
“I started working in the summers when I was 14,” said John.
For the family it’s about continuing a tradition of sales, service, customer satisfaction and community service.
“We want people to have an enjoyable experience because we treat them like we want to be treated,” Richard said. “First of all we want to thank God. Secondly, we want to thank our loyal customers. We also want to thank our employees.”
Richard went on to thank the City of Collins and Covington County.
“They have been good to us over the years, and we want to thank Collins, Covington County and the surrounding counties for their support.”
A grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting was held Thursday, April 7 at the dealership on Highway 49 in Collins.

Collins is finalist for ‘FD of the Year’

The Mississippi Burn Foundation recently honored outstanding firefighters for exemplary job performance in 2015-2016. Top firefighters and fire departments were recognized during “Hearts for Heroes,” a special awards gala presented by the Joseph M. Still Burn Centers, Inc. Event sponsors included Merit Health Central, Southern Pine Electric Power Association, McClain Lodge, Capital City Beverages, Southern Beverage Company, E&J Gallo Winery, and Soirée, LLC ~ Event Planning & Public Relations. Held at McClain Lodge in Brandon, the event featured cocktails, a seated dinner, and live music by songwriter and firefighter Shannon Sandridge accompanied by Matt Ellis and Rob Lehman. Finalists and winners received awards sponsored by Colonial Pipeline and Emergency Equipment Professionals. Nominations were received from across the state in the following categories – Fire Chief of the Year, Fire Officer of the Year, Firefighter of the Year and Fire Department of the Year. Fire Department of the Year nominees must have demonstrated both spirit and service to the community and state through “courage into the fire.” The Collins Fire Department and Tupelo Fire Department were selected as finalists. The 2015-2016 Fire Department of the Year was awarded to Cleveland Volunteer Fire Department.
Established in 1949, this department maintains a stellar reputation as one of the most aggressive smaller municipal fire departments in the state. Staffed as a combination of Career & Volunteer firefighters, this department is rated a “Fire Protection Class 5” and was one of the very first in the state graded under the new State Rating Bureau guidelines. Collins was also one of the very first in the state to participate in the NFPA “Learn Not To Burn” fire prevention and injury education program geared toward school-age children and was selected as one of 10 “Champion Communities & Departments.” They are very charitable as well and support their local daycares, schools and Boys & Girls club along with hosting their annual “Christmas Cheer” drive providing gifts, blankets and fruit baskets to local nursing home residents and indigent members of their community.