|PUBLISHED ONLINE MAY 28, 2020 • VOL. 2, NO. 29|
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter
unless otherwise noted
(click highlighted link to e-mail the editor)
Johnston's new school superintendent
moving up from nearby Sampson County
Eric Bracy is the unanimous choice made by the Johnston County Board of Education from an applicant pool of 31 candidates for the position left vacant by Ross Renfrow's retirement last summer.
He has been serving as superintendent of Sampson County's public schools since 2014.
He will begin his duties here on or about July 1 with an annual salary of $195,000 plus supplemental benefits including a $20,000 performance bonus if he meets "objective measurable goals" approved by the school board. His contract is good for four years.
"Dr. Bracy's extensive experience as a superintendent and his extensive track record of improving student achievement as well as his accomplishments in improving the financial well-being of his current school district made his selection a clear, strong choice," stated Todd Sutton, the school board's chairman.
Sampson County's school system is smaller than Johnston's in several respects. For one thing, Sampson's system does not include all of that county's schools; the City of Clinton operates a separate system. As a result, Sampson's student enrollment in 18 schools approaches 8,500. Johnston's enrollment in 45 schools is about 37,400.
Sampson's system employs just over 500 school teachers and 1,000 or so employees overall. Johnston's system employs about 2,600 teachers and more than 5,000 total.
Dr. Bracy has been recognized several times by his peers in recent years. He was honored in 2017 as Superintendent of the Year by the N.C. Association of Educators as well as the Southeast Education Alliance. He recently received the 2020 Distinguished Educator Award from the N.C. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Under his leadership as Sampson's superintendent, the school system there has been ranked 18th (2016-17), 15th (2017-18), and 16th (2018-19) in grade-level proficiency in North Carolina.
Prior to his work in Sampson, Dr. Bracy served as superintendent of schools in his native county of Northampton. He previously worked as a principal in Durham County and Vance County. He began his career in public education as a fourth-grade teacher in Northampton.
He holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education from N.C. Central University, a master's degree in education administration from Virginia State University, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
He and his wife Janelle, a kindergarten teacher like his late mother, have three daughters: Cameron, Courtney, and Camille. His contract requires him to "promptly establish his primary residence in Johnston County."
Dr. Bracy's contract is posted on the JCPS website>
READ MORE about his introduction to Johnston County on OBSERVATIONS>
Another record-setting spike in cases:
Johnston added 95 during the past week
The N.C. Department of Health & Human Services reported this morning (Thursday) that Johnston County now has 377 coronavirus cases --- an increase of 95 since this time last week.
The County of Johnston released the following data at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday:
• 365 confirmed cases --- up from 276 a week earlier; 20 deaths, 10 hospitalized (up from 6 a week ago), 335 at home.
• 55% of cases female (200); 45% male (165 cases).
• Cases by age: 25 ages 0-17; 31 18-24; 157 25-49; 74 50-64; 78 age 65 and older.
• Cases by race: 270 white, 78 black, 9 "other," and 8 "unknown."
• In early April, 67.5% --- more than two-thirds --- of the coronavirus cases reported in Johnston County were persons age 50 and older. Now, 58.4% of the cases in Johnston are persons under age 50.
• The number of cases for the Smithfield ZIP code has risen from 42 to 61 during the past week.
TOWN TO OPEN PARK SHELTERS, FIELDS, AND POOL
NEXT MONDAY (JUNE 1) --- BUT NOT FOR EVERYONE
Reservations can be made by calling 919-934-2148 during normal business hours. Per Executive Order 141, social distancing must be maintained and gatherings are limited to 25 persons.
The Recreation and Aquatics Center will open the pool to MEMBERS for lap swimming only, beginning June 1. Reservations can be made, in one-hour increments --- Monday-Friday: 5:30-9:30 a.m. and 2:00-6:00 p.m., Saturday: 8:00 a.m. till noon --- by phoning 919-934-1408 or e-mailing SRACPool@smithfield-nc.com during normal business hours.
playgrounds, and restrooms remain closed;
tennis courts are already open.
How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting
county and town budgets for fiscal 2020-21
County Manager Rick Hester and Town Manager Mike Scott have presented their recommended budgets for the new fiscal year that starts July 1, with public hearings on both plans scheduled early next week (see meeting agendas below).
The big news, of course, is how those budgets have been restricted by economic uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
The County of Johnston at this point is anticipating a reduction in sales-tax revenues approaching $6.5 million in the year ahead, according to Mr. Hester and his staff.
The Town of Smithfield is planning on a reduction of more than $350,000 in sales-tax receipts, according to Mr. Scott and his staff.
Mr. Hester's budget anticipates an increase of more than $11.7 million in property-tax revenues --- an indicator of Johnston County's phenomenal residential and commercial growth --- while Mr. Scott's budget foresees a decrease of $100,000 for the Town of Smithfield. Neither manager is recommending a change in property-tax rates that were set following real-estate revaluation a year ago.
PAY RAISES FOR EMPLOYEES PUT ON HOLD
Because of the revenue shortfalls expected from the coronavirus pandemic, both governments are postponing across-the-board pay raises for their employees that are usually granted on July 1.
"I respectfully request to revisit employee compensation later in the budget year," Mr. Hester writes in his budget message to the County Commissioners. He does not suggest amounts or percentages of possible pay raises for county employees.
Mr. Scott originally proposed 2.5% across-the-board raises for town employees. However, during this month's budget sessions with the Town Council, he agreed that no raises should be granted before September at the earliest.
BOTH GOVERNMENTS HAVE "RAINY DAY" FUNDS
The proposed county budget is balanced without drawing on reserve funds. According to the required annual audit of county finances, the "legally available" General Fund balance as of last June 30 was $64,584,729.
Mr. Scott's proposed budget does dip into the town's General Fund balance to provide $1,020,500 for capital improvements, including a $560,500 fire engine to replace an old one. Another $174,000 has been earmarked by the Town Council from year-end leftovers to pay for higher salaries and benefits for police officers.
Even so, the town's General Fund balance as of last June 30 was $13,089,306 and "has not decreased since that time," Mr. Scott told the Sun.
Those hefty fund balances built up by the county and the town --- money reserved for the proverbial "rainy day" --- will come in handy if things get a lot worse in the year ahead of us.
The bottom lines:
• The County of Johnston's proposed General Fund budget totals $250,673,985 --- up from $243,099,565 adopted for 2019-20 but less than the current year's amended budget, which includes an extra $3.8 million for Johnston County Public Schools plus other unforeseen expenses.
• The Town of Smithfield's proposed General Fund budget totals $14,736,722 --- a reduction from the 2019-20 adopted budget of $15,020,150.
Besides their General Funds, both governments have separate accounts for public utilities like water and sewer that are financed by user fees rather than property and sales taxes.
Here are links to both managers' recommended budgets for 2020-21:
COUNTY OF JOHNSTON PROPOSED BUDGET>
TOWN OF SMITHFIELD PROPOSED BUDGET>
The Town Council has scheduled a special session for 6:30 p.m. today (Thursday) to continue discussing the manager's proposed budget. Public access will be limited to a teleconference reached by phoning 919-391-3517 or 1-800-719-7514 and entering Conference Code 808829 when prompted.
This was supposed to be the week
for high-school graduations in Johnston
The calendar for the 2019-20 school year still shows this Friday (May 29) as the last day of classes for students, with the evening marked as Graduation Night at Johnston County's high schools.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, those ceremonies have been postponed to late July or early August in hopes that traditional diploma presentations can be held under relaxed rules on mass gatherings by then.
Even so, graduation time was still on the minds of students and faculty and parents this week. One means of celebrating the milestone was distribution of congratulatory yard signs to the households of graduates.
In the accompanying photograph, the family of Smithfield-Selma graduate Jean Ortiz Torres accepts a sign, decorated in Spartan colors, from SSS staffers Bethany Jones and Shannon Walters.
Johnston County's schools have been closed to students since mid-March. However, online instruction, though limited, has continued since then with students allowed to finish the school year as scheduled.
The Weekly Sun will publish a list of all the SSS graduates once it's released.
STREET PAVING IS PROGRESSING
South Fifth Street from Bright Leaf to Brogden got a new coat of asphalt Tuesday afternoon --- part of a $234,119 project that's putting new surfaces on portions of 10 streets throughout town. Can we do more? An answer on OBSERVATIONS>
Latest Census estimate says Smithfield's
population has grown to almost 13,000
The U.S. Census Bureau has released 2019 population estimates for cities and towns of at least 5,000 residents. The latest report puts Smithfield's population at 12,985 --- a gain of 316 residents over the 2018 estimate and 2,019 since the last full-blown census in 2010.
Clayton's population, meanwhile, continues to grow at an astounding rate, according to the latest Census estimate --- from 16,116 in 2010 to 24,887 in 2019.
Johnston County's estimated population as of July 1, 2019 is 209,339 --- a gain of more than 40,000 since 2010 --- while the 2019 estimate for all of North Carolina is 10,488,084, almost a million more residents than recorded by the 2010 Census.
With the current count for 2020 now going on, the Census Bureau is tracking "self-response" rates for states and localities. For North Carolina, according to the latest report, the rate so far is 56.4%. For Johnston County as a whole, it's 61.8%. For Smithfield, it's 56.1%.
Because of the coronavirus situation, the deadline for responding to the Census request for household information has been extended till mid-August. If you haven't been counted yet, visit my2020census.gov>
DEATHS & FUNERALS
Each week we post links to obituaries about persons who have died during the past week. We monitor the websites of local funeral homes to compile our list, and we welcome links provided by readers to obituaries of persons with Smithfield connections who have died outside our immediate area....
RENA STANLEY ALLEN, 85 - died May 26
CHRISTINE EZZELL GARDNER, 92 - died May 26
JERRY LINWOOD BAKER, 79 - died May 24
GRADY EUGENE ATKINS, 86 - died May 22
JAMES RALPH GRIFFIN, 80 - died May 21
THAT'S THE WAY IT WAS
EARLY HOME OF HOOD BROTHERS DRUG STORE
This early 20th Century photograph of Downtown Smithfield shows the one-story brick building on the left that was the home of Hood Brothers prior to 1923, when a handsome three-story building was completed to house not only the drug store but also professional offices on the upper floors and a barber shop in the basement. We know this picture was taken after 1913 since that's the year the Bank of Smithfield (far right) was built. Later the home of First Citizens Bank, that structure today houses the Johnston County Heritage Center. Warren Grimes, whose relatives founded Hood Brothers, has posted a history of the business with more old photos on a Facebook page entitled "You know you're from Smithfield NC if...." >
LINKS TO ADDITIONAL PAGES
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