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PUBLISHED ONLINE DECEMBER 2, 2021   •   VOL. 3, NO. 48

Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
(Click on highlighted link to e-mail the editor)
 


And so the season of Advent is now upon us

Three generations had the honor of lighting the first candle of the Advent season this past Sunday at Centenary United Methodist Church: With Nathalia Parrish (left) is her daughter Crecia as grandfather Al Faber with granddaughter Lilly await their cue to ignite the Candle of Hope. (Seated on the left is the church's pastor, Steve McElroy). The traditional celebration continues this Sunday at numerous local churches with lighting of the Candle of Love followed on successive Sundays by candles of Joy and Peace and finally the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve. (Screenshot from Centenary Church's YouTube broadcast>)
 



New state budget boosts Smithfield projects

• $950,000 for enlarging RR culvert blamed for flooding

That appropriation breaks a logjam that had stymied the town's negotiations with the CSX Railroad over who should shoulder the cost of replacing an undersized drainage culvert blamed for costly flooding of several businesses along South Bright Leaf Boulevard on several occasions in recent years. "We are hoping the $950,000 will cover the cost of the culvert upgrades," Town Manager Mike Scott told the Sun this week. "We are still discussing maintenance responsibilities with CSX."

• $989,500 for rebuilding the Neuse River Amphitheater

The town had budgeted just $74,000 this fiscal year for repairs to the wooden stage beside the river on the Town Commons, but this grant from the state will do much more. Mr. Scott provided a summary of the town's funded projects that noted: "The construction will create a new facility that is handicap accessible and is expected to greatly enhance Smithfield's Downtown tourism presence." Plans for a new amphitheater were developed by the Johnston County Tourism Authority in partnership with the town.

• $536,300 for expanding facilities at Smith-Collins Park

This state appropriation will pay for a "multi-use path" around the park including an extension to a town-owned holding pond across from the campus of Johnston Community College. Those funds will also pay for expansion of the new splash pad that opened this past summer next to the Innovation Academy at South Campus.

• $3 million for sewage piping and pumping projects

Included are appropriations for three wastewater projects: $2 million for construction of a new "outfall" line to serve anticipated new development east of I-95 along with repair and enlargement of a pumping station there; $500,000 for enlargement of a pumping station to accommodate new development in West Smithfield; and another $500,000 for a "force main" to serve "developable land" north of Durwood Stephenson Parkway.

Town Manager Scott gave credit to Johnston County's two House representatives in the N.C. General Assembly for securing the appropriations. "
Larry Strickland did the heavy lifting here but Donna White was heavily involved in the CSX funding and supported the other projects," he noted. Support also came from state senators Lisa Barnes and Brent Jackson, who assisted with coordinating a meeting with the town and CSX, Mr. Scott said.


Johnston among top-10 counties getting state "earmarks"

A report put together by The News & Observer this week shows Johnston County with 43 projects receiving so-called "earmarks" from the General Assembly totaling $110,418,274 – an amount putting us among the state's top-10 recipients.

Included are grants to most of Johnston's municipalities plus appropriations of $5,111,793 for construction at Johnston Community College, more than $1.8 million for technology and school-bus safety initiatives in Johnston County's public schools, and just over $1.4 million for expansion of the mental-health wing at Johnston Health's Smithfield hospital.

 



 

CORONAVIRUS REPORT

Just in time for the holidays: a new virus variant

Omicron is its name, and the big question is: Will it be as potent as the Delta variant that hit us this summer and sent numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths rising at alarming levels again?

We'll get a Johnston County update on the situation Monday when Dr. Marilyn Pearson, the county's director of public health, makes her monthly report to the County Commissioners. That session will be live-streamed>

Meanwhile, we continue to lag the state and nation in getting folks vaccinated. Our percentage remains below 50% while statewide 56% and nationwide 60% of the population is fully vaccinated.


This morning's report from Johnston County Public Schools
showed 71 active cases among students and staff (down from 114 two weeks ago) with 232 students and 13 staff members quarantined (325 students and 17 staff quarantined before the Thanksgiving Week holidays). As of this morning, Corinth Holders High School had 24 students in quarantine; no other school in Johnston had more than 15, with just 4 at Smithfield-Selma High, 3 at South Smithfield Elementary, 2 at Smithfield Middle, 1 at Wilson's Mills Elementary, and 0 at West Smithfield Elementary.


VIEW the school system's COVID dashboard with data for all schools>

VIEW the current list of vaccination clinics in Johnston County>

VIEW the current list of testing sites in Johnston County>

 

CORONAVIRUS
weekly
measurements
Case total
since 3-20 

(last week)
Deaths
since 3-20 

(last week)
Hospital
patients

(last week) 
Fully
vaccinated

(last week)
JOHNSTON COUNTY 33,450
(33,231)
355
(354)
24
(23)
103,592: 49%*
(102,799)
NORTH CAROLINA 1,537,044
(1,524,078)
18,800
(18,676)
1,157
(1,113)
5,971,067: 57%*
(5,926,764)
UNITED STATES 48,695,518
(48,018,473)
782,106
(774,416)
  197,363,116: 60%
(195,973,992)
WORLDWIDE 263,689,974
(259,185,236)
5,228,097
(5,171,809)
  8,063,862,132
total doses given
* Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 4:41 p.m. November 30
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:30 p.m. December 1
Johns Hopkins University at 8:24 a.m. December 2





Duke Endowment boosts Johnston's telehealth effort

Story and photo from Johnston Health

Johnston Health has received a $324,000 grant from The Duke Endowment to fund an innovative mobile telehealth program to reach underserved communities.

"During the pandemic, we’ve seen the value of virtual visits for patients,” said Leah Johnson, corporate & community outreach coordinator for Johnston Health. "Unfortunately, many of our most vulnerable residents have barriers to this type of care. They don’t have access to high-speed internet or devices such as laptops or smartphones. They can’t take time away from work to either schedule or show up for a virtual visit, much less pay for it."

To meet the need, Johnston Health is teaming up with UNC Health Virtual Services to offer its urgent-care program aboard the hospital’s new mobile outreach unit. Before video-conferencing the providers, a nurse or CNA on the bus collects vitals and chief complaints from patients and, if needed, draws blood or tests for flu or strep.

In addition, the team can refer patients with chronic conditions to Project Access, which links them to hospital services and primary-care providers. A local pharmacy has agreed to help patients get the medicines they need.

While the goal is to improve access to care, the hospital also sees an opportunity to decrease avoidable Emergency Department visits. During the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, Johnston Health identified 1,164 avoidable visits to its Smithfield and Clayton emergency rooms. By the third year of this new program, the team is hopeful it can reduce those visits by 40 percent.

 



Just 1.05 inches of rainfall during November

That's the report for the month from Cornell Cox's Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield. November's reading puts us at 51.79 inches for the year – already above our annual average of almost 48 inches. Even so, the recent paucity of precipitation has prompted a statewide ban on outdoor burning. On the plus side, we've not had any warnings about a shortage of water from the Neuse River, which is holding steady just now at a recorded depth of just under 5 feet at Smithfield.

 




A new tradition at Johnston Health's hospitals

"Lights of Joy" were turned on Wednesday evening on the lawns of Johnston Health's hospitals in Smithfield and Clayton. Taking part in the first annual "tree" lighting here were (left to right) CEO Tom Williams, Sol Haliburton of the Johnston Health Foundation, and the Rev. Greg McClain, director of spiritual care and volunteers. Funds raised by the event will benefit patients assisted by the foundation. (Johnston Health photo)

 

WHAT'S COMING UP?

Town's tree lighting this evening; parade next Thursday

The Town of Smithfield's Christmas tree will be lighted at 7 p.m. today (Thursday) at the corner of Market and Third streets during festivities starting earlier that include performances by the Johnston County Community Choir, Artistry in Motion, and the Smithfield Middle School Jazz Band.
Th
e town's Christmas parade is set for 7 p.m. next Thursday (Dec. 9) following the usual course along Market Street from Sixth to Second streets. Other upcoming events of the season are posted at SmithfieldChristmas.com>

Candidates for election in 2022 begin filing on Monday

The filing period opens at noon Monday (Dec. 6) and continues till noon Friday, Dec. 17 for state and county offices up for grabs in the March 8 Primary Election and the General Election next November. In addition, candidates for Town of Smithfield offices that normally would been filled by voters last month will also file this month since the town's 2021 election was postponed till March 8 because of delayed results from the 2020 U.S. Census. Several local incumbents have already announced their intention to seek re-election, including Sheriff Steve Bizzell, County Commissioner Patrick Harris, and Register of Deeds Craig Olive.

County Commissioners to elect a new chairman Monday

With newly installed Commissioner Dickie Braswell on board in place of Chairman Chad Stewart, who resigned effective Nov. 30, commissioners will elect a new chairman – a matter taken up by the board every December. Also on the agenda for Monday's 10 a.m. session at the Courthouse is a report from County Attorney Jennifer Slusser on potential redistricting for future election of county commissioners according to their place of residence. The complete agenda for the morning session is posted on the county's website>
At the board's 6 p.m. session, also at the Courthouse, commissioners will conduct public hearings on two rezoning requests, both in Clayton Township – one for business purposes, the other for industrial uses. Here are details of that agenda> 


Town Council to consider W. Smithfield subdivision requests

Public hearings are scheduled during the council's 7 p.m. monthly meeting Tuesday at Town Hall on two proposed residential developments in West Smithfield. It will be the second hearing on a request for conditional zoning to allow a 165-lot subdivision on the north side of NC 210 just west of Skyland Drive. Another request for conditional zoning involves a 134-lot subdivision proposed for acreage southeast of the intersection of Wilson's Mills Road and Durwood Stephenson Parkway. A third hearing will be held on a request to rezone two parcels northeast of the intersection of White Oak Drive and Azalea Drive in North Smithfield from R-10 residential to R-8, which allows houses on smaller lots. The complete agenda for Tuesday's meeting is posted on the town's website>
 


GIFTS FOR EVERYONE ON YOUR LIST!
Tervis Tumblers, Southern Couture T-shirts
NEBO Tools & Gadgets, Russell Stover Candy
Evergreen Door Décor, Flags & Door Mats

Plus a large selection of Seasonal Gifts!


   840 S. Bright Leaf Blvd. Smithfield  •  919-934-7164



DEATHS & FUNERALS

Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home

JOHN DOUGLAS BLIZZARD JR., 84 – died December 1

TAMMY OWENS HUNT, 61 – died November 30

GUY C. LEE, 81 – died November 29

RAY VON JERNIGAN, 79 – died November 28

MARGARET LEE AUSTIN LeMASTER, 78 – died November 25

WARREN FREDERICK (RED) MILLER, 76 – died November 25

MAYBELLE BLACKMON NORRIS, 88 – died November 25


BILLY HAROLD NEWTON, 78 – died November 23
 



A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR

Once again, our Legislature shortchanged teachers

The N.C. General Assembly made like Santa Claus with the new state budget, doling out millions of dollars in grants to our local governments, mostly for sorely needed infrastructure projects. Wish they had done the same for our school teachers and other state-paid workers.

Yes, the legislators did fund one-shot bonuses for just about everybody and did boost wages to the now-accepted $15-an-hour minimum for the lowest-paid state employees. But 5% pay raises for school teachers over two years, after three years without across-the-board adjustments, is a pitiful response to the need for better compensation not only to retain but also to recruit the best people we can get to teach our children.

Leaving that unmet need on the table stings even more in light of another round of income-tax cuts including complete elimination of the state's corporate income tax over the next several years.

Another puzzling disappointment: The Legislature left standing a rule that public schools cannot start the fall semester before late August, even though the pandemic taught us the importance of expanding instructional time throughout the year, including most of the summer.

Johnston County Public Schools, especially, need that calendar flexibility as our fall semester has been cut short to get final exams out of the way before the Christmas holidays. (That situation was worsened by the recent addition of three "mental health" holidays to this fall's semester.)

A bit of local high-school football history may be in the making this week, with an ironic twist added to the story:

Princeton High School is undefeated as it hosts the team from Wallace-Rose Hill High this Friday in the Eastern N.C. 2-A championship game. Back in 1959, undefeated Smithfield High School beat Wallace-Rose Hill 7-6 in the game that sent SHS to the 2-A state championship contest that resulted in a 20-0 victory over Boone High School.

Smithfield High's final record in '59 was 13-0, and that's Princeton's record heading into Friday night's battle. May history repeat itself!

On the last day of November Smithfield still had a number of trees in full fall-color dress, including these two in nearby yards on Crescent and Walnut drives:



 



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