ONLINE MAY 13, 2021 • VOL. 3, NO.
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter
unless otherwise noted
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Processing center in West Smithfield to employ 500
As anticipated, the identity of the first prospect recruited to the new West Smithfield Industrial Park is Amazon --- specifically, a $100-million warehouse and processing center the company says will provide 500 jobs by the end of 2023 with starting pay of $15 an hour plus "an excellent benefits package," according to the County of Johnston's attorney.
In return, both the county and the Town of Smithfield will rebate property taxes collected from Amazon's capital investment on a declining percentage scale for seven years, provided the company meets the investment and job goals.
Reviewing the incentives contract during Monday's joint session of County Commissioners and the Town Council, County Attorney Jennifer Slusser said the rebates, starting in 2024, will return 90% of real-estate taxes Amazon pays over the first three years, 80% the fourth year, 70% the fifth year, 60% the sixth year, and 50% the seventh year. In addition, both the county and the town will return 50% of taxes paid on Amazon's "personal property" (equipment, mostly) the first five years.
Even with those rebates, the Town of Smithfield will net $1.4 million in property taxes and the County of Johnston $1.9 million during the seven-year "grant period," noted Chris Johnson, the county's director of economic development. He said Amazon is poised to become the town's largest property taxpayer (No. 1 presently is the Carolina Premium Outlets shopping center).
Mr. Johnson added that N.C. State economist Michael Walden estimates the economic impact of the Amazon project will be "over $97 million annually."
READ MORE in the official announcement issued by the county and the town>
Sam Blatt (center), Amazon's manager of economic development, holds a commemorative tobacco leaf (pottery by Amy Batchelor) presented during Monday's announcement festivities by Mayor Andy Moore (left). With them is County Commissioners' Chairman Chad Stewart. Mr. Blatt called Smithfield "a beautiful town" and said "we want to be a community partner... in all the ways that entails."
READ MORE about the project's historical significance on OBSERVATIONS>
The "Amazon Effect"? School board OKs
extra pay for summer-school employees
Referring several times during Tuesday's monthly session to the pending arrival of Amazon on the local job market, members of the Johnston County Board of Education approved extra pay and bonuses for teachers and other employees willing to staff the school system's Summer Learning Program.
Not only that. The board also approved $200 bonuses for the 750 or so school-bus drivers who stayed on the job during the past year's coronavirus pandemic.
"Amazon is going to give us a run for our money," said board member Terri Sessoms.
Referring to Amazon's announcement that starting pay at its West Smithfield processing center will be $15 an hour, board member Kay Carroll warned: "If we don't get our mess up to 15 bucks, we're gonna have a big drain of talented people that have been with us for a while."
(Even before Monday's Amazon announcement, the school board had included in its 2021-22 budget request to County Commissioners funding for a $15-an-hour minimum wage for bus drivers.)
Calling it "incentive pay" for the six-week summer catch-up program mandated by the N.C. General Assembly, Johnston's board approved a rate of $40 an hour for teachers and $20 for teacher assistants, bus drivers, and custodians who would normally be off the payroll during the summer. Bonuses of $1,000 will be paid to other employees called to extra duty.
Cost of the summer-school plan will be covered by federal CARES Act money for pandemic relief, the school board was told. The $200 bonuses for the past year's bus drivers will be covered by county funds augmented by transportation savings resulting from the shutdown of schools during the initial months of the pandemic.
SCHOOLS ASKING COUNTY FOR $10-MILLION INCREASE
The board approved its annual budget request to the County Commissioners --- modified from what was proposed two weeks ago to add another $2,154,011 to employ one teacher assistant in every K-3 class at schools that got grades of D or F on the state's latest "report card" based on academic testing results.
That brought the requested increase in county funding in the new fiscal year that starts July 1 to $7,927,090. Besides that, another $2.1 million in additional county funding is in the budget for capital outlay, mostly for replacement of aging equipment at existing county schools.
READ MORE about the budget request and other matters at Tuesday's meeting>
24.2% of Johnstonians fully vaccinated;
active cases here cut from 896 to 420
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday that 57,940 Johnstonians have been partially vaccinated for COVID-19 --- 27.7% of the county's estimated population --- while 50,587 have been fully vaccinated --- 24.2% of the population.
Even so, Johnston continues to lag behind the state and nation in percentage of total population vaccinated (see table below).
The county's Public Health Department announced this morning (Thursday) that it is now offering the Pfizer vaccine to anyone age 12 and older. Individuals under age 18 will need to be accompanied by an adult to get the shot. The Pfizer vaccine requires a second dose 21 days after the first one.
VIEW the current list of vaccination clinics offered in Johnston County>
The County of Johnston reported 420 active COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday: 402 recovering at home and 18 in hospitals. That's less than half of 896 cases in last week's report. Of 21,014 cases reported here over the past year, 20,369 Johnstonians are presumed recovered from COVID-19 infections.
Johnston County Public Schools reported 35 active cases among students
(51 a week ago) and 5 among employees (7 last week) as of Wednesday afternoon. The number of active quarantines among students dropped from 567 last week to 394 this week; the number of active quarantines among school employees dropped from 33 to 23.
How many meals have been provided free of charge to Johnston County's public-school students since the pandemic began 14 months ago? The answer:
2,210,086 and counting (reported to Johnston's Board of Education on Tuesday).
Many of those meals were distributed to students while schools were shut down, and have been funded in full by federal coronavirus-relief appropriations approved by Congress since the pandemic began in March 2020.
VIEW the current list of COVID-19 testing sites throughout Johnston County>
Earl Marett receives Lifetime Achievement
Award from N.C. Social Services association
"Earl has given countless hours of his time devoted to those who have needed help the most throughout his life not only through his profession but also personally," wrote Sarah Bradshaw, Sampson County's Social Services director who nominated Mr. Marett for the award. "He would tell you that getting a chance to see those (with) whom he has developed a relationship --- whether it be through work or personal interactions --- brings him great joy."
Mr. Marett began his professional career in the early 1970s with the newly established Johnston County Mental Health Center, first as an alcohol counselor and then as associate director.
He took the reins as Johnston's Social Services director in 1988.
"Under his watch, the agency expanded from one building housing 55 employees to 243 staff operating in updated and expanded facilities," Director Bradshaw wrote.
"Some of the numerous accomplishments resulting from Earl's leadership include: the expansion of social programs that have immeasureable positive impacts on the community; the development and implementation of a most successful Adolescent Parenting Program which saw many young mothers go on to have successful careers while avoiding being reliant on government assistance; the initiation of a Summer Youth Program with emphasis on work opportunities for former youth in foster care; strengthening of the agency's NC LINKS Program (a.k.a. Independent Living Services for Foster Children); and creation of the Joseph Lansinger Foster Children Endowment Fund."
Going beyond Johnston County, Ms. Bradshaw said Mr. Marett "offered the talent of his staff to highly influence the development of the major necessary programmatic changes" that launched NCFAST (North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology). "His agency was chosen as an NCFAST pilot during the implementation for Food and Nutrition and Medicaid," she added.
Following his retirement here, Mr. Marett continued his professional service as an interim Social Services director in two Eastern N.C. counties: Pitt and Wayne.
"It should not be a surprise that Earl has also spent his personal life constantly using his time and talents for others," Ms. Bradshaw concluded, citing as examples his service as chairman of the Smithfield Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee during development of Community Park and the Recreation and Aquatics Center on top of more than 30 years volunteering as a coach of youth baseball, softball, basketball, and soccer.
Here's one of several behind-the-house alleyways in South Smithfield that may no longer be used by the town for weekly garbage collection.
Smithfield Council was talking trash
at latest in a series of budget sessions
To be specific, council members at last Thursday evening's session agreed to close the town's recycling station on Hospital Road weekdays, restricting its public access to Saturdays when an attendant will be on duty to stop illegal dumping. That will take effect June 1.
They also gave the Public Works Department permission to discontinue using alleyways behind a number of South Smithfield residences for weekly garbage collection because of worsening maintenance issues. When that takes effect hasn't been settled.
Yet to be decided is a proposed increase in monthly garbage and yard-debris pickup fees. That decision and others will likely be considered at the council's fifth budget session scheduled for next Thursday, May 20 at Town Hall.
READ MORE about the council's discussions at last week's budget meeting>
COUNTY SELLS BONDS AT HISTORICALLY LOW RATE
County Manager Rick Hester reports that $36 million in general-obligation bonds sold Tuesday at an historically low fixed interest rate of 1.59% bid by Piper Sandler and Company. It was the final sale from the November 2018 bond issue approved by voters for the county's public schools and Johnston Community College.
In addition, RW Baird was low bidder at 1.67% on refinancing $14.5 million in bonds originally issued in 2014 at 3.48%. "The county will save approximately $650,000 in interest expense due to refinancing at lower rates," Mr. Hester said.
WHAT'S COMING UP?
COUNTY COMMISSIONERS MEET AT 6 P.M. MONDAY,
MAY ADOPT PARKS AND RECREATION MASTER PLAN
The board will return to the Old Superior Courtroom in the Courthouse for their regular third-Monday session that begins at 6 p.m. Limited seating is available for the public, but the meeting will be live-streamed on the county's Facebook page>
The agenda includes a public hearing on consolidation of the Archer Lodge and Thanksgiving fire-service districts, a report from Piedmont Natural Gas on expansion of service in Johnston, an update from the Triangle Trails Initiative, and adoption of a county Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which is posted on the county's website>
VIEW the complete agenda for Monday's meeting on the county's website>
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....
RONALD (RONNIE) COLEMAN MAYO, 55 - died May 11
EDISON MAX KLEBS, 60 - died May 7
PHILLIP KEITH ANDERSON II, 48 - died May 3
JASON WES STEPHENSON, 47 - died May 3
HOUSTON CHURCHWELL (BUZZ) ARMSTRONG, 74 - died April 30
THAT'S THE WAY IT WAS