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PUBLISHED ONLINE MAY 5, 2022   •   VOL. 4, NO. 18

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



THIS SUNDAY, MAY 8
 

School-bond referendum set for $177 million

Johnston's County Commissioners voted 6-1 on Monday to set $177 million as the amount of a county school-bond issue to be put before voters in this November's General Election. Johnston's Board of Education had asked for $253.5 million.

Commissioner Fred Smith favored a smaller amount of $150,000, basing his dissent on student-enrollment growth lagging behind the county's recent population gains and a recent report showing 27 of 43 schools "not at capacity."

Commissioner Tony Braswell offered a different perspective, citing the current and projected residential building boom in Johnston. "If you do not build schools you're going to have to bus students somewhere," he said, referring to already overcrowded schools in Johnston's fast-growing districts.

Furthermore, he declared, "every child deserves a classroom to sit in, not a mobile unit out there" (Johnston's schools currently have 186 in service).

Mr. Smith cited enrollment statistics showing Johnston has added just 1,156 students over the past four years while the county's population has been surging. Meanwhile, new charter schools are coming and more parents are turning to home schooling which, he said, is "what's really exploding." As a result, "just because homes are built doesn't mean students are going to go to government schools," he said.

Commissioner April Stephens, a realtor appointed to the board last month to fill a vacancy, said she recently learned that Johnston is one of just three N.C. counties "that has not lost students" because of the coronavirus pandemic. She said Johnston has been "playing catch-up" regarding school construction and  "by the time we vote on this... and the schools get built, with the amount of lots approved right now in the county, are we already going to be behind?"

Commissioners' Chairman Butch Lawter said the $177-million amount for this year's bond referendum resulted from discussions last week with the N.C. Local Government Commission, which monitors counties' borrowing ability. The amount, he noted, includes $103 million for a new high school (in the Wilson's Mills area), $48 million for a new elementary school (in the Swift Creek area south of Clayton), $17 million for an addition to Cooper Academy (an elementary school in Clayton), $2 million for "a facility in Princeton," $6 million for "turf fields," and $1 million to bring schools into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.


Health Department fees raised for septic-tank permits
Commissioners approved as recommended a revised schedule of fees charged by the county's Health Department, including its Environmental Health division. Commenting on a new fee of $475 (up from $425) for a new septic-tank permit, Commissioner Dickie Braswell suggested $750 instead to cover the actual cost of the county's service. But the board agreed on $475 after Commissioner Fred Smith cited the impact of higher government fees on prices paid by today's home buyers.

Summaries of all matters considered by the Board of Commissioners at Monday's two sessions are posted on the county's website>

 




Last-minute fix-ups and grass cutting were tasks getting done at the Neuse River amphitheater this week in preparation for Saturday's Ham & Yam Festival. The covered wooden stage was erected in the late 1980s.

Town awards contract for amphitheater rebuilding

Smithfield's Town Council at Tuesday's monthly meeting awarded a "design-build" contract for reconstructing the amphitheater structure, seating areas, and access walks on the Town Commons below South Front Street beside the Neuse River.

Balfour Beatty Construction of Raleigh won the contract – unanimously recommended by town staff after consideration of two proposals – at a cost not to exceed $989,500, the amount of a state grant awarded to the town for the project by last year's session of the N.C. General Assembly.

It's the first of four major Smithfield projects funded in the 2021-22 state budget. The others are enlargement of the troublesome CSX Railroad culvert in South Smithfield ($950,000), a multi-use path and expanded splash pad at Smith-Collins Park ($536,300), and sewage projects for anticipated real-estate development on the western, northern, and eastern edges of town ($3 million).

Here's the town's conceptual plan for the amphitheater project:


West Smithfield subdivision advances despite road concerns
The Town Council on Tuesday gave preliminary subdivision approval to a plan for 698 housing units across from the Amazon distribution center, but voiced objections to an N.C. Department of Transportation plan for a truck turnaround that would abut the subdivision beside US 70 Business.

Floyd Landing is to be built in phases: (1) 48 detached single-family houses, 47 townhouses, 96 apartments by the end of 2023; (2) 41 houses, 88 townhouses, 144 apartments in 2024; (3) 85 townhouses and 120 apartments in 2025.

Council members asked staff to pursue "some more conversation" with NCDOT about the truck turnaround and the agency's overall plan for traffic flow accommodating the Amazon facility, which is nearing completion.


Rezoning will allow house to be relocated for used-car lot
The council by unanimous vote overrode staff objections and rezoned business property off North Bright Leaf Boulevard at East Edgerton Street to a residential category to allow a small house to be relocated for expansion of the property owner's used-car business.

Planning Director Stephen Wensman objected to the change because the house will be placed beside a private street in a move he said would constitute "spot zoning" since the property is surrounded by business uses. The town's Planning Board voted 5-2 last month in favor of the rezoning request, which was made by Roger Stanley, owner of the car business named Perfect Ride.


Town will take over meter reading when contractor quits
Grid One, the contractor that's been reading electricity and water meters for the town in recent years, gave notice last month that it will terminate its services May 13, citing rising costs. After considering whether to find another contractor or return to having town employees handle the work, Utilities Director Ted Credle recommended the latter and the council concurred, although Travis Scott voted against it.

Mr. Credle said the town's employment of two meter readers would cost about the same as the Grid One expense has been and much less than what another contractor would charge under present market circumstances. Mr. Credle pointed out that meter readers won't be needed once the town completes a project to install digital meters that can be read remotely. That should be finished within the next three years, he noted.


Janitorial contract awarded for several town facilities
The council awarded a contract for janitorial services at Town Hall, the Police Station, the Public Utilities Operations Center, and the Public Works Garage to Barnes Cleaning Company of Clayton at annual cost of $42,261.

Public Works Director Lawrence Davis said Barnes was chosen over another slightly lower bidder because of its service capabilities. The new contract is about $8,900 higher than what the current vendor has been charging, but that's a reflection of rising costs affecting all providers, Mr. Davis noted.


Council to continue working on a new budget next Tuesday
The council recessed its meeting on Tuesday till 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday when it will resume discussions about a new town budget for fiscal 2022-23, which starts July 1. The session will be held at Town Hall.
 




School teachers saluted for outstanding work

Four Oaks Elementary third-grade teacher Jennifer Beninate (left) was named the 2022 Johnston County Teacher of the Year at the annual Flame for Learning Award banquet hosted by the Triangle East Chamber of Commerce. Finalists for the award included Amanda Jackson of South Smithfield Elementary School (second from right) and Amanda Astoske of Smithfield-Selma High (right). Standing with them is Superintendent of Schools Eric Bracy. (JCPS photo)


West Smithfield Elementary
teacher assistant is year's best


Chellie Cherry was named 2022 Teacher Assistant of the Year at the recent annual banquet of the Johnston County Association of Teacher Assistants. First runner-up was Joe Gilmore of Cleveland High School. Among nine nominees for this year's award was Michelle Ranson of Wilson's Mills Elementary.
 



Another month with less-than-normal rainfall

April turned out to be the third relatively dry month in a row, with just 2.55 inches of rainfall recorded by Cornell Cox at his Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield. That brings the 2022 year-to-date total to 11.33 inches – below the four-month average of 14.55 inches, according to U.S. Climate Data.

Meanwhile, the weather forecast for Saturday's Ham & Yam Festival here predicts a high of 78 degrees with a 40% chance of scattered thunderstorms.

 




New county salaries: some got raises, others didn't

Based on a survey of salaries paid by other county governments in North Carolina, Johnston's County Commissioners last month approved upward adjustments for a number of our county's employees, effective this month. It was a move to keep Johnston competitive in a volatile labor market, and commissioners ordered pay comparisons for all county positions to be done every other year from now on.

The revised schedule (provided by the county's Human Resources Department) raises compensation for a number of department leaders, including Animal Services Director (from $71,019 to $86,231), Building/Facilities Director ($92,032 to $107,991), County Engineer ($132,645 to $147,236), County Social Services Director ($122,168 to $137,171), Finance Director ($143,836 to $157,199), Elections Director ($83,194 to $94,550), Emergency Services Director ($116,301 to $133,222), Human Resources Director ($123,288 to $133,200), Library Director ($72,828 to $95,040), Planning Director ($99,454 to $106,018), Public Information Director ($78,269 to $90,111), Register of Deeds ($107,100 to $114,682), Solid Waste Director ($111,903 to $115,540), Tax Administrator ($128,577 to $130,017), and Technology Services Director ($114,737 to $138,430).

High-ranking officials not getting pay adjustments this month include Physician Director ($268,118), County Manager ($229,020), County Attorney ($176,375), Sheriff ($167,280), Code Enforcement Director ($118,270), Economic Development Director ($116,309), Director of Tourism ($112,582), and Communications Director/911 ($104,257).

With this month's raises, the County of Johnston now has 32 employees making more than $100,000 annually.

County commissioners also got raises, with the board chairman's annual compensation raised from $17,653 to $20,294, the others from $16,048 to $17,242.

Salaries of county employees are likely to be adjusted again as soon as July 1 with adoption of a new county budget for fiscal 2022-23.

VIEW the complete list of County of Johnston salaries by position>
 



WHAT'S COMING UP?

Ham & Yam Festival's return is this Saturday

It's billed as the "36th-ish" annual event because it should have happened in 2020 but had to be postponed the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic (the first Ham & Yam Festival took place in 1985).

Here's the latest rundown of Saturday's activities posted on the official festival website>


School board's monthly meeting coming up Tuesday

The Johnston County Board of Education's regular monthly meeting begins at 4 p.m. next Tuesday (May 10) in the Evander Simpson Building on US 70 Business east of Smithfield. The agenda should be posted here by the end of this week>
 

Land Use Plan Committee's final meeting Wednesday

It's billed as the Final Comprehensive Land Use Plan Steering Committee Meeting in an ongoing process toward revising the County of Johnston's rules for real-estate development in unincorporated areas. It's scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday (May 11) at the Agricultural Center off NC 210 west of Smithfield. More information is available on the Johnston County Planning Department's website>


SSS band's Percussion Theater 2022 set for May 12-14

Percussion Theater 2022 will be staged in the Smithfield-Selma High School auditorium next Thursday (May 12) at 3 p.m., Friday at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for Thursday's performance and $10 for Friday and Saturday, and they "sell out quickly," the school advises. Payment can be made online through the SSS band website>

 



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DEATHS & FUNERALS

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

JORDAN IVEY ALLEN, 29 – died May 3

MARY ANN CHRISTIANSON, 66 – died May 2

TONY MARTIN MEDLIN, 84 – died May 1

JEFFREY MARTIN ROSE, 56 – died May 1

FELIPE LANDIVAR, 59 – died April 26

 



A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR

How do you get to know political candidates?

Leading up to the May 17 Primary Election, which includes Smithfield's delayed municipal election, no organization has held or scheduled a public forum for candidates in Johnston County as we've seen in the past.

Instead, we've had to endure shrewdly crafted propaganda in the form of mass mailings and television ads, mostly from candidates in regional races for Congress.

Once again, the Triangle East Chamber of Commerce launched a noble effort inviting candidates in all our local races to submit short videos addressing a handful of questions related to the offices they're seeking. But the candidates' overall response to that has been underwhelming:

• Just five of the 13 candidates for the 13th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives have taken part. Missing are the apparent front-runners in the hotly contested Republican Primary, a couple of Johnstonians among them.

• Only seven of 13 candidates for the Johnston County Board of Education bothered to submit responses.

• And only two of four candidates in contested races for the Smithfield Town Council have taken part.

If you want to hear what all those who did participate have to say, here's the link to the Triangle East Chamber's Candidates Connection>

The only other "in person" means to meet candidates just now is Saturday's Ham & Yam Festival. Downtown Smithfield's Sarah Edwards said this morning (Thursday) that six candidates for various offices have reserved booth spaces (see the announcement below about one of those), in addition to booths hosted by the two political parties and two "advocacy groups."

A number of the candidates have websites you can visit. I'll encourage you seek those out on your own.

It's likely some of you have already made up your minds and are voting early – an option available that continues through the end of next week at the First Baptist Church Ministry Center (and at three other sites in Johnston) 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Sample ballots are posted on the Johnston County Board of Elections website. Because of various electoral districts for federal, state, and municipal offices, the ballots are tailored for individual precincts, so you'll have to click on a particular link to view your ballot. Our four precincts are numbered PR 26 (East Smithfield), PR27a (North Smithfield 1), PR27b (North Smithfield 2), and PR28 (South Smithfield).
VISIT the Board of Elections website for the sample-ballot links>

If you're not sure which precinct is yours, find your spot on the State Board of Elections Polling Place Locator>

 

Town Council candidates will share a festival booth

Incumbent Councilman David Barbour and Council candidate Sloan Stevens will share a booth during Saturday's Ham & Yam Festival to "meet and greet" voters, "look over all the new building plans currently happening" here, and "answer questions about any area of Smithfield."  Dr. Barbour is seeking re-election to a second term as West Smithfield's representative; Mr. Stevens is seeking election for the first time for the council seat currently held by David Stevens, his uncle.
 



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