PUBLISHED ONLINE AUGUST 4, 2022   •   VOL. 4, NO. 30

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


NATIONAL NIGHT OUT (in the "dog days" of summer)

Yes, it was hot outside Tuesday evening, but that didn't put a damper on Smithfield's annual observance of a nationwide event designed to ease whatever tensions may exist between police departments and the communities they serve....

While a couple of youngsters and their puppy got relief beneath a large sprinkler set up by the Fire Department, Police Officer Brian Sittig and a German Shepherd named Karuz showed folks how the Police Department's K9 Unit protects public safety. Karuz came from Germany and cost the town $13,000, and some dogs of this caliber fetch more than that, Officer Sittig said. Tuesday evening's event, held on the campus of Johnston Community College, included uniformed representatives of other law-enforcement agencies that serve our region.

County's No. 1 challenge for growth?

Here's a one-question quiz:
Which of these factors is most likely to put the brakes on Johnston County's exploding residential development: (a) clogged roads; (b) overcrowded schools; or (c) insufficient sewage-treatment capacity.

Based on a lengthy discussion at Monday morning's session of the County Commissioners, the answer is (c) – a potential cap on development if the county's sewage-treatment capabilities don't keep up with Johnston's growth.

Currently, the county is wrestling with where to allocate its dwindling sewer capacities among new commercial and industrial customers as well as four towns that depend on the county for wastewater treatment: Smithfield, Selma, Pine Level, and Four Oaks.

An attempt to sort out that issue in more detail and come up with some answers is scheduled for the commissioners' next meeting on Monday evening, August 15.

Here's how things now stand: The county has a permit from the state to discharge as much as 9.5-million gallons per day (GPD) of wastewater from its aging treatment plant on the Neuse River below Smithfield. That allowance will rise to 11.5-million GPD once a new treatment plant under construction near the county's landfill west of town is brought online two years from now.

Currently, the county is treating an average of 6.7-million GPD at its 60-year-old plant (originally built by the Town of Smithfield). But recent approval of residential subdivisions by the county and the four towns that depend on that plant, plus numerous commercial and industrial projects, is pushing potential demand close to that 9.5-million GPD limit.

Commissioner Dickie Braswell said during Monday's discussion he fears Johnston's current rate of growth will use up all of the 11.5-million GPD capacity to be available when the new treatment plant in 2024. He mentioned the 2,005-lot subdivision recently approved by the Town of Smithfield as an example of residential developers' rising interest in Johnston County.

Commissioner Fred Smith brought up another concern when he asked how many development projects have been approved by the county for sewer allocations in years past but still not built. He said the county has failed to enforce a rule that such projects lose their sewage permits if they aren't begun within two years of approval. "We ought to have crystal-clear rules," said Mr. Smith.

An answer to his question about so-called "paper flow" projects is one of the key pieces of information to be gathered and presented at the August 15 meeting.

Another issue gumming up the works are new sewage-allocation agreements the county is seeking with the four towns it directly serves. Utilities Director Chandra Farmer told commissioners Monday she and her staff have been working on that for more than two years without resolution.

Among the points of contention holding up those agreements, she said, are a request that the towns "buy capacity up front" for their anticipated future needs and a recommendation that the towns institute "system development fees" to help cover the cost of sewage-treatment expansions.

Chairman Butch Lawter said he expects "a long discussion" when the county board reconvenes on August 15.

Construction is well under way on the county's new sewage-treatment plant near the landfill off NC 210 west of Smithfield. One of the reasons for this site is its elevation high above the Neuse River that flooded the current treatment plant after Hurricane Matthew came through in 2016.


Once again, county's property-tax collections close to 100%

The County of Johnston has collected 99.88% of the past year's property taxes assessed on homeowners, landowners, and businesses – $156,882,573.80 collected from a total assessment of more than $157 million. That's one of the highest collection rates in North Carolina – consistently just under 100% over the past six years. The annual report to the County Commissioners from Tax Administrator Jocelyn Andrews shows the yearly assessment on real and personal property has grown 10.29% from $142.4 million just two years ago, with increases of more than $8.5 million from 2020 to 2021 and $6.1 million this past year.

Commissioners make appointments to several boards

The commissioners approved several appointments Monday, including two by paper ballots where more than one person applied for a single position:
Alcoholic Beverage Control Board – Former County Commissioner Jeff Carver elected as a new member.
Hospital Authority Board of Commissioners – Brad Oakes renominated to a second term, subject to approval by the Hospital Authority, which oversees operations of UNC Health's hospitals in Smithfield and Clayton.
Industrial Facilities Pollution Control Financing Authority – Burrell Brock and J. Chad McLamb reappointed without opposition.
Johnston County Board of Adjustments – Craig Jones and Flint Benson reappointed without opposition.
Public Library Board of Trustees – Gary R. Underwood newly appointed.

Highlights of Monday's board sessions by Clerk Paula Woodard are posted on the county's website along with highlights from all meetings held during the past year>


There's good reason
you continue to see
this sign in many yards
around Smithfield.

and you'll find out why.


Town annexes large residential tract near Amazon

Developers of 97 acres across US 70 Business from the Amazon distribution center nearing completion in West Smithfield sought the "voluntary annexation" for Floyd Landing, a subdivision yet to be built. Plans previously approved by the town call for 89 single-family houses, 220 townhouses, and 360 apartments – a total of 669 units. With annexation, the town will provide police and fire protection as well as trash and yard-waste pickup but electricity will come from Duke Energy, which has provided power to West Smithfield long before the area was annexed to town in 1994. No one opposed the Floyd Landing annexation during Tuesday evening's public hearing before the Town Council, which voted without dissent to approve the request.

Town asked to annex property across from the airport
Blue Line Aviation is requesting satellite annexation of 14.43 acres across Swift Creek Road from Johnston Regional Airport. The council approved moving forward with the request, which will require a public hearing at a later date before the annexation can take effect. On a related matter, Blue Line asked for postponement till October of a hearing on its request for conditional rezoning of the site to allow a mix of dormitories, classrooms, hotel, and "flex industrial/office" spaces apparently related to its pilot-training center at the airport. (Satellite annexation involves property that's not contiguous to the town's existing corporate limits.)

Council raises fines for parking and fire-alarm violations
A package of revised fines requested by the Police and Fire departments and approved by the council includes an increase from $10 to $25 for most parking violations, with an additional $50 to be charged if fines aren't paid within 48 hours. The fine for unauthorized parking in a handicapped zone was raised from $50 to $75 while the fine for parking in a fire lane or in front of a fire hydrant went from $25 to $50. Added to the schedule are new fines for repeated false-alarms, ranging from $150 for a fourth incident within a year to $250 per incident for six or more. New fees were also established for fire inspections and hazardous-material permits.

Appointments made to Appearance and Planning boards
The council appointed Lana (Michelle) Choe to the town's Appearance Commission and Wiley Narron and Bryan Stanley as in-town members of the Smithfield Planning Board. All three appointees will be serving their first terms.

Council approves purchase of new trash truck for $227,987
The 2023 International truck will come from low-bidder Carolina Environmental Systems of Kernersville. Since the cost exceeds what the town budgeted for the purchase, $10,987 will be covered by a portion of the town's allocation of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Council OKs permits for two special events later this month
The first – scheduled for Saturday, August 20 – is a "Community & Youth Back 2 School Explosion" hosted by Purpose & Power Apostolic Ministries from 10 till 3 at Smith-Collins Park. The second – on Saturday, August 27 – is an "End of Summer Bash" hosted by Bulldog Harley-Davidson from 10 till 4 at 1043 Outlet Center Drive. Both events include the use of amplified sound. The Outlet Center event includes a live band, vendors, food trucks, and a beer truck.

Marlon Lee to coach N.C. girls in all-star game

The following story with photo is from the Office of Sports Information at Raleigh's Saint Augustine's University:

Saint Augustine's University alumnus Marlon Lee has a long string of accomplishments as a high-school basketball coach. He can add another honor to the list.

Lee has been selected to lead North Carolina's top senior girls in the 2023 Carolinas Basketball Classic. The event pits the top senior boys and girls from North Carolina against their peers from South Carolina.

The head-coaching selection is the latest highlight for Lee, who is in his 17th year as Head Varsity Girls Basketball Coach at Clayton High School. The Lady Comets have fared very well during his tenure, winning one sectional title, four regular-season conference crowns, and two conference tournament championships. His Clayton teams have won 273 games and reached the state playoffs 13 times.

This latest accolade ranks right up there with being selected Assistant Coach for the N.C. East-West Girls All-Star Game in 2015.

"It is truly an honor to be named Head Girls' Coach in the 2023 N.C./S.C. All-Star Game," said Lee, a four-time Coach of the Year winner. "I get to represent this great hoop state of N.C. along with the top student-athletes of N.C. Also, I get to represent my family, Johnston County Public Schools (Clayton High School), and my hometown of Smithfield, N.C."

The honors have been rolling in for Lee this summer. In May, he was sworn in for his third term on the Smithfield Town Council. Then in June the 1996-97 SAU men's basketball team, including Lee, was selected to be inducted into the University's Athletic Hall of Fame. Lee was a key member on that squad, which captured the school's first CIAA Men's Title.

"Most importantly, I am able to still be an ambassador for my alma mater, Saint Augustine's University, where I am a 1999 graduate, 1997 CIAA Champion, 45 Under 45 honoree (second class), and soon to be Hall of Famer," Lee said. "I want to carry on the coaching legacy of the late Coach Norvell Lee."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Norvell Lee was Marlon Lee's "distant cousin," he told the Sun.



2.4-acre vacant lot at 1558 W. Market Street, US 70 Business. Mostly level with 323-foot road frontage. Less than 3 miles from Johnston Regional Airport, about 5 miles from I-95: $525,000 (MLS#2447472)


Johnston's jobless rate rose to 3.7% in June

The number of Johnstonians employed declined from 103,241 in May to 102,838 in June while the number filing for unemployment benefits rose from 3,495 to 3,928, according to the latest report from the N.C. Department of Commerce. That raised the county's jobless rate from 3.3% in May to 3.7% in June (the statewide rate was 4.1%). Johnston's unemployment rate in June 2021 was 4.8%.

VIEW the state's June report covering all of North Carolina's counties>

A surprising amount of rain fell here during July

Seems like it hardly ever rains in Smithfield anymore as we radar watchers see storm after storm bypassing us to the north and to the south. Yet Cornell Cox reports we got 7.59 inches at his Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield this past month after just 1.01 inches was recorded here the entire month of June. That brings the year's total to 24.16 inches, which is below average for our region. Of course, the numbers could jump from now through summer's end, especially if a hurricane or tropical depression comes our way.



Friday's Movie in the Park: "Beauty and the Beast"

The finale of this summer's Movie in the Park series hosted by Smithfield's Parks and Recreation Department features the Disney classic "Beauty and the Beast." The show begins at sundown (around 8:30 p.m.) at Community Park off Durwood Stephenson Parkway. Chic-fil-A will sell chicken sandwiches yet folks may bring their own picnic items. There's no charge for admission.

School board's monthly meeting scheduled Tuesday

The Johnston County Board of Education's regular monthly meeting begins with a closed session at 4 p.m. next Tuesday followed by the open business session at approximately 5 p.m. at the school system's headquarters on US 70 Business east of Smithfield. VIEW the agenda once it's posted on the schools' website>



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

RAY TEDDER, 91 – died July 31





When rivers and roads back up, we've got a mess

A crash last Saturday morning on southbound I-95 at the Neuse River bridge –  involving five automobiles and a tractor-trailer truck – produced a traffic backup that spilled onto the streets of Smithfield. Fortunately there were no fatalities and injuries were minor.

I had occasion to run an errand or two Saturday morning that took me into the overflow from I-95 onto Bright Leaf Boulevard, Brogden Road, and several side streets as folks tried to navigate around the mess.

Reminded me of how the Neuse River flooding from Hurricane Matthew backed up water onto streets where such an occurrence had been unthinkable.

In both cases – a backed-up road, a backed-up river – I couldn't help but wonder how much of that is man-made rather than strictly "acts of God."

Undoubtedly those wrecks on the Interstate are mostly caused by careless and reckless driving. The flooding? You could argue that's the result of natural cycles yet we keep getting report after report about extreme changes in Earth's weather patterns most scientists attribute to global warming.

We need to slow down, take a deep breath, and start looking ahead, for a change.


Got this shot leaving Town Hall Tuesday evening following the monthly council meeting:

The blackbirds (are they starlings?) obviously feel very much at home atop the communications tower behind the fire station.

Is this place "properly zoned" for this much residential density?


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