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PUBLISHED ONLINE MAY 26, 2022   •   VOL. 4, NO. 21

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


A heartening scene in these difficult times

Earlier this month, children of South Smithfield Elementary School paraded down nearby residential streets during the annual "Walk or Bike To School" event that was reinforced by members of the Smithfield Police Department, Smithfield-Selma High School's band and sports teams and Leadership Club, plus school officials and employees. It's a timely reminder of ongoing efforts to keep our children safe – especially now, in the aftermath of another horrific massacre of innocent youngsters at an elementary school in rural Texas. (Photo from South Smithfield Elementary School's Facebook page)

 

County manager's budget: no increase for schools

But that's par for the course, as Rick Hester's proposal usually leaves a decision on funding for Johnston County's public schools up to the County Commissioners. That decision will come next month, prior to adoption of the county's budget for the new fiscal year that starts July 1.

The current year's county budget was adopted last June without an increase in local school funding after commissioners demanded adoption by Johnston's Board of Education of a policy banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory. After the school board agreed on a policy acceptable to commissioners, $7.9 million was added to the schools' operations budget in October – an unprecedented granting of the school board's "full funding" request to the county.

The Board of Education adopted its budget request for 2022-23 earlier this month, seeking an increase this time of almost $8.4 million for operating expenses plus a doubling of county appropriations for capital improvements beyond what's financed by bond issues.

Here's a chart that summarizes what's been done, what's been requested, and what's being recommended by the county manager for the school system and Johnston Community College:

EDUCATION FUNDING Current budget Requested Manager's budget
Schools Current Expense $79,900,000 $88,271,931 $80,000,000
Schools Capital Outlay $2,900,000 $6,052,774 $1,250,000
College Current Expense $4,853,910 $6,028,933 $5,000,000
College Capital Outlay $2,091,176 $1,189,784 $525,000
Totals $89,745,086 $101,543,422 $86,775,000

11 additional positions requested for the new Detention Center

Among 43 new positions in the county manager's proposed budget are 11 for the new Detention Center scheduled to open in August. Those would be added to 64 positions operating the present-day Courthouse jail, which was built for 191 inmates but actually holds more from time to time. The new Detention Center will have 469 beds for prisoners.

Mr. Hester's proposal also includes eight new positions for Emergency Medical Services, six for the Public Health Department (four of which draw state or federal reimbursements), and eight for Social Services (three with federal reimbursements). Other new positions requested are three for Building Inspections, two for the Planning Department, and one for each of these departments: Human Resources, Buildings & Grounds, Cooperative Extension, Animal Services, and Parks, Greenways & Open Space.

In addition are 6 new positions requested in the Public Utilities Enterprise Fund and two in the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund. Those funds generate their own revenues from user fees, and the manager's proposed budget includes rate hikes for both retail and wholesale water and sewer customers (view the complete list here) as well as increases in landfill disposal fees (from $40 to $44 per ton and a $30 hike to $75 per ton for asbestos disposal).

Mr. Hester's proposed General Fund budget includes some new and increased fees for both residential and commercial building inspections.

The manager's proposal, released to the public this week, anticipates additional pay raises for county employees in the year ahead after recent upward adjustments for many of them. "Funds are included for a pay adjustment in July with the potential of a performance pay adjustment in October," Mr. Hester noted. "My recommendation will soon be finalized and presented during the upcoming budget meetings."

The County Commissioners have a scheduled a public hearing on the proposed budget for their morning session on Monday, June 6 followed by special sessions to hammer out the board's final version on June 13 and 20.

VIEW the county manager's proposed budget in full, posted online>

 


 

CORONAVIRUS REPORT
Johnston offers booster shots for children 5-11

The Johnston County Public Health Department this week began offering COVID-19 vaccine boosters to 5-11-year-olds on a walk-in basis. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of 5-11 following the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) authorization.
The CDC recommends that children ages 5-11 years old should receive a booster shot five months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination series. Individuals who are immuno-compromised should receive a booster shot three months after their initial
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination series.
The Health Department is located at 517 N. Bright Leaf Blvd. in Smithfield and offers vaccines Monday- Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Tuesdays the Health Department offers vaccines from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. No appointments are necessary. COVID-19 vaccines are free regardless of health insurance or immigration status.


A few folks around here have returned to mask-wearing in light of recent upward trends for newly reported COVID-19 cases across the nation, and the County of Johnston has responded by increasing days of free COVID testing, now offered on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 601-B N. Eighth Street behind the hospital in Smithfield.

Meanwhile, Johnston County Public Schools report an increase in COVID cases among students and staff, although the numbers aren't alarming. The school system's dashboard showed 57 cases as of Wednesday afternoon – up from 11 a month ago – with 39 cases among students and 18 among staff (Smithfield's schools accounted for eight cases, half of those at West Smithfield Elementary, two at Smithfield-Selma High, one at Smithfield Middle, and one at South Smithfield Elementary). VIEW the school system's latest report>

In light of all that, it's time for a statistical update from our last report on April 28:

 

CORONAVIRUS
weekly
measurements
Case total
since 3-2020
(last month)
Deaths
since 3-2020
(last month)
Hospital
patients

(last month)
Fully vaccinated *
[got boosters]
JOHNSTON COUNTY 61,324
(59,725)
452
(439)
N/A 113,597: 54%**
[56,101]
NORTH CAROLINA 2,744,935
(2,659,255)
24,644
(23,405)
574
(356)
6,510,708: 62%**
[3,586,951]
UNITED STATES 83,563,298
(81,131,710)
1,003,104
(992,162)
  221,001,614
67%**
WORLDWIDE 526,960,814
(511,428,864)
6,281,482
(6,227,099)
  11,485,084,205
total doses
* 2 doses Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or 1 dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine
** Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data from N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:10 p.m. May 25
and Johns Hopkins University at 1:20 p.m. May 25
 
 


 

Committee members Rachel Rhodes, Maridith Fink ,and Jean Cornell along with Country Superstars 102.3 FM's Brody and Carlie display some of the peanut butter the radio station collected for the Junior Women's League drive. (Photo from JWL)

Junior Women's League collects 4,932 jars of peanut better

The Spring Provisional Class of the Junior Women’s League of Smithfield (JWL) set a goal to collect 3,300 jars of peanut butter for Johnston County public-school students in the local Backpack Buddies program that provides children from low-income households with nutritious, kid-friendly groceries for weekends when free school lunches and breakfasts are not provided.

An astounding 4,932 jars of peanut butter of every size were collected through 14 donation stations throughout the county, numerous donation drives, and monetary donations from businesses and community members.

As a result, the Provisional Class and their mentors expanded distribution of peanut butter to 1,167 Johnston County children in Backpack Buddies programs in 28 schools over the past few weeks. My Kid’s Club, a JWL partner organization, also received a donation of 89 jars for children who will attend its summer program.

JWL is a non-profit organization promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community through the effective action of trained volunteers. Since its establishment in February 2016, JWL has awarded over $130,000 in grants to non-profit organizations and student scholarships and completed more than 13,600 hours of community service.


VISIT the JWL website to learn more about the organization>
 




No, this isn't a case of summertime child's play

Instead, it's town-wide "flow testing" of fire hydrants by the Smithfield Fire Department that started this week and will continue for several more weeks. This periodic testing is required to maintain an insurance rating for the department that benefits residents and businesses here. "During this time, you may notice some discoloration of your water. If this occurs, simply run the water from your faucets for 3-5 minutes and the discoloration should disappear," the town advises. For more information call the Fire Department at 919-934-2468.
(Screenshot from a video posted on the town's Facebook page)

 



Smithfield's hospital rated grade "A" for safety

Johnston Health's hospital in Smithfield has received an “A” Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade for Spring 2022. This national distinction recognizes the organization’s achievements in protecting patients from preventable harm and error in the hospital.

The Leapfrog Group, an independent national watchdog organization, assigns a grade ranging from “A” to “F” to general hospitals across the country based on more than 30 national performance measures reflecting errors, accidents, injuries, and infections, as well as systems hospitals have in place to prevent harm. The grading system is peer-reviewed, fully transparent, and free to the public.

Johnston Health's Clayton hospital received a "B" grade from Leapfrog this spring.

VISIT the Leapfrog website to view the full Spring reports in detail>

 



 

WHAT'S COMING UP?

Monday is Memorial Day, more than a holiday

Johnston County will observe the day of remembrance for all those who have fallen in armed defense of the nation with the traditional ceremony inside the Courthouse (details on the right). This year's keynote speaker will be U.S. Army Sergeant Major (Retired) Brad Palmer.

Monday is observed as a holiday for employees of federal, state, and county agencies as well as public schools, financial institutions, and the U.S. Postal Service. Memorial Day is also considered the start of summer vacation season in these parts.


Town Council swearing-in ceremony is next Tuesday

With last week's delayed municipal election done, a special session of the Smithfield Town Council has been scheduled for 7 p.m. next Tuesday at Town Hall to swear in newly elected Councilman Sloan Stevens and re-elected Mayor Andy Moore and Councilmen David Barbour, Marlon Lee, and Travis Scott.

NLTheatre's season finale over next two weekends

Rebounding from COVID, the Neuse Little Theatre is wrapping up its 47th season with performances of The Trip to Bountiful, a drama set in a small town in Texas. Shows are scheduled for 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. this Sunday, and again at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 3-4. To reserve seats, call 919-934-1873.
 



DEATHS & FUNERALS

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

BETSY RAMONA MITCHELL, 79 – died May 24

EDWARD GRAYLON DIXON, 75 – died May 20

HAROLD IRVING LANGDON, 86 – died May 20

STEPHEN HAROLD COOPER, 85 – died May 18

EUNICE LEE SPENCE DUNCAN, 93 – died May 18

PAULA YVETTE HUBBARD, 71 – died May 17

 



A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR

No need to legislate the practical minimum wage

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn't been raised since 2008 and likely won't be raised anytime soon by a Congress so politically divided it can't agree on much of anything.

So what? The marketplace has more than doubled the practical minimum wage, making Congressional action irrelevant.

The wake-up call locally came with last year's announcement of the West Smithfield distribution center by Amazon, which promised to pay a minimum wage of $15. Since then, our local governing bodies – the County Commissioners, the Board of Education, the Smithfield Town Council – have all moved to raise salaries to the Amazon standard to stop the flow of critical public servants to nearby employers offering better deals.

Of course, the same thing's taking place in the private sector as well.

All of that is long overdue as rank-and-file wages have been suppressed across the nation for at least a quarter of a century now.

A remarkable footnote to the story is the prospect that the raises for public employees here will likely be covered without any increases in local property taxes. Prudent stewardship by our local governing authorities has made that possible as reserve funds have grown despite the pandemic, thanks in large part to massive federal aid coupled with conservative budgeting.

Even so, these pay raises may not be enough. Those competitive employers out there are also raising salaries, and that could put a damper on valient local efforts to catch up.

Still, this push to pay our public servants better is certainly worth trying.

 



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