School board calls for $253.5-million bond issue
The Johnston County Board of Education this week adopted a resolution asking the County Commissioners to add a bond issue totaling $253.5 million to November's General Election ballots.
The resolution identifies projects that would be funded if voters approve the proposed borrowing to be repaid over time by the county's property taxpayers:
• One additional high school – $102 million.
• Two additional elementary schools – $96 million.
• "Build-outs" at Benson Elementary, Cleveland High, Cleveland Middle, and Cooper Elementary in Clayton – $55.5 million.
"These facilities would provide capacity for 5,429 students and allow the removal of 146 mobile classroom trailers," states the resolution, which begins with an opening statement citing $720 million of "total needs" to keep pace with Johnston County's projected growth.
The resolution notes that this should be the first in a series of referendums on school-bond issues between now and the end of the decade.
Reporting to the Board of Education during its monthly meeting Tuesday, Kay Carroll said county commissioners appear ready to put a school-bond issue on this year's ballot, but "we don't have a number yet" on the amount of money commissioners will endorse. (He and fellow school-board members Lyn Andrews and Mike Wooten have been meeting with three of the commissioners about the upcoming referendum.)
The school board's resolution doesn't specify where the new schools would be built, but a recent report from the school system's staff recommended a new high school in the Wilson's Mills-Powhatan area and new elementary schools near Swift Creek Middle School in Cleveland Township, between Clayton's Cooper and Riverwood schools, in the Reedy Creek area, and the East Clayton-Archer Lodge area.
A decision on the size of the proposed bond issue must come from the County Commissioners by the end of this month to be approved by the N.C. Local Government Commission before a deadline to get it added to the November ballot.
REPORT ON SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION NEEDS POSTED ONLINE
On the Johnston County Public Schools website is a recent staff report to the Board of Education laying out needs for construction of new schools and expansion of existing campuses to meet Johnston's projected population growth during the decade ahead. VIEW the report here>
2022-23's first semester extended into January
The Board of Education at Tuesday's session voted 5-2 to accept a recommendation from the schools' Calendar Committee to extend the fall semester beyond the Christmas holidays because of a state rule that delays the start of the 2022-23 term to August 29.
In recent years, Johnston's schools have been operating with a shortened first semester that ended before the holidays, but the 2022-23 term's later start would have cut it to just 72 days (last fall's semester had 77). The calendar adopted this week has 90 days of classroom instruction in the first semester, 86 in the second.
Board Chairman Todd Sutton, who said extending the fall semester beyond December's holidays would harm high-school students especially, was joined by Mike Wooten in voting against the new calendar. Voting in favor were Lyn Andrews, Al Byrd, Kay Carroll, Ronald Johnson, and Terri Sessoms.
The N.C. General Assembly enacted the requirement some years ago that public schools could not begin the fall semester before the Monday closest to the 26th of August. That was done in response to lobbying by coastal tourism interests.
The recent paucity of rainfall here hasn't stopped the annual bursting forth of azaleas and dogwoods as seen here beside Hancock Street.
Another month with less-than-normal rainfall
March gave us a second consecutive month without significant rainfall as Cornell Cox recorded just 2.12 inches at his Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield. February produced just 1.79 inches following 4.87 inches in January, putting our total for the first quarter at 8.78 – just half of the 17.55 inches we had at this point last year. (Average rainfall for the first three months of the year here is 11.25 inches.) "Of all the forecast of storms and 100%-rainfall days the past couple weeks, we only received 0.16 inches to add to amount that fell in early March," Mr. Cox noted.
Second COVID booster shots are now available
The Johnston County Public Health Department has begun offering second boosters of COVID-19 vaccines after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control authorized the extra doses for "certain immuno-compromised individuals" and all persons over age 50. The shots are offered free of charge weekdays at the Health Department's headquarters beside the hospital. The second booster is available to persons who got their first booster at least four months ago.
Both county and state cut back on COVID statistical reports
Dr. Marilyn Pearson, Johnston's director of public health, gave what may turn out to be her last monthly report to the County Commissioners this week, and the Health Department has ceased issuing twice-weekly statistical reports to the public (that's the reason for the N/A – Not Available – entries in the table below).
"We are now, at least, able to take a breath," Dr. Pearson told commissioners on Monday. "I hope this is the last time we come before you."
Of course, that could change if COVID infections flare up once more. That would put Dr. Pearson "back on stage" and the periodic statistical reports back in the news.
Meanwhile, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that its statewide reports from now on will be issued just once each week rather than daily (those reports include statistics for Johnston County, shown in the table below).
This morning's report from Johnston County Public Schools showed just 5 active cases among students and just one case among school staffs, down from a total of 15 last week. No cases were reported at any of the schools in the Smithfield area. Meanwhile, Johnston's Board of Education voted unanimously this week to continue its mask-optional policy for students and staff in schools and on buses (state law requires school boards to vote on masking rules each month).
VIEW the school system's COVID dashboard with data for all schools>
|Fully vaccinated *
|* 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 & Human Services at 12:00 p.m. April 6
and Johns Hopkins University at 8:20 a.m. April 7.
County Commissioners fill temporary vacancy
Johnston's County Board of Commissioners voted 5-1 Monday morning to appoint April Stephens, a Benson-area realtor, to fill a vacancy left by the recent resignation of Commissioner Larry Wood of Benson.
(County of Johnston Facebook photo)
Recommended for the appointment by a three-member committee of commissioners as well as the Executive Committee of the Johnston County Republican Party, she will hold the seat till December and may continue to serve for two years after that if she wins election this November. (The Republicans' committee is asking the county's Board of Elections to put her name on the ballot as the party's nominee; Johnston's Democratic Party Executive Committee will also nominate a candidate).
Commissioner Ted Godwin cast the only dissenting vote, explaining he had committed his support to Adam Caldwell, one of 12 applicants for the vacancy. Commissioners Butch Lawter, Patrick Harris, and Dickie Braswell made up the committee that interviewed five finalists and recommended Mrs. Stephens.
She has worked as a realtor for more than 15 years in Johnston County and presently serves as associate vice president of the Johnston County Building Industry Association, secretary of the Johnston County Building Industry Association, and president of the Johnston County Association of Realtors.
Mrs. Stephens was sworn into office Monday afternoon and took her seat on the board for the commissioners' Monday evening session.
ONE COST OF GROWTH:
Commissioners get plan to spend $688 million
for water and sewer projects over next 20 years
The county's Public Utilities Department this week presented cost estimates for water and sewer infrastructure projects to be done over the next 20 years to keep up with Johnston County's projected growth. Total cost: $688,360,400.
Who will pay for that? Mostly, customers of the county's water and sewer systems based on rates charged monthly for those services. Whatever federal and state grants the county can win for projects will reduce what customers will have to pay.
"It's important that we set our rates to match our needs," said Kim Rineer, engineering manager for Public Utilities who presented the 20-year Capital Improvements Plan to commissioners Monday morning. She asked them to adopt the plan in time for the Spring round of state grant applications coming up in early May.
Commissioner Fred Smith made it clear that the county's taxpayers will have no obligation to finance the proposed water and sewer projects. That includes all who pay property taxes as well as sales taxes here, he noted.
Commissioner Dickie Braswell urged staff to look into long-term alternatives for increasing the county's water supply. "The Neuse River is not an endless source of water," he said.
Presently, the county draws most of the water for its system from its treatment plant on the Neuse at Wilson's Mills and from the Town of Smithfield's plant, also on the river. In addition, it has agreements in place to purchase water, if needed, from Harnett County, the City of Raleigh, and the City of Wilson, plus smaller amounts from systems in Sampson and Wayne counties.
Board reappoints three, adds new member to Airport Authority
Voting by hand-written ballots, commissioners reappointed John H. Bullock Jr., Ken Starling, and Tim Stevens and filled a fourth seat with a new appointee: Edwin L. Aldridge Jr. of Bellini Drive, Clayton. During the Public Comments segment of Monday's morning session, Charles Walters of Blue Line Aviation (based at Johnston Regional Airport) said "my team and I" object to reappointing members who may be using the position "for personal gain." He asked that a new slate of members be chosen from among the 17 citizens who had applied for the four positions. Other Airport Authority members are Bruce Johnson, Freddie Stancil, and Bentley Powell.
Among a number of other appointments made Monday, Eddie Nelson Jones was appointed to the Smithfield Fire District Commission.
Commissioners adopt proclamations for several observances
Six were approved at Monday's morning session, drawing attention to:
• Child Abuse Prevention Month – April.
• The Week of the Young Child – April 2-8.
• Public Health Week – April 4-10.
• National Public Safety Telecommunicator's Week – April 10-16.
• NCDOT Spring Litter Sweep – April 16-30.
• Older Americans Month – May.
Summaries of all matters considered by the Board of Commissioners at Monday's two sessions are posted on the county's website>
Town Council rejects apartment project for seniors
By a vote of 4-3, the Smithfield Town Council Tuesday night turned down a developer's rezoning request to allow a 50-unit apartment building on vacant property near the intersection of South Bright Leaf Boulevard and Holt Street.
"Great project. Wrong location," said Councilman John Dunn, who was joined in opposition by David Barbour, Steve Rabil, and Roger Wood. Dissenting votes were cast by Marlon Lee, Travis Scott, and David Stevens.
Councilman Barbour voiced concerns about "converting commercial properties into residential properties." Earlier during a public hearing on the case, Brian Rabil of Capital Auto located next to the site under consideration expressed fears about the project's impact on storm-water flooding and traffic as well as nearby property values. "It's just the wrong location," he said.
Making the request for rezoning was a national company that specializes in affordable rental housing for seniors. Denis Blackburne of Woda Cooper Companies (based in Columbus, Ohio) said the Smithfield project was being planned for residents 55 and older. The proposed $10-million investment called for a three-story building for residents of limited incomes – a stipulation that would qualify the project for federal tax credits, he noted.
Stephen Wensman, the town's planning director who voiced support for the project, told the council the apartments, even if built, likely couldn't be occupied for several years because of current restrictions on sewage capacity by the County of Johnston, which accepts and treats Smithfield's wastewater.
A couple of "shout-outs" for town's Electric Department
Mayor Andy Moore read a resolution proclaiming April 18 as Electrical Lineman Appreciation Day (a nationwide observance) and then accepted a 2021 Safety Award of Excellence from the American Public Power Association. Utilities Director Ted Credle said the town won first place in the nation for the department's employee-safety record in a category of communities with less than 15,000 worker-hours of exposure.
Concrete cheaper than asphalt in repaving at fire station
The council approved Fire Chief Michael Brown's recommendation to award a $31,349 contract to James Paul Edwards, Inc. to repave the parking area outside Fire Station No. 1 on Fourth Street following the removal of underground fuel tanks. The chief said concrete is presently cheaper than asphalt and therefore will be used for the repaving.
Contracts awarded for pool grates, sewer videos, meter reads
The council approved several contracts for repairs and services:
• SportsEdge and Thomas Pool Care will replace deck grates around the perimeter of pools inside the Recreation and Aquatics Center at a cost of $7,903 to the town and $8,403 to Johnston County Public Schools, which shares the cost of maintaining the jointly owned facility adjacent to Smithfield-Selma High School.
• Vision NC will video sections of sewer lines, mostly in West Smithfield, "to investigate for potential blockages, collapses, or other issues" at a cost of $22,400, which will be covered by a grant from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.
• Grid One Solutions will continue to read electrical and water meters until such readings are fully automated – a project Utilities Director Ted Credle anticipates will be finished by the end of 2022. The firm will be paid per-meter rates of $1.57 if total reads exceed 9,500 monthly and $1.65 if a month's total is below 9,500. Those rates are 5 cents higher than what the town has been paying for the contracted service.
Permits approved for Wine Walk, Cycle Fest, and a carnival
The council approved permits for three special events coming up this Spring:
• Harbor, Inc.'s Wine Walk in Downtown Smithfield on April 29 from 5 to 9 p.m.
• A Cycle Fest hosted by the Smithfield Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi starting at 600 Durwood Stephenson Parkway on April 30 from 8:30 a.m. till 2 p.m.
• A carnival operated by Inners Shows (based in Franklinton) at Carolina Premium Outlets May 12-29: 5-11 p.m. weekdays, 1-11 p.m. on weekends.
WHAT'S COMING UP?
Neuse Little Theatre's "Til Beth Do Us Part" opens Friday
It's the 170th production in the 47th season for this Smithfield-based all-volunteer theatrical troupe. The comedy opens this weekend at The Hut on Front Street with shows at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, then wraps up with shows at 8 p.m. the following Friday and Saturday (April 15-16). To reserve seats, call 919-934-1873.
Parks & Rec hosts Easter-egg hunts and a Bunny Bash
• Smithfield Community Park will be the scene of the town's Bunny Bash this Saturday. Time slots of 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. will be open to children 3-10 years of age (plus one parent per child) for breakfast, crafts, story time, an egg grab, and a visit with the Easter Bunny. Admission is $10 for Smithfield residents, $15 for out-of-towners. Pre-registration is required by calling Parks & Recreation at 919-934-2148.
• An Easter Egg Hunt for kids 2-7 years of age takes place at Community Park this Sunday at 3 p.m. It's open without admission charge.
• A second Easter Egg Hunt takes place at Smith-Collins Park Saturday, April 16 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. It's being sponsored free of admission charge by the Law Office of Antoan Whidbee, the Sinno Law Office, Town Councilman Marlon Lee, the East Smithfield Improvement Organization, the Smithfield Progressive Men's Club, and MCK's Mobile Detailing.
Public schools will be on Spring Break next week
That's why the Johnston County Board of Education held its monthly meeting this week rather than next (it's normally held on the second Tuesday of each month). We weren't reminded about the change till the agenda was released last Friday afternoon (after last Thursday's Sun had been published). Students will be out of school all next week plus the following Monday, a "work day" for teachers.
DEATHS & FUNERALS
Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home
RUTH HOLLOMAN CROCKER, 78 – died April 3
BILLY FRANKLIN JOHNSON, 80 – died March 30
WILBERT LEE LANIER, 85 – died March 30
LISA MARIE FREEMAN, 39 – died March 29
A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR
This weekend's Trump rally won't be "in Selma"
I point this out not as a report on politics but as a geography lesson for those who care about precision in the news media. It's an example of one of my long-standing pet peeves about "sense of place."
Yes, the Farm at 95 where Saturday's rally will be held has a Selma postal address. But it's on Batten Road beside I-95 outside the incorporated town, and it's actually a bit closer to Micro than to Selma.
The problem with identifying significant places in Johnston County by postal address is magnified in our fast-growing suburban communities that lie well beyond the boundaries of our municipalities.
Clayton is the worst example of that. When folks now say they live "in Clayton," you have to ask them to be more specific. More likely than not, they live several miles from the town – at Flowers Plantation to the east, the Cleveland School community to the south, even the Whitley Heights subdivision that's closer to Smithfield than Clayton.
Another long-standing misnomer is to say residents and businesses in the congested commercial area around the interchange of I-40 and NC 42 are "in Garner" just because their postal address says so. (But that's another story: That spot on the map should have been incorporated as a new town a couple of decades ago).
Perhaps my favorite "misdirection" is publicizing the location of the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site "in Four Oaks." I heard some years ago that a tourist had driven into that town asking "Where's the battlefield?"
What's the solution? Ideally, the U.S. Postal Service should have subdivided its oversized rural service areas years ago to reflect our drastically altered landscape. Then we could have had postmarks like "Cleveland Township," "McGee's Crossroads," and "Bentonville" (which actually did have a post office more than a century ago, as did many rural crossroads).
That's not likely to change, so I guess we're stuck with our place-name confusion.
P.S. To say this Saturday's Trump rally will take place "in Selma" is a bit of political irony since a majority of voters who reside in that town have traditionally favored Democrats over Republicans – unlike voters in Johnston County as a whole.
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