Johnston County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ted Godwin gave the annual State of the County Address this morning (Monday). The State of the County Address is given each year at the start of the January monthly meeting of the Board of Commissioners.
Chairman Godwin highlighted economic development, the property revaluation, education funding, and public safety.
Below are Chairman Godwin’s comments:
Good morning – and welcome to Johnston County 2020! As we look at the State of the County, I would like to thank my fellow Board Members for the opportunity to serve as Chairman for another year. I would also like to congratulate Vice Chairman Chad Stewart on his reappointment as Vice Chairman.
Our Board has wrestled with many issues over the past year, often with different opinions, but always working together towards resolutions that benefit the citizens of our County. I believe our Board is comprised of strong, caring and conscientious individuals. I am proud to serve with you.
To recap a few of the many highlights of 2019:
- We had several economic development announcements in 2019. The projects along the I-95 corridor are especially exciting, because those are areas that are often overlooked and in need of growth. A new furniture distribution center in Four Oaks is quickly coming along and a long-range massive multi-use project in Selma promises to be a catalyst for new jobs for many years ahead. I would remind everyone that any incentives the County has provided are at no risk to the County.
- Every eight years, the County has had a state required property tax revaluation. 2019 was a revaluation year and it was a huge project for our Tax Office. We saw a substantial increase in most property values which resulted in a significant increase in the tax base. The increase was a result of the revaluation and normal annual growth in the tax base. The Board reduced the tax rate by 2 cents from 78 to 76 cents per $100/valuation. We sincerely thank the citizens in our County for their patience during this two-year project and hope they found the process fair. We commend our Tax Office for their hard work in completing this task. The Board also voted to change the future timeline for the next revaluation from the current eight-year cycle to a six-year cycle. When the 2025-2026 revaluation is complete, the plan is to move to a four-year cycle thereafter. For a county growing like ours, we believe a shorter revaluation cycle may help with some of the “sticker shock” of improved property values.
- Education funding has been a much talked about topic among our Board and many citizens. Our budget allocated $67.9 million in supplemental operating expense to Johnston County Public Schools this year, along with an additional $1 million for capital outlay needs. During the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget adoption, this amount was considered appropriate by our Board but was significantly less than the Board of Education’s request. The Board of Education recently requested a revised budget allocation. Currently, both Boards are looking for the best solution. We support our school system, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to the taxpayers. With that said, our Boards have enjoyed a good working relationship and we will continue to work together through this process.
- Since 1999, some 20 years, the Board of Commissioners have committed $564 million to Johnston County Public Schools and Johnston Community College for capital needs. Most of the capital needs funding had the approval of the voters in our County as we have held many bond referendums. Please note the $564 million is over and above the “local supplemental operating expense funding” each year that the Board of Commissioners appropriates.
- Support for public safety is high on our list of priorities. This includes the Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Services and EMS, 911- Communications and our local Fire Departments. Not only do they serve the citizens in our County, but the thousands of people traveling through our County every day. And speaking of safety, in 2019, the Board agreed to provide matching funds for state grants to provide School Resource Officers in the middle schools. We thank Sheriff Steve Bizzell and his team for working hard on that partnership with the school system. I would also like to mention that planning for the new detention center on Hwy 70 East is moving along with an anticipated completion in early 2022.
- Our County is undergoing many changes with regards to transportation and many improvement projects are scheduled in the next few years. Some of those include the widening of NC Hwy 42 near Clayton, multiple upgrades at primary rural intersections, and the future Interstate 42 along the US 70 corridor. We thank the North Carolina Department of Transportation for their partnership and commitment to Johnston County. The County has also agreed to participate in the Triangle Region Commuter Rail Study. The Board will be receiving an update on that project at a future Board of Commissioners meeting and we hope all interested parties will attend once that date is announced.
- Several of our County agencies have recently been cited by federal and/or state organizations for outstanding achievements during 2019. A couple of the recent ones was for Emergency Medical Services as well as our County Finance Department. In addition, our annual clean financial audits give us all confidence in our fiscal health and transparency. We thank all of our staff in every department for the outstanding job they do serving the citizens of our County.
- We are in the process of updating our seven-year capital improvements plan. We have many space needs countywide as well as the court system and our educational partners. We know there will be tweaks along the way, but we are planning for the future and will continue to do what we can afford.
- We are excited to have hired our first ever Parks, Greenways and Open Space Coordinator. Adrian O’Neal is already doing a great job coordinating with our many municipal and rural athletic recreation associations as well as coordinating the Mountains to the Sea project. His expertise and network in our State will bring many benefits to our County.
- In 2019, the County worked with Grifols and the Town of Clayton to expand the Research & Training Zone (RTZ) to include property just west of Grifols. That area continues to be a “gem” in our County. The County, the Town of Clayton and our pharmaceutical partners work well together and will continue to do so to make sure necessary infrastructure is in place. In addition, the County will be constructing a new wastewater treatment facility that is scheduled to open in the next 3-5 years.
In reviewing 2019 in Johnston County, one could say it has been a great year. We continue to have low unemployment, continued job growth, strong bond ratings and sound financial health. It has been a standard practice in our annual State of the County address to highlight the positive things. While that is important to do, I also want to talk frankly about some of our challenges we need to deal with sooner rather than later.
People who work in surrounding counties want to live in Johnston County. We have tried to take a balanced approach to managing residential growth. In our message last year, we cited frustrations and difficulties experienced by many of our residents with things like traffic congestion. Last year, I said that “addressing these concerns and finding a balanced solution(s) must be one of the highest priorities of this Board.” We had many issues to deal with but we have not adequately dealt with that particular one.
That is not to say it hasn’t been on the forefront of our minds. Collectively and individually, we have had many discussions with our Planning Department as well as stakeholders in the County. And, to us EVERYONE is a stakeholder. Our Planning Department has developed some proposed ordinance revisions that would reduce density in rural areas and hopefully drive the higher density growth to our municipalities. We recently held a public meeting at the Agricultural Center and have another session scheduled at the West Johnston High School on Thursday, January 23 from 6-8 pm. The purpose of the meeting is to share information and receive feedback from all interested parties. We highly encourage all interested citizens to attend the meeting on January 23.
Many business people would say “if you are not growing, you are dying.” However, we have seen the pressures of rapid growth on our transportation system, our water and wastewater system, and infrastructure in general. Many who live in these high-growth areas have said they are experiencing a deterioration in their quality of life. With that said, we also know that commercial investment follows rooftops so it is indeed a balancing act. I am confident our Board will strike the appropriate balance in 2020.
We have a lot to be proud of in Johnston County. With all of our challenges, we are still the envy of many counties in North Carolina. And, the greatest thing about our County is the people who live here. We are all hard-working, friendly, and support each other. We have significant issues for which we need solutions, and I look forward to an exciting 2020.