The 2021 State of the County Address was delivered this morning (Monday) by Johnston County Commissioner Chairman Chad Stewart.
The following is a transcription of his comments:
Good morning. This past year has been and continues to be difficult for so many people in our County from a personal and business perspective. And, speaking of businesses, I would encourage all of us to shop local as much as we possibly can and support our local businesses.
Our thoughts and prayers continue for the many that have lost family members in the past year due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. I would encourage us all to continue wearing our masks, social distance and wash our hands frequently. Vaccine clinics are underway in the County.
Thanks to the taxpayers for your patience as we have made adjustments in how we deliver services in order to protect citizens and employees. We know at times it has been frustrating but please know we are committed to providing the highest quality of service and will continue to do that.
The Board has met in different venues since the spring of 2020 and added our meetings to Facebook Live. I appreciate my fellow Commissioners understanding and flexibility with the changes we have had to make regarding meeting protocols and locations. I also want to thank Paula Woodard, Dana Cuddington, Chris Johnson, and Jim Earp along with Sheriff Steve Bizzell, Daniel Clifton, Jeff Howard, and their teams for their assistance along the way. We further extend our thanks to the Court System, Public Library of Johnston County & Smithfield, and the Johnston County Agricultural Center staff for providing and assisting with offsite meeting spaces.
I want to thank Health Director Dr. Marilyn Pearson and her team at Public Health along with Emergency Services, the Sheriff’s Office, 911-Communications, first responders, public safety personnel, human service agencies, all county employees, and the municipalities for their dedication and commitment in the past year as it relates to the impacts of COVID-19. We also extend our appreciation to Johnston Health and their outstanding team for their ongoing response to the pandemic. And we must not forget to sincerely thank all the school personnel, teachers, parents and students for their efforts to adjust to a remote and modified learning environment.
Johnston County also experienced severe weather events in 2020 that unfortunately resulted in the loss of life and we continue to pray for their families. I personally witnessed the public safety professionals in our County doing all they could possibly do to save lives and I commend them for their efforts and dedication.
Despite these challenging circumstances, we did have some positive events and announcements throughout the year.
- Economic Development announcements including an expansion at Grifols and the new Ashley Furniture distribution center and store in Four Oaks. We anticipate more exciting Economic Development news in 2021.
- The Board authorized an update to the County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan. I think that everyone on this Board recognizes how important that is, especially in a fast growing county like ours. This will be an ongoing transparent process throughout 2021 with a final completed update expected in January 2022.
- The Board authorized the County Manager to contract with a broadband consultant to examine our strengths and weaknesses, especially in the rural areas. Broadband connectivity has become more important than ever given that many are now working from home and our schools have had to utilize remote learning. If the Board is satisfied with the work in Phase 1, I am confident we would examine the possibility of Phase 2 to determine how we can work closely with providers to hopefully leverage state and federal grant dollars so more people can be served in our County. The County partnered with Lumen (formerly CenturyLink) on one of their recent grant applications to improve service to customers in the Benson area. That grant application, available to broadband providers, was successfully funded. We hope to see more opportunities like this for our citizens.
- Recently, the Board voted to eliminate solid waste decals effective July 1, 2023. The Board also voted to hire a consultant to assist with future funding options. We anticipate having a report later this year.
- The Board and County staff are planning for capital improvements needed to address space needs for county, judicial, schools and community college needs.
- The new Detention Center is in the construction phase and is expected to be completed in 14 months. As stated many times before, this project does a couple of things; 1) it addresses overcrowding at our current detention center and 2) it begins the transition of opening up more space in the Courthouse. The Board has authorized detailed engineering on a potential Phase 2 at the same location. This would house the Sheriff’s Office, 911- Communications and Emergency Services. This would further expedite the transition of the Courthouse for primarily judicial uses.
- The final $36 million sale from the November 2018 voter approved bond referendums for Johnston County Public Schools and Johnston Community College will occur this spring. The breakdown of the last sale is $21 million for Johnston County Public Schools and $15 million for Johnston Community College.
- The Board recently applied for and received, $900,000 in Community Development Block Grants to assist residents with utility, rent and mortgage payments through the Department of Social Services.
- The Board has a work session planned for later this month at the Agricultural Center to discuss where we are now as a county as well as make plans moving forward. The Board also looks forward to a joint meeting with the Johnston County Board of Education in the near future.
- We will continue to facilitate job growth, focus on infrastructure needs, support public safety, provide excellent customer service, while being financially responsible with tax dollars.
In closing, 2020 was a difficult year in so many ways, but this Board looks forward to leading our County through 2021 and beyond.
Chad M. Stewart