Commissioner Smith: Johnston County Taxpayers Getting The “Short End Of The Stick”

“The goal of county commissioners should be to meet the needs of our citizens who elected us and pay property taxes” 

SMITHFIELD – Johnston County Commissioners have agreed to pay for two full-time positions in the Johnston County District Attorney’s Office through June 30, 2021 after temporary state funding expired on December 31st.

District Attorney Susan Doyle appeared Monday before Commissioners asking they fund one Assistant District Attorney’s position and one Legal Assistant position.  The NC Administrative Office of the Courts had provided the temporary positions due to increased workloads and backlogs due to COVID-19, Doyle stated.  “The Johnston County District Attorney’s Office continues to need the assistance of these temporary positions in order to efficiently run our dockets as the restrictions on court procedures continues.”

Johnston County current has 10 assistant district attorney’s and 6 legal assistants.

County Commissioner Fred Smith did not question the need for the positions but said they should be funded by state money because the district attorney’s office is a state agency, not a county department.  “The State of North Carolina has received millions of dollars in funds (for COVID relief).  Johnston County citizens who elected me and other commissioners have paid through their income taxes to fund your office.  Now what you are asking is to fund it a second time through property taxes. I don’t think that is fair and to look the folks eyeball to eyeball and say that’s fair, I can’t do that.”

“The issue for me today is not whether you need these funds, it’s whose responsibility is it to give it to you. We were elected by the people in Johnston County to do certain things. To help the sheriff’s office have funds that are necessary to take care of enforcement…as I talked about when I ran to become a county commissioner… to provide for infrastructure, to build schools so kids don’t sit in mobile classrooms, to provide office space for county employees, infrastructure for water and sewer, trash disposal. Those are duties that rest with us, with commissioners. We are not getting the job done…. The State of North Carolina is fighting over money in the Rainy Day Fund because they have so much. We need to build schools. We need to build office space so our employees can work in first class office space… The goal of county commissioners should be to meet the needs of our citizens who elected us and pay property taxes.  We have a duty to use property taxes for what they sent us here for. A goal without a plan is nothing more than a wish. For that reason I cannot face the voters and citizens of this county who elected me to use money for a state responsibility when we are not meeting our needs and responsibilities to build infrastructure,” Commissioner Smith stated.

Commissioner Smith made a motion to deny funding the two positions in the district attorney’s office. The motion failed for the lack of a second.

Commissioner Tony Braswell told Commissioner Smith he made valid points but disagreed about getting the job done.  Braswell said the County pays for the lease of probation offices in Smithfield and Clayton. It was a state responsibility and was double taxation but it was happening. Braswell said the state “sends down mandate after mandate” but with no funding.  “We do take care of our citizens,” Braswell added.

It’s not our responsibility to do what other people are suppose to do
Smith replied, “It’s not our responsibility to do what other people are suppose to do. It is our responsibility to do what the folks elected us to do. If we as commissioners sit here and say whatever (the General Assembly) doesn’t do we will do it, we will continue to have children in mobile classrooms.  It we fund this temporary position, we will be making our citizens pay for this office twice… Once you start down this slope you can’t go back.”

Smith said the State of North Carolina has ample money to fund the district attorney’s office they just didn’t do it.

Commissioner Larry Wood said, “I agree with Commissioner Smith one hundred percent.  I think they’re 170 something county employees in the school system… We’re funding counselors, TA’s (teacher assistants), bus drivers, cafeteria (workers).  Like Mr. Smith said, our job is to build schools. But I don’t want our citizens to be in a quagmire with the court system. We need to ask the state why Johnston County doesn’t have more employees in the DA’s office than smaller counties who have more state funded positions.”

Commissioner Ted Godwin said the County had extra federal COVID funds they could use to temporarily fund the two positions through June 30th.  Godwin said it would give District Attorney Doyle more time to lobby with the State for more positions and give commissioners more time to talk with local delegates to the General Assembly.

In a motion by Commissioner Patrick Harris, the board voted 6-to-1 to spend $62,682 to fund the positions through June 30, 2021.  Commissioner Smith cast the sole vote against the expenditure. If the board decides to permanently fund the positions on July 1st the cost would be approximately $124,160 annually.

The average ordinary citizen in this county continues to get the short end of the stick
After the vote Commissioner Smith said, “We’ve had one citizen come before us today for no fault of his own because of the edict of the Governor of our state. We can’t help him because of a statute that says we can’t help him. District Attorney Doyle comes before us. The statute says her office is to be funded through the State of North Carolina. We don’t have to be bothered by that statute… The average ordinary citizen in this county continues to get the short end of the stick. It is our job to represent them and to make sure they’re taken care of.”