On February 5th, Dr. David Johnson, President of Johnston Community College appeared before Johnston County Commissioners to detail $91 million in capital priorities needed to meet a projected 37 percent in growth over the next 20 years. Johnson asked commissioners to place a $25 million bond referendum before voters in November 2018 to pay for a 71,000 square foot building for Early College and JCC engineering students. That is equal to the size of a 2-A high school.
One month later, on March 5th, Dr. Ross Renfrow the Superintendent of Johnston County Public Schools appeared before Commissioners seeking $207 million to meet growth needs by 2027. Renfrow called the request “needs not wants” to accommodate an increase in enrollment of 6,300 school students by 2027. The $207 million plan includes $135 million for 4 new schools, $28.2 million to expand 4 existing campuses, and $43.9 million for renovations at other unnamed campuses.
Dr. Renfrow did not request a specific dollar amount needed in a 2018 bond referendum but indicated funds are needed immediately for at least one of the 4 new schools.
Altogether, the requests from JCC and Johnston County Schools total just over $298 million.
To fully fund both requests in 2018, commissioners would have to raise property taxes by about 8 cents, something the board would never do.
In a series of emails with WTSB, Johnston County Manager Rick Hester said commissioners are expected to authorize a bond referendum of up to $70 million for 2018 that could be funded without raising property taxes. Hester said it would be up to Commissioners as to how much of a maximum $70 million bond would be earmarked specifically for public schools and the community college. Hester said he anticipates commissioners holding further discussions with Dr. Johnson and Dr. Renfrow very soon to determine what is required in a bond referendum this November.
In addition to public school and college needs, Johnston County is expected to borrow approximately $40 million to fund a new Public Safety Center for a new jail near Smithfield. Last September, Commissioners approved a 20 year Capital Improvement Plan for the Johnston County Department of Public Utilities that will cost $333.2 million over the next 20 years.
Even with pressing needs caused by the county’s rapid growth, the county manager said commissioners don’t plan to pay for the growth with higher property taxes. “While it is almost impossible to accurately predict what the future holds, I don’t think the Board has plans to raise the property tax rate,” Hester told WTSB.