Commissioner, School Board Candidate Exchange Barbs
SMITHFIELD – Johnston County Commissioners unanimously approved their new 2020-2021 fiscal year budget Monday night. The budget is about $2.4 million more than County Manager Rick Hester’s proposed spending plan of $250.6 million. Commissioners made several changes to the final budget before adoption last night.
The Board increased funding for Johnston County Public Schools from Mr. Hester’s recommendation of $70 million to $72 million. The school board had sought $79.8 million in local funding. Last year, the board of education received $68.5 million.
Rick Mercier, a candidate for the Johnston County School Board, was critical of the decision not to fully fund the school budget request. “The county has again underfunded our schools. There are commissioners who have never been interested in the school system. They’ve long perpetrated what can be characterized as structural, systemic child abuse. Meanwhile, the school board has been feckless when it comes to defending the interests of our children. We cannot tolerate the status quo in this county. The old guard must go. Let us build a movement that works to advance a unity and equity agenda… A new Johnston County is possible, but we have to come together and multiply our power to bring it into being.”
County Commissioner Tony Braswell responded to Mr. Mercier’s comments stating, “It is now clear that he is trying to campaign making assumptions, name calling and untruths. If Mr. Mercier wanted to make a comment that was truthfully, he would of researched what was actually done and said last night. The county manager reached an agreement with the Board of Education for us to fund $72 million and school board to fund the other $4 million from their $8 million fund balance and they would be fully funded. I would suggest this candidate offer positive thinking rather than hate and discontent.”
Johnston Community College will receive $4.5 million for current expenses and $750,000 for capital outlay. Hester had recommended $550,000 for capital outlay.
Commissioners allocated $10,000 for Special Olympics; $75,000 for My Kids Club; $1,000 for the Kenly Tobacco Museum; $21,000 for the Smithfield Rescue Mission; allocated an additional $25,000 for Partnership for Children for a total of $50,000; and added $50,000 for Harbor for a total of $75,000.
The Board increased the open space fee-in-lieu for developers from $400 to $800 per lot.
The property tax rate of 76 cents will remain unchanged but water and sewer rates will increase. On July 1st, county water rates will increase from $3.70 to $3.90 per 1,000 gallons up to 4,000 gallons per month. Rates increase from $4.55 to $4.80 per 1,000 gallons from 5,000 – 9,000 gallons. The base rate for sewer service will go from $26.50 to $30.00 per month; and sewer treatment costs will increase from $5.95 to $6.55 per 1,000 gallons.
Residential water tap fees for new customers will increase in the new budget from $1,800 to $2,750 while sewer taps will go from $3,800 to $4,090.
Bulk wastewater treatment fees charged to the Towns of Smithfield, Selma, Pine Level, Four Oaks, Clayton, along with private providers Aqua and Carolina Water Service will decrease from $3.44 to $3.00 per 1,000 gallons.
Department heads had requested 38 new positions this year. Commissioners approved Mr. Hester’s recommendation of 21 new positions. They include 8 new EMS workers for a Cleveland-area EMS unit; four additional 911 dispatchers; two positions in Public Health; one child protective services supervisor at the Department of Social Services; one administrative assistant for the Planning Department; one position in GIS; 3 Public Utilities employees (2 maintenance and 1 construction inspector), and one gate site attendance for Johnston County Solid Waste.
No cost of living increase is included for the county’s 1,150 full-time employees. Commissioners agreed with the county manager’s recommendation to consider at a possible salary increase for employees in the Fall of the year