Less than a month after Johnston County Commissioners agreed to temporarily fund two state positions in the Johnston County District Attorney’s Office, commissioners voted 4-to-3 last week to fund two more state jobs. Altogether, county tax dollars are now being used to pay for four positions in the DA’s office.
On June 21st, when commissioners adopted their new 2021-2022 budget, they agreed to spend $125,193 for two positions after temporary funding from the NC Administrative Office of the Courts expired. It included one assistant district attorney’s position and one legal assistant position. The temporary funding ended June 30, 2021 and the cost was picked up by Johnston County taxpayers on July 1, 2021.
Commissioner Fred Smith said at the time it was not county taxpayers responsibility to fund state jobs. “…When we use those funds that we have taken from our citizens for purposes for which we are not charged to do, I think we violate our duty. I am very much opposed to this.”
Commissioner Ted Godwin agreed adding, “It is a slippery slope. I can see both sides of the argument but I tend to agree with Commissioner Smith, if we start down this slope I only see it getting steeper and faster.”
In early-July, District Attorney Susan Doyle learned grant funds that had been used for seven years were expiring and another revenue source was needed to fund two additional positions dedicated for the prosecution of domestic violence cases in Johnston County.
“Recently, the Governor’s Crime Commission notified me that a grant our office has utilized since 2014 would be discontinued. I have used this grant to create and staff our domestic violence unit within the Johnston County District Attorney’s Office. The loss of this funding, in addition to the other two positions I have previously met with county commissioners about, would cripple my office and substantially impair our ability to provide crucial services to victims of domestic violence in our county,” District Attorney Doyle said.
During the July 19th meeting, District Attorney Doyle asked commissioners for $95,000 to fund the two additional positions for six months until a state budget is hopefully adopted.
Commissioner Tony Braswell said Johnston County ranks second in North Carolina in the number of domestic violence cases and said funding the positions with county tax dollars serves the public interest. “I do not think we can afford to fall behind… I respect others who had a different opinion. I respect others who understand and would disagree but this meets the litmus test of serving the public interest in the way we spend money.”
Commissioner Fred Smith disagreed. “We continually have this discussion. When we talked about the first two positions I pointed out it was not the taxpayers responsibility. They had already paid one time. I also said the danger of assuming the state’s responsibility, and it’s crystal clear it’s the state’s responsibility. That’s a slippery slope. When you do it once you do it again. That is exactly what’s happening here. I don’t deny this is a nice thing to do. I can come up with 100 nice things to do with taxpayers money. The problem is that is not the purpose which we extracted money from taxpayers. It’s not like the State of North Carolina doesn’t have plenty of money. They are cutting taxes, putting money in the rainy day fund. The responsibility here, according to law, is the State of North Carolina. The people who need to be solving this problems are the people in Raleigh, our elected officials.”
“I am only one vote on this board, but for my vote, for the people who elected me, that’s my sacred responsibility. Here we come again. I don’t think anyone on this board has contacted any senators or representatives. The District Attorney has not contacted any senators or representatives or told us. That is the proper place to get these funds. Again, I will oppose this motion. Not because it’s not needed, but because it is not the proper use of funds with local taxes,” Commissioner Smith said.
Chairman Chad Stewart responded, ” I agree with you but… I guess we can all determine personally how we feel spending taxpayers money is a waste or not. I am not going to support leaving my citizens who pay all kinds of taxes underserved because of the federal government or the State of North Carolina.”
Commissioner Braswell added, “I want the abusers to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
In a 4-to-3 vote, commissioners agreed to spend an additional $95,000 to fund the two additional district attorney’s office positions for six months. Commissioners Fred Smith, Ted Godwin and Larry Wood voted against the expenditure. Commissioners Chad Stewart, Butch Lawter, Tony Braswell and Patrick Harris voted in favor.
Johnston County will send the appropriated funds to the NC Administrative Office of the Courts to cover the cost.
District Attorney Doyle told The Johnston County Report, “My staff and I are very grateful that the Johnston County Commissioners voted to approve funding for these positions so that we may continue to provide much needed services to these crime victims.”