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SMITHFIELD — Lee Jackson has been a county commissioner before, filling an unexpired term before losing an election bid to keep that seat.
But in the height of tax season, the Smithfield accountant is putting himself through a GOP primary for that same county board seat because he thinks he has something to contribute.
“It’s not a simple choice to run when you have a small business where you literally sell your time,” Jackson said in a email response to questions from the Johnstonian News. But “I’m willing to give my time to help the place I live and love.”
“I believe I have much to offer the current commissioners and the citizens of Johnston County,” he added.
That includes his accounting experience, Jackson said. “As a local CPA, I understand the importance of looking after our financial future,” he said. “I am well versed in budgeting.”
If elected, Jackson said he would champion a multi-plank platform. Among other things, he wants to:
• Address the financial challenges the county faces because of its rapid growth.
• Keep Johnston’s bond rating high while using its borrowing capacity to address capital needs.
• Meet the public schools’ need for dollars for both school operations and buildings.
• Attract and retain industry.
“As one of the founders and the treasurer of the first charter school in the county for many years, I understand the funding and the importance of education, not only to provide quality education for our children but also to help drive economic progress,” Jackson said. “Investing in our future workforce increases our ability to attract new industry and support our existing industry.”
Jackson said commissioners and school leaders should meet at least quarterly to talk about finances. “Fostering a working partnership between the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners is important to all the taxpayers,” he said.
Jackson gives the current board credit for keeping the county’s bond rating high. “The bond rating in our county has been a blessing, and as we continue to decrease our cost of funds, the savings can be used for many other worthwhile issues that our county faces,” he said. “Wise use of borrowing and repayment is a primary concern to all of the citizens.”
But Jackson thinks current commissioners made missteps too in:
• Failing to make property revaluation revenue neutral while telling people they reduced taxes.
• Not embracing a relationship with the N.C. Department of Transportation to build new roads and maintain existing ones.
• Failing to explore alternative methods of financing schools.
• Failing to begin work on a new jail.
Jackson doesn’t necessarily buy the argument that people shouldn’t have to pay for the county’s solid waste convenience centers if they don’t use them. “The issue is similar to not having a child in the school system and saying you shouldn’t have to pay for education,” he said.
Most counties address the issue by charging their rural residents a small fee, Jackson said. “I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
The real issue, Jackson said, is how to pay for adding and expanding convenience centers when Johnstonians, no longer forced to purchase a decal, start using the sites instead of throwing their trash along the county’s roads. “If you could travel back in time and build out from the towns, we wouldn’t have this issue, but we can’t,” he said.
Jackson attended the recent meeting at West Johnston High School on managing the county’s growth. What he heard from citizens was that they fear the loss of open space in Johnston and worry about congested roads and crowded schools.
“If the open space, traffic and school issues could be addressed, then most of the passion towards slowing growth would be quelled,” he said.
Jackson thinks commissioners can ease citizen concerns by rewriting their open space rules, upping the county’s ante on school spending and lobbying the DOT on behalf of fast-growing Johnston.
Jackson doesn’t think Johnstonians would like a county that suddenly stopped growing. “We all enjoy having new places to eat, nice grocery stores, more choices in retail and services,” he said. “All these amenities we enjoy are the product of growth.”
It would be better to think ahead than to try to turn off the faucet, Jackson said. “We can go ahead and start envisioning what we want our county to look like 20 or 30 years from now and plan accordingly,” he said.
In the end, the job of any Johnston commissioner is to help make the county an attractive place to live, Jackson said. “While my daughter will grow up, go to college and move to anywhere in the world, I would like for Johnston County to be a place that she would consider becoming her home, where she could raise a family and where she could enjoy a life as wonderful as I have enjoyed here,” he said. “Keeping our county moving forward would be my primary consideration.”
About Lee Jackson
Born June 6, 1964, Jackson is the son of Stella and Gene Jackson. He has a daughter, Sarah Ruth Jackson, and two sisters, Jennifer Cox and Angela Hertzberg.
A 1982 graduate of Smithfield-Selma High School and a 1988 graduate of Wake Forest University, Jackson is a certified public accountant and managing partner of the Smithfield firm of Dees, Jackson, Jackson & Associates.
Jackson serves on the board of Alliance Healthcare and has served on the boards of the Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp., the N.C. Coastal Conservation Association, the Johnston County Tourism Authority and Neuse Charter School.
He is a member of Centenary United Methodist Church.