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SMITHFIELD — Johnston County accomplished much in 2019, county commissioners Chairman Ted Godwin said in his State of the County earlier this month.
He pointed first to job creation, including an Ashley HomeStore distribution center and retail outlet in Four Oaks and a mixed-use project in Selma that could produce thousands of jobs by itself. “The projects along the I-95 corridor are especially exciting, because those are areas that are often overlooked and in need of growth,” Godwin said.
The chairman acknowledged that last year’s property revaluation in Johnston produced “substantial increase(s) in most property values,” but it also allowed commissioners to cut the tax rate by 2 cents.
The next property revaluation will take place in six years, Godwin noted, and after that, revaluation will occur every four years. “For a county growing like ours, we believe a shorter revaluation cycle may help with some of the ‘sticker shock’ of improved property values,” he said.
Though Johnston’s schools face a budget shortfall, Godwin defended commissioners’ education spending, noting that direct county outlays to the schools total $68.9 million for the current fiscal year. “The board of education recently requested a revised budget allocation,” he said. “Currently, both boards are looking for the best solution.”
“We support our school system,” Godwin added, “but at the same time, we have a responsibility to the taxpayers.”
To buttress his education-spending case, Godwin pointed to the dollars the county has committed to school construction. “Since 1999, some 20 years ago,” he said, “the board of commissioners have committed $564 million to Johnston County Public Schools and Johnston Community College for capital needs. Most of the capital-needs funding had the approval of the voters in our county as we have held many bond referendums.”
Those building dollars, Godwin added, are on top of annual outlays for school operations.
Commissioners are just as supportive of public safety, Godwin said, referring to the Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Service, 911 Communications and county fire departments.
“And speaking of safety, in 2019, the board agreed to provide matching funds for state grants to provide school resource officers in the middle schools,” Godwin said. “We thank Sheriff Steve Bizzell and his team for working hard on that partnership with the school system.”
Godwin also thanked the N.C. Department of Transportation for its commitment to Johnston County. “Our county is undergoing many changes with regards to transportation, and many improvement projects are scheduled in the next few years,” he said. “Some of those include the widening of N.C. 42 near Clayton, multiple upgrades at primary rural intersections and the future Interstate 42 along the U.S. 70 corridor.”
“The county has also agreed to participate in the Triangle Region Commuter Rail Study,” Godwin added. “The board will be receiving an update on that project at a future ... meeting, and we hope all interested parties will attend once that date is announced.”
In 2019, Godwin said, the county hired its first ever coordinator of parks, greenways and open space. “Adrian O’Neal is already doing a great job coordinating with our many municipal and rural athletic recreation associations as well as coordinating the Mountains-to-Sea project,” he said. “His expertise and network in our state will bring many benefits to our county.”
Commissioners continue to tackle many issues, chief among them growth management, Godwin said. Still, “we have a lot to be proud of in Johnston County,” he said. “With all of our challenges, we are still the envy of many counties in North Carolina. And the greatest thing about our county is the people who live here. We are all hard working, friendly and support each other.”
“We have significant issues for which we need solutions,” Godwin added, “and I look forward to an exciting 2020.”