Serving Kenly, Selma, Smithfield, Princeton & Pine Level since 1973

County manager unveils spending plan

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SMITHFIELD — Johnston water and sewer customers would pay more in the year ahead, while the county’s schools would get less than they want. That’s the gist of the 2020-21 spending plan that County Manager Rick Hester unveiled on Thursday.

Hester would give the schools $70 million for operations in the fiscal year that starts July 1. That’s close to what the schools received this year after mid-year rescue, but well short of the $76.4 million they’re seeking. The county manager would also give the schools $800,000 for capital outlay, down from the $1.2 million they requested.

Most every water and sewer customer would pay more for those services starting in July.

Households using up to 4,000 gallons of water a month would pay $3.90 per 1,000 gallons, up from $3.70 Households using 5,000 to 9,000 gallons monthly would pay $4.80 per thousand gallons, up from $4.55.

Sewer customers would pay more too. Depending on the size of the meter, the monthly base charge for retail customers would climb anywhere from $3.50 to $51 a month. The usage charge for all retail customers would jump from $5.95 per 1,000 gallons to $6.55.

Towns would pay the county more to treat their sewage, which means town customers would likely pay more too. The county treats sewage from the towns of Clayton, Four Oaks, Pine Level, Selma and Smithfield, and it charges them for both transmission and treatment. The rates vary by town, but most would go up — the exception being the treatment rate that Four Oaks, Pine Level, Selma and Smithfield pay. It would actually fall from $3.44 per thousand gallons to $3.

The county treats sewage from two private companies, Aqua and Carolina Water Sewer. Both would pay higher treatment rates under the proposed budget.

In his summary of the budget, Hester said department heads had requested 38 new hires in the year ahead. He is recommending 21 in all — eight hires for a Cleveland community EMS squad, four 911 dispatchers, two positions in public health, one in the Department of Social Services, an administrative assistant in the Planning Department, one position in GIS, three in Public Utilities and one in solid waste.

But with the county’s revenue picture unclear, Hester proposes to bring those new hires on board between October and January of next fiscal year.

The proposed budget includes $1.9 million to begin repaying the money the county will borrow to build a new jail east of Smithfield. And in what might be good news for taxpayers, “preliminary indications are that the apparent low bid for construction of the new detention center is $11 million less than was projected,” Hester said.

The county will also begin paying the debt on some of the dollars voters agreed to borrow as part of a 2018 bond package. “Bond referendum funds are generally sold over a three- or four-year period ... to stay with the scope of the county’s financial model,” Hester said.

In the year ahead, the county needs to begin updating its capital-improvements plan for school, county and community college buildings, in part to see what Johnston can afford, Hester said. “It is my opinion that to continue meeting the many capital needs in our county, we need to stay aggressive while staying within our financial model,” he said.

In all, Hester proposes to spend $250 million in the year ahead while maintaining healthy cash reserves, also known as a fund balance. “The June 30, 2021, fund balance percentage is expected to be comparable to other North Carolina counties with similar strong bond ratings,” he said.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, June 1, in the second floor meeting room at the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield, 305 E. Market St., Smithfield.

If the state’s ban on mass gatherings remains in place, seating in the meeting room might be limited. Commissioners encourage Johnstonians to email their budget comments to Paula Woodard at paula.woodard@johnstonnc.com, or mail them to her at P.O. Box 1049, Smithfield, N.C. 27577.

Johnstonians can see the budget online at https://bit.ly/2z0o2Xo. Also, a copy is on file in Room B-206 at the courthouse in Smithfield.

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