Apparently, the Johnstonian News is going to do some more election issues coverage in their newspaper and online. Two days ago, I was given another questionnaire. I already did one previously. Here are the questions and answers I gave.
What do you consider the greatest issues facing your town? Please explain why you think those issues are important.
There is not just one single issue, there are several. First, we as a town have over the past few years neglected maintenance, training, and equipment replacement in both our police and fire departments. With the coming technology changes for police communications and the “end of service life” on some of our fire equipment, we should have been budgeting and planning for replacement and maintenance rather than cutting those budgets.
We have at the same time continued to push out any real upgrades and maintenance on our water and sewer systems. There has been a little progress on some storm drains, but not the larger scale preparation for the growth that we know is already planned and more that is coming. We have literally had to turn away development because of insufficient water and sewer capacity for proposed developments. You cannot grow the tax base and population if you cannot allow or encourage development.
• How would you address those issues? Please be specific.
It is my understanding that the town has previously engaged contractors to map out our water and sewer systems, though that is something we should have been already doing for the past century ourselves. We need to identify where we are deficient in with decrepit sewer lines, insufficient water mains, failing supply lines, and fire hydrants that need to be replaced. It is my understanding that the hydrant replacement project is a slow moving but ongoing thing. We also know where future development is coming in our area, so we need to start taking the tough decisions about how we are going to accommodate that growth in our system and how we intend to finance it. We cannot simply wait “with our hands out” hoping for grant money from the federal government with their infrastructure handouts like the other 19,428 other municipal, 3034 county, and 50 state governments are going to also be doing. That means we need to set budget priorities, work those priorities, and pay less attention to the non-critical issues. We may have to investigate all available funding options, including bonds if necessary. Obviously, we don’t know what that will look like until we dig into it further.
We also need to work a comprehensive plan on the maintenance, upgrade, and funding of our emergency services departments. If we are expecting the promised growth, we will need to have the equipment, manpower, and training to manage providing services to that growth of territory and population while maintaining existing levels of service.
• According to the 2020 Census, growth in Johnston towns was uneven over the past decade. Some towns easily grew by double digits; some did not. How would you position your town for growth in the coming decade?
I have watched neighboring towns approve a bunch of developments. I have also watched them make plans for accommodating improvements to their water and sewer systems and plan for new fire stations. We need to learn from that a little bit. We know that we have the Eastfield project starting in Selma whereas a neighboring town got an Amazon distribution center that would have gone well here as well. This is tied to the previous questions about problems facing our town. If we bring the improvements, we can attract and accommodate more growth, whether it is for housing or industrial purposes.
North Carolina and Johnston County in particular have been growing. The spread from the Research Triangle and the Raleigh Metro area to JoCo has been steadily creeping eastward, as we have known it would for decades. Obviously, towns west of here have seen the most growth as the creeping development advances eastward. Since we are right along Highway 70 and I-95, we are in a prime location for both residential and industrial growth. Smithfield has been better at making itself attractive to development along the interstate than we have been in Selma for a while now.
We need to make our planning and zoning attractive to developers, keep our available industrial tracts ready for development, work with our developments in progress, and be prepared to accept and accommodate our growth. That means having the needed infrastructure either ready or able to be planned and executed for the growth as it comes, and maintaining a business friendly environment.
• How would you rate the cost and quality of town services? What does your town do well for the cost? What could it do better and why?
I will start by saying that I am not a fan of the town being a utility provider, especially electricity. We pay a higher kilowatt hour rate than we would be paying if we were direct retail customers of Duke Energy and the town is not subject to the state regulation of electricity rates. Anytime we pay more to the town that we would pay private industry for the exact same service or product, then the difference in cost between the private company and the town’s cost to consumers is in effect taxation. To that end, I am personally not opposed to ending our contract with Electricities when we are able and selling our entire electrical grid to Duke Energy. That, I suspect, is nowhere on the foreseeable horizon, but I would like it to be a consideration when the time comes. There are some trade offs in that. We would get cheaper monthly utility bills that would both encourage businesses to locate here as well as citizens to relocate to Selma. We would also eliminate the punitive and harsh late fee structure for customers and be standardized and more regulated like other utility customers. On the flip side, our town has a well run electrical department that performs maintenance and repairs a lot faster than Duke Energy ever could. So customer service would likely suffer with any billing issues and service restoration after major storms.
As to what the town does well for cost and quality, our own town crews have been able to do sidewalk installation and repair a whole lot cheaper than private companies when considering their bids, according to our town manager.
Our Parks and Recreation Department has done a quality job of planning some events for the public. The past two years have been a challenge with public health concerns, and there are some areas where there may have been a learning curve for our staff, but considering the environment, they seem to have done well.
Since I am not sitting on the Town Council, I have not yet dug into the town financials for analysis of cost effectiveness on a “deep dive” level. That is not my job…yet.