It will be tough for the Clayton Town Council to say goodbye to 2015.
The year brought the promise of new jobs in the Novo Nordisk expansion, hundreds of new homes planned for construction and the unburdening of millions of dollars in power system debt. Residents might recall 2015 differently, notably as the year their taxes went up and their electricity bills went down.
Looking to 2016, the council has already started talking about projects it wants to tackle in the new year. They have mentioned two early and often – a new senior center and the development of park land.
“It’s time to establish a committee to examine the feasibility of a senior center and move this forward,” Councilman Jason Thompson said at the Dec. 21 council meeting. “We can get this going and see what we can do.”
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Demand for senior programs has been growing as Clayton’s population ages and more retirees move into the area. Madison Cauley, director of community services for Johnston County Community and Senior Services, said the Clayton Center for Active Aging has to turn people because its programs are so full.
“Older adults are flooding into this area, and they’re looking for somewhere to go, a place with special programs and activities,” Cauley said. “People typically think senior centers are just for people to sit around and shoot the bull or play bingo or eat lunch. But it’s very different. There’s a variety of programs that touch on the different needs for older adults, like pickleball to work on fine motor skills, painting classes, nutrition classes, how to plan for long-term care, how to take care of grandchildren.”
Rather than counting people, Cauley said, the Clayton Senior Center measures participation in “units,” where one unit is one person doing one activity. As an example, she used August, which saw 1,682 “units of activity.”
Some residents have criticized Clayton for its level of service to seniors. Town Council candidate Bobby Bunn nearly won election last November promising more for seniors, and sitting Councilman Art Holder thinks Clayton can and should do more.
“We need to improve the offering of services for our seniors,” Holder said at the Dec. 21 meeting. “Where and when will that happen? I don’t know.”
Holder said any committee that’s formed should look at the needs of seniors in the area and compile a list of recommendations to the council. Chief in his mind, though, is paying for additional services without a tax increase.
“We need to first see if we can afford it,” Holder said. “My number one challenge is to control costs. We strive to provide what the residents of Clayton want and do that without a tax increase. We don’t need to even think about a tax increase two years in a row.”
Councilman Butch Lawter balked at Clayton building its own new senior center, but he said the town could donate land to Johnston County for such a use.
“I’m fairly certain we’re not going to build a senior center on our own,” Lawter said. “We’ll have a partnership with Community and Senior Services and be part of the process.”
Cauley and CSS executive director Neal Davis stopped by a Clayton council meeting in the fall to lobby for a new senior center. At that time, they recommended a 15,000- to 20,000-square-foot building. Cauley said too many variables existed to offer an estimate on what such a building might cost.
Instead of a senior center, Lawter’s focus is on developing Clayton park land. He’d like to see campgrounds along the Neuse River and an extension of the Mountains to the Sea trail from the greenway to N.C. 42.
“It’s time to get started on a parks and rec bond; we need to start doing that,” Lawter said. “I’d like to develop our park lands and see an extension to the greenway.”
Mayor Jody McLeod suggested a similar vision during his remarks at the council’s organizational meeting Dec. 7, saying now that Clayton has park land in hand, it’s time to turn that land into something useful.
Typically, the council irons out goals for a new year during its annual retreat. So far, a retreat has not yet been scheduled.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson