During a public hearing Monday on their 2015-16 budget, Johnston County Commissioners heard from three groups seeking a total of $51,000 from taxpayers.
The biggest request came from the Benson Foundation for the Arts, which wants $30,000 to build dedicated bathrooms for the W.J. Barefoot Auditorium, located in the Benson Municipal Building. The project will cost $65,000, and the foundation has raised $30,000 through fundraising and support from the Johnston County Visitors Bureau.
In the auditorium’s current configuration, reaching the nearest bathroom requires visitors to walk down a hall and ride an elevator that fits about five people at a time, said Loretta Byrd, president of the Benson Area Chamber of Commerce. The theater seats 330, and it can pipe live video into a conference room that seats another 125, Byrd said. The venue has 25 events booked so far for 2015.
The plan is to convert the offices of the Benson town manager and clerk into bathrooms. That will save on plumbing costs because the offices sit directly above the downstairs bathrooms, Byrd said. The Benson chamber made room for the manager and clerk when it moved to new offices last year, she said.
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Adding auditorium bathrooms is among Benson’s biggest needs, said County Commissioner DeVan Barbour, who served as a Benson commissioner in the 1980s, when the town turned its old high school into a municipal building. At that time, he said, the town already considered the bathrooms to be a high-priority project.
“I can’t believe that it’s taken this long to even address it,” he said.
Funding the project would not set a new precedent, Barbour said, because the board has previously funded one-off capital projects for Harbor Inc. and the Clayton public library.
Marlyn Lewis requested $18,000 to help fund the county’s teen court program, Preparing to Soar Inc., which will lose $30,000 in state funding next fiscal year.
The program gives teenage first-time misdemeanor offenders the chance to keep those mistakes off of their records, Lewis said. In the program, teens serve as the jury members, bailiffs, clerks and attorneys. Sentencing options include classes that cover anger management, substance abuse, teen violence, healthy relationships and self-examination.
“That enables them to change the mindset in which they are on the path that they are going,” Lewis said.
The last request, for $3,000, came from Darlene Williford, director of the Johnston County Arts Council. In addition to supporting local artists and holding programs in the community and schools, Williford said, the organization gave $19,345 in funding to local nonprofits last year. Those included the Ava Gardner Museum, Johnston County Chorale, the Tobacco Farm Life Museum and the Neuse Little Theatre.
“Do not look at us as another nonprofit,” Williford said. “Look at us as an agency that’s promoting the arts, making life better in Johnston County.”
The budget proposal calls for $201 million in spending. The commissioners will discuss and adjust the spending plan in meetings at 6 p.m. June 8 and June 22. The final vote is set for 8:15 a.m. June 29.
Here are other items from Monday’s County Commissioners meeting.
Fire loans: The board granted tax-exempt loan status for local fire services. The Brogden Fire Department plans to pay $477,000 for a 2016 E-ONE Typhoon Rescue pumper truck with a 15-year loan at 2.5 percent interest. The Bethany Fire Department plans to refinance the debt on its station and pumper-tanker truck with a $290,000 loan for 10 years at 2.55 percent interest. Both departments will borrow from KS Bank.
EMS grant: Johnston County EMS won a $12,800 grant from the Capital Regional Advisory Committee to purchase scoop stretchers and carbon monoxide monitors.
Conference delegates: Commissioners Tony Braswell and Chad Stewart will represent Johnston in Charlotte next month at the 2015 National Association of Counties Conference. The board appointed Braswell as its voting delegate and Stewart as his alternate.