Two words could sum up the state of Johnston County in 2015: Novo Nordisk.
In his annual State of the County address on Monday, County Commissioners Chairman Tony Braswell painted a rosy picture of Johnston in 2015, one made rosier by the Danish insulin maker’s announcement of a $1.8 billion expansion in Clayton. Braswell noted that county tax coffers are healthy and that jobs are on the way, and he expressed optimism that 2016 could be even better.
“In my opinion, 2015 was a busy year, with highlights worth reflecting on,” Braswell said in a prepared statement. “The most significant highlight of 2015 was the announcement of the Novo Nordisk expansion in Clayton. ... The benefits of this project will be felt in Johnston County for many years to come.”
The company announced last summer that it would double its Clayton presence, building a new manufacturing plant and creating nearly 700 jobs. But because of the size of the project, the plant’s opening is likely five years away.
Also in the next five years, a Virginia-based company will build a natural-gas pipeline through Johnston County. Braswell noted the commissioners’ public support of that project.
But during a November meeting, many citizens and some commissioners voiced concerns about the pipeline, which will bring natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina. Dominion Energy, the company building the pipeline, is eying a route that would place the pipeline east of Johnston County’s Interstate 95 corridor. County Commissioner Chad Stewart owns land along the proposed route.
The November meeting drew about 30 people opposed to the project. Commissioners told them that oversight of the pipeline was largely a federal matter and that Johnston County had little control over the route or land negotiations.
But commissioners will push to see that Dominion compensates Johnston landowners fairly, Braswell said. “The board’s support of the project was with the understanding that Johnston County citizens would be treated fairly and with respect during the land negotiations for the pipeline route, and we will continue to voice that request,” he said.
Looking to the coming year and beyond, Braswell said he wants to see Johnston County make parks and recreation a greater priority. The county doesn’t have a parks and recreation department, and commissioners have expressed no interest in one. In Johnston, towns and community groups offer all recreation programming.
But to help with parks and ball fields, Braswell wants to see a second bond referendum for recreation on the ballot no later than 2020.
The coming years could also bring additional capital projects for emergency services. Last year, commissioners OK’d a new building for Princeton EMS, and during its annual work session on March 4, the board will tackle recommendations of study on space needs for courts and law enforcement. A proposal for a new Johnston County public safety center could move it out of downtown Smithfield.
The State of the County address coincided with Johnston County’s annual audit report, something akin to a yearly doctor’s physical for government finances. Johnston County received a clean bill of health. Notably, cash reserves were at 19.32 percent of spending, well above the target savings of 15 percent. In 2011, cash reserves were just 13.29 percent as the county took money from savings to pay its bills. Lenders and bond-rating agencies look at how much money counties have in the bank when determining creditworthiness.
“2015 was a great year,” Braswell said. “Johnston County is financially sound and living within its means. ... For 2016, I would ask that we continue to focus on economic development, our bond ratings, support for our local education partners and public safety.”
Braswell is giving up his seat on the board of commissioners to make a run for North Carolina’s 28th District House seat.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson