Johnston County spending proposal falls short for schools

Johnston County Manager Rick Hester has recommended a $222.8 million spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1.
Johnston County Manager Rick Hester has recommended a $222.8 million spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1. N&O file photo by Drew Jackson

Johnston County homeowners wouldn't pay a higher property-tax rate under a proposed spending plan, but the school system would get $26.1 million less than it is requesting.

The school district, which enrolls more than 36,000 students, is seeking $89 million from county commissioners, an increase of 45 percent over the current year. Some of the money would raise salary supplements for teachers and assistant principals, hire more social workers, counselors and psychologists, and bolster special-education spending.

But County Manager Rick Hester is recommending $62.9 million for schools, including up to $1 million for school-safety measures. The recommendation is an increase from the current year's appropriation of $60.1 million.

Johnston County schools Superintendent Ross Renfrow said he would reserve comment until county commissioners adopt a budget. Commissioners have routinely given the schools more than Hester has recommended, though seldom have they fully funded the schools' request.

In his budget message, Hester underscored the county's commitment to its public schools. For example, in the year ahead, he noted, Johnston will make the second payment on $30 million the county borrowed to help the schools meet critical building repairs, including new roofs at a number of schools.

Hester added: "Since 2013 — only a 5-year time span — Johnston County has planned for $148 million in capital projects for Johnston County Public Schools and $22 million for Johnston Community College."

Those numbers include $76 million that school and county leaders hope voters will agree to borrow this fall for the public schools and community college.

Johnston County, Wake's neighbor to the east, was the third fastest-growing county in North Carolina last year, at 2.94 percent. The Johnston school system, which has 47 schools, gained 1,300 new children this school year.

Under Hester's $228.8 million spending plan, the property-tax rate would remain 78 cents per $100 valuation. The fiscal year ahead would mark the 15th consecutive without an increase in the rate.

Beyond school spending, here are some highlights of the budget proposal:

All county employees would get a 2.1 percent pump in pay on July 1. They would then be eligible in the fall for performance-based raises of up to 1.4 percent more.

Twenty-three people would join the county payroll, including eight in public utilities, six in EMS, two dispatchers in the sheriff's office and two behavioral health specialists in the health department.

The county's sewer customers would pay more. The average household would see its sewer bill increase by $3 a month, said Chandra Farmer of the Public Utilities Department. Public Utilities is in the midst of a 20-year capital-improvement plan. Projects that could begin in 2018-19 include increasing water plant capacity by 2 million gallons daily and sewage plant capacity by 4 million gallons a day.

County Commissioners have until June 30 to adopt a budget for the year ahead. They will hold budget meetings at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. June 4 and at 6 p.m. June 11. Commissioners expect to adopt the budget during a meeting at 6 p.m. June 20.

Scott Bolejack: 919-829-4629, @ScottBolejack