In the absence of any official word from Johnston County on its proposed jail site on Buffalo Road, towns are filling the void. Already, the Smithfield Town Council has invited the county commissioners to talk about the jail site, and now the Selma Town Council has passed a resolution opposing a jail on Buffalo Road.
At its Feb. 14 meeting, the Selma Council unanimously criticized Johnston’s proposal to place a new jail and sheriff’s office near three schools and the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center. Selma said it sees Buffalo Road as one of the most important roads for the town’s future.
“The proposed site is currently zoned residential and has for years been strategically identified as an area for future residential and commercial growth,” the resolution read. “Buffalo Road will increasingly become one of the major entryways into Selma, North Carolina.”
The resolution cited a public hearing the town held in January, when four people spoke against the proposed jail site and no one spoke in its favor. The closing paragraph of the resolution encourages the county to explore land it owns before buying more property on which to build a jail.
“Now, therefore be it resolved that I, Mayor Cheryl L. Oliver, and the Town Council of the Town of Selma, North Carolina, do hereby unanimously oppose the location of the Johnston County Law Enforcement Center at the proposed Buffalo Road site and request the Johnston County Commissioners consider other sites, particularly those that the county already owns,” the resolution read.
In an interview, Oliver noted that as taxpayers, everyone in Johnston has some stake in where the county builds its jail.
“I think there were some council members who were bothered by the proximity of the schools and SRAC,” Oliver said. “That’s not my biggest concern. I think the safety issues can be handled. I’m more concerned about how tax dollars are spent. I’m thinking about it from a fiscal perspective. Selma citizens are county taxpayers too, so we wanted to speak on their behalf.”
The county owns a number of pieces of land around Johnston, but the one site routinely mentioned as a possible jail location is out by the landfill. Oliver said that’s worth consideration.
“If the county already owns land, I personally need an explanation why that isn’t appropriate before I support spending more money, at a premium price, for another location,” Oliver said. “I just want to see a list of all the options ... I need to see that due diligence. As elected officials, we need to see that taxpayer dollars go the furthest they possibly can.”
Oliver said Selma was not involved in any conversation last year on where a new jail site might go and has not been asked to weigh in since the county’s announcement in November that it liked the Buffalo Road site.
Last fall, Johnston announced it would option a 68-acre tract on Buffalo Road on which to build a new jail and law enforcement center. Eventually, other county offices would move out there, but the initial build is aimed at relieving overcrowding at the current Johnston County jail in downtown Smithfield.