10/15/08 — Lee Smith to Rotary: County's future determined by growth, infrastructure

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Lee Smith to Rotary: County's future determined by growth, infrastructure

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 15, 2008 1:46 PM


Wayne County Manager Lee Smith answers questions Tuesday at a meeting of the Goldsboro Rotary Club as Leslie Weil listens to his responses.

County Manager Lee Smith came with prepared comments to make to Goldsboro Rotarians Tuesday afternoon, but he set them aside after telling club members he would rather just respond to what was on their minds.

The questions posed ran the gamut from the economy and growth, to infrastructure to the county's new four-day workweek. However, Smith ran out of time before he could touch on all of the issues raised.

Smith, who devoted most of his time speaking on growth and infrastructure, told club members he would be glad to make a return appearance should they have a specific issue they wanted to discuss.

Economic development and schools drive growth, Smith said.

"Economic development is going to encompass infrastructure," he said. "It is going to encompass education. It is going to encompass training at community colleges."

He said Wayne County has seen a slowdown in inspections for new construction over the past six months. Meanwhile, it appears that more people are renovating existing homes with an eye toward staying in the homes longer, Smith said.

Wayne County, he said, has been able to maintain or even boast a positive job gain over the past eight to 10 years. However, this year could "be close," he said.

"When we hear about a company closing a line or closing we immediately get on the line to call companies that are having issues with labor needs," Smith said. "They are just taking up these people as fast as they can."

That includes the county, he said.

Smith pointed to the growth created by the new AT&T Call Center in Mar-Mac and Triangle Spring in Mount Olive, both of which are bringing jobs back from other countries.

He said the county tries "to stay on top of what local companies do." However, he did say last month's closing of Helix Poly in Mount Olive had come as a surprise.

"How prepared are we to deal with these layoffs," he said. "I think we are well-prepared."

Smith called infrastructure "vitally important." However, municipalities predominately handle water and sewer, and they have done an excellent job, he said.

As for countywide sewer, Smith questioned whether it was really needed.

Residentially, a county sewer system is "probably not needed," he said.

"Septic tanks work and are cheaper," Smith said. "We do need sewer in strategic parts of Wayne County for commercial and industrial development. Residential sewer is an offshoot."

As for water, the county's water districts are doing a "phenomenal job," he said.

The county does have a utility committee and all of the county's municipalities and the county have agreed to create a countywide master plan for utilities

"That has got to happen," Smith said.

Smith said that a uniform system does not mean one plan taking over the others. Rather, a partnership between all of the water systems is "vital."

For example, in the next few months a $1 million grant will be used to build a water tank at ParkEast.

"This is going to be a joint project of the county, city of Goldsboro and Wayne Water District," he said.

The tank is part of the deal of getting AAR to locate in the county. The company needs the additional water pressure, and the tank also will be important for future development in the industrial park, he said.

Commenting on highways, Smith said U.S. 70 is a "vital part" of county and that Interstate 795 is an "absolute blessing. People do not understand what 795 means. It is a fast track into Wayne County we did not have that before. That means trucks can leave Goldsboro, Mount Olive and get to Baltimore, Washington, D.C. or Richmond much, much faster."

Smith said U.S. 70 is an ongoing process and that the development of the Wal-Mart area near Rosewood would not have come without what is coming on the new U.S. 70 Goldsboro Bypass.

"I bet you odds I am right," he said. "They (retailers) are looking at the future. They are not looking for the next two years. They are looking five and 10 years down the road."

The same is true for the Wal-Mart in Mount Olive, he said.

Smith said many people worked hard to keep the money for the bypass.

"We need it," he said. "It is not about getting people to the beach. It is about getting commerce and getting trucks through here to the TransPark in Kinston to New Bern and Morehead City and the ports. U.S. 70 has got to be improved."

Smith said he thinks the county is growing faster than most people realize.

"I think the next census will open our eyes," he said.

Growth will bring new problems and not just with infrastructure, but with quality-of-life issues as well, he said.

The county, he said, will have to talk about libraries, animal control and schools.

"They (new residents) want to know that you care about your community," he said.

On budget matters, Smith said the county is at an all-time high in tax collections at 97 percent.

He noted that 91 percent of the county's budget is controlled by state or federal mandates. More demands can be expected in health care and social services, he said.

"We try to be conservative in spending, but I do believe in investing money where it may save us money in the future," he said.

For example, the county has bought new cars. However, those new fuel-efficient vehicles are replacing ones that got only 16-18 miles per gallon of gas.

"I tell everybody that the budget does not start Jan. 1 of each year," Smith said. "It starts the day you begin fiscal year which is July 1. That means you watch every penny you spend. We question every penny."