The Wayne County Chamber of Commerce hosted an Eggs and Issues Breakfast at the Lane Tree Conference Center to tackle the direction the city and county are headed and the most pressing needs.
A four-member panel of elected officials participated in the hour-long discussion, which centered mostly around sewer issues, child care and law enforcement.
The purpose of the event was “to have a thoughtful conversation about prevailing issues of the day and just the overall future of our community,” said Scott Satterfield, president of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.
The panel included participation from Mayor Pro Tem Taj Polack, Councilman Charles Gaylor IV, Wayne County Commissioner Barbara Aycock, board chairwoman, and Wayne County Commissioner Chris Gurley, board vice chairman. Questions were selected and provided to each participant ahead of time, Satterfield said.
The first question focused on housing and economic development, but quickly segued to the county’s sewer system.
The water quality is not bad, Gurley said, but a long-range plan to address sewer services is in order. He suggested attention be paid to a long-range plan, which would include a sewer plant.
“How do you prioritize the needs?” Satterfield asked.
The county is in the process of pursuing that, Gurley replied, with a study currently in the works. He estimated findings could be released as soon as the next 90 days.
“Residential housing is creating a drainage issue,” he said. “Everyone wants to bring housing development in and it’s a good thing and it sounds like a good thing.”
Wayne County has the lowest property tax rate around, which is a positive, he added, and is attracting families to move here. But there is a potential problem looming, Gurley said.
“We need to have a plan so we don’t overrun our services,” he said.
Aycock chimed in about fixing the problem before it gets worse.
“Sewer is like, out of sight, out of mind,” she said. “You don’t see it, you don’t think about it until it becomes a problem.”
Sewer systems can break down and affect municipalities, she said.
“Our sewer plants are antiquated, No. 1, because when it rains we could have 10,000 gallons come through the lines, you could have 100,000,” she said. “(And) a lot of the lines are terra cotta so they could break.”
Mount Olive has declared a moratorium to resolve its sewer issues, Aycock said. The state-mandated moratorium prevents the addition of new connections to the sewer system.
“When that happens, growth stops,” she said.
The city of Goldsboro, meanwhile, has also been at or near capacity, Satterfield said.
“Anything up to 80% could be at a moratorium — we were at 90%,” said Polack. “Now we’re at 56% but we have had a dry season.”
He favored being “proactive” about building a new water treatment facility, pointing out that the current one is more than 70 years old.
Satterfield acknowledged the efforts of audience member Valerie Wallace, executive director of Partnership for Children in Wayne County, before broaching the next topic.
“We have a very significant problem regarding child care and pre-K,” he said. “We see it as a very critical economic problem.”
The issue splinters into different layers, several panelists said — from the cost of child care for parents to the struggle to recruit, retain and adequately pay child care workers.
Polack agreed that providing “livable wages” is a hurdle, on all sides of the equation.
Aycock initially admitted she wasn’t as familiar with the issue, as her own children are now grown.
But then she shared that she was becoming more aware of the concerns, in part because her daughter told her the cost of child care was “as big as her mortgage.” Upon further investigation, Aycock said she has been “shocked” to see the statistics.
“We have got to find people to do child care and then pay a wage to retain them,” she said. “I think it’s an issue we really need to dig into with the county and city.
“We need affordable child care.”
Wallace addressed the concerns, encouraging the audience to read the Ready Nation report. Released in February, it estimated the child care impact on families, businesses and taxpayers had more than doubled since 2018.
“The nation is in crisis,” she said, citing the report’s assessment of the $122 billion annual cost due to the infant-toddler child problem. The state lost $3.2 billion in child care tax revenue, she said.
“We currently have 79 facilities in Wayne County, most are not filled with children because of lack of qualified staff and low wages that they’re paid. It’s a crucial situation in our county.”
It spills over into the workforce and the economic climate, Gurley said. Parents having to juggle child care —ranging from waiting lists to the challenge of finding trained and trusted caregivers — interfering with their ability to work or afford the service.
“I have suggested to our other commissioners that we as a county look at using this as a retention tool through the county,” he said. “We’ve got to have staff to run our county, younger people coming up through the ranks to make it work.”
As the time limit quickly ticked by, the remainder of the session was taken up debating law enforcement — the declining numbers, as well as the cultural climate toward those in the profession.
The flip side of that coin was expressed in Satterfield’s question, “How do we make sure that citizens are safe?”
Polack, who teaches public safety to high school students, said he believes in the three Rs — recruit, reclaim and retain. It’s a challenge, he admitted, as many are departing the profession or heading to areas that pay more, compounded by the lack of respect and risk to their own personal safety.
Nevertheless, he said, recruitment is as important as changing the culture toward police officers. He told the crowd he still wants to advocate for the officers.
“What Taj is talking about is real,” said Gurley. “We’re competing with Wake County, with Johnston County, Nash County. If you do your job, you’ve got a chance of losing everything you work for.
“If you think about it, who wants to be a law enforcement officer?”
Like the other aforementioned topics, each circles back to the need for economic development.
Gurley pointed out that the challenges discussed in the April 25 forum are not unique to Wayne County.
“Everybody’s got the same problems,” he said. “The big issues some (areas have) got more money to throw at it.”
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