Congressman Mike McIntyre, right, talks to mayors from around Johnston County, including Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod.
During a meeting Monday at Smithfield’s Town Hall, Johnston County mayors asked their new congressman to secure funding for variety of local projects. Money for natural-gas expansion was atop their wish list.
Mike McIntyre, a Democrat, is serving his ninth term in Congress, but he’s representing Johnston County for the first time because of redistricting. Monday’s meeting – organized by Smithfield Mayor Daniel Evans – was an informal meet-and-greet with the county’s new congressman. Others on hand were mayors Linwood Parker of Four Oaks, Jody McLeod of Clayton, Cheryl Oliver of Selma, Jeff Holt of Pine Level, William Massengill of Benson and Donald Rains of Princeton
McIntyre is a Democrat in a Republican-leaning county, but the mayors seemed excited to have an experienced, influential congressman in their corner. McLeod, Evans, Holt and Rains endorsed McIntyre in the November election.
McIntyre sits on the House’s Agriculture and Armed Services committees, and his seniority gives him tremendous sway on those committees. Holt referenced such influence after talking about the federal funding Pine Level has received to beef up its infrastructure.
“I’m hoping with your rank, it’ll be a little bit easier to get a piece of that pie,” Holt told McIntyre.
Economic development was the top concern for the mayors, who agreed that broader access to natural gas would be a huge driver of job creation. Several state-certified industrial sites in Selma and Four Oaks lack access to natural gas, and Parker has been pushing hard to change that. He thinks natural gas would attract higher-paying jobs than the retail and distribution jobs the county has been luring of late.
“Because of proximity and the roads we have, we’re growing,” Parker said. “You can fill (the county) up with high-paying jobs or low-paying jobs.”
Last September, county commissioners approved a study to determine whether it was feasible to expand natural gas in Johnston and where new pipelines might go. Parker said he would like to get some help from the federal government.
“We need your help,” he told McIntyre. “We’ve got good county commissioners, but they’re tight.”
Evans, backed by the other mayors, reiterated local opposition to tolling Interstate State 95, which runs the heart of Johnston County. “Development would be spurred along if we don’t have to do a toll,” he said.
Because of Johnston’s growth, the mayors are worried the county could soon be ineligible for rural development grants from the Department of Agriculture. The grants have been a mainstay in the towns’ arsenals for years – Princeton used them to overhaul its aging water and sewer systems.
The town of Clayton, which has exploded in population over the past 10 years, could be the first to outgrow the grants.
“It’s a shame that you work hard and you get the results and then you no longer qualify,” McLeod said.
McIntyre said he had already run into this situation, in Lumberton. In some cases, he was able to get town projects grandfathered in so they could be completed after the changes took effect. “There’s more than one way to skin this cat,” he said.