Johnston loses rural status and is trying to get it back.

pseligson@newsobserver.comMay 12, 2014 

When the state shuttered its Rural Economic Development Center, Johnston County lost a pipeline to grant dollars.

After a News & Observer investigation exposed misuse of money at the Rural Center, the state Department of Commerce absorbed the agency’s duties and money.

But unlike the Rural Center, the Department of Commerce doesn’t consider Johnston rural, Chris Johnson, the county’s economic-development director, told County Commissioners last week.

Johnston County governments received a number of Rural Center grants over the years. Among them: $700,000 to Clayton to build infrastructure for Northeast Foods, which bakes buns for McDonald’s; $200,000 to bring St. Joseph of the Pines, an adult-care company, to Smithfiled; and about $23,000 to Benson to begin planning water-system improvements.

Johnston isn’t the only county that lost its rural designation when the Department of Commerce became the grant maker. And Johnson said the N.C. Economic Developers Association is lobbying the Department of Commerce to return the rural designation to needy counties.

Specifically, the association wants the Department of Commerce to split counties, using Census tracts to define what’s urban and what’s rural. If that happened, most of Johnston County would be rural again. The only losers: Clayton and perhaps Smithfield.

For his part, Johnson told commissioners that he wants all of the county to win back its rural designation.

Commissioners said they would write state lawmakers urging them to make Johnston rural again.

911 improvements

Johnston County is making a change that could improve 911 response times.

When a person dials 911, the dispatcher sends help to the address. But an address doesn’t always tell emergency responders exactly where the person is, said Jason Barbour, the county’s 911 director. For instance, he said, a person might live on a farm, with the farmhouse and surrounding buildings tucked far off the road.

Barbour and Rhonda Norris, the county’s director of Geographic Information Systems, are changing the way Johnston marks properties. Soon, each building on a property will have its own GPS coordinate. That will aid 911 dispatchers while improving record-keeping for other county departments, such as the tax office.

“The beautiful thing about it is every address in Johnston County will be GPS,” Barbour said. “So if we have somebody in a parcel in a field, in a tree stand ... if they call 911, it’s going to give us the closest known address, which can be several miles away from the road. Now with this technology, it would give us the GPS coordinates for that actual parcel. So it should help reduce response times and make response a little more accurate.”

The county was able to mark about 75 percent of properties on its own through deeds and other records. The county will pay Atlas Geographic Data Inc. $172,000 to finish the process. That money will come from the state.

The new system wont change anyone’s address; it will just change the way the county internally keeps track of addresses.

Other business

Josh Holloman, EMS chief, gave an update on his department. Notably, service calls continue to increase each year. In 2013, EMS received 19,849 calls, up 3.3 percent from 19,202 calls in 2012.

EMS workers are also saving more people whose heart stops. In 2013, the county responded to 179 cardiac arrests, and emergency responders saved 27. These people were able to return home without any or significant brain damage. This is thanks largely to a new method of inducing hypothermia with chilled IV fluid.

Commissioners will start their 2014-15 budget process next month. The first public hearing will be at 10 a.m. Monday, June 2, and the commissioners will hold their first budget meeting later that day, at 6 p.m., after hearing one rezoning case.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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