Goals achieved, continuation of forward movement in 2022
Like the year that preceded it, 2021 presented unique challenges in Harnett County, including the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and continued residential growth resulting in increased service demand on County departments. Harnett County’s elected leaders and County employees rose to the challenge to meet the changing needs of County residents.
In February 2021, County Commissioners adopted their annual Legislative Priorities, which focused on five key areas: Broadband, Economic Development, Transportation, Education, and Harnett Regional Jetport. Over the past year, the County has made considerable progress in these key areas.
“I want to commend the Board on a concerted effort to get Harnett County headed in the right direction,” stated Harnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman Lewis Weatherspoon. “By working together, we have been able to start meeting the challenges facing the County and its citizens.”
In 2020, the Board of Commissioners entered into a partnership with Wilmington-based Internet Service Provider (ISP) CloudWyze to expand Broadband in Harnett County. In 2021, the Board committed $2 million in displaced CARES Act funding to the first phase of a project to install Broadband infrastructure on cell and water towers throughout the County to bring wireless Broadband Internet to residents.
The first phase includes towers north of the Cape Fear River, and the first residents will be able to subscribe to Broadband through this project in early 2022. In addition to this project, the County has commissioned CloudWyze to develop a Countywide Broadband deployment plan that will include a combination of fiber and wireless solutions. Commissioners hope to use funding from the County’s $26.4 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation to continue extending Broadband to unserved and underserved parts of the County. The County will also apply for State and Federal grants to help offset these costs and reduce the burden on the County’s taxpayers.
County Commissioners contracted with an economic development consulting firm, Rose & Associates, to assess the County’s existing economic development efforts and to develop a strategic plan to guide future economic development efforts. In 2021, the Board of Commissioners accomplished the following goals in Economic Development:
With the increasing residential growth in Harnett County and demand for better road infrastructure, Commissioners prioritized enhancing transportation corridor projects for County residents, which included:
County Commissioners collaborated with the Harnett County Board of Education on several projects and initiatives, including:
In June 2021, the Board voted to change management of Harnett Regional Jetport from a private fixed-base operator to a County-managed department, which was the first step in taking ownership over the jetport and fully realizing its potential as a major economic engine for the County. Along with this management change, the Board worked with Harnett County’s State legislative delegation to secure $6 million dollars in funding for the construction of a much-needed new terminal building at the Jetport. In addition to the new terminal, the County also moved forward with a runway lighting rehabilitation project and apron expansion project at the Jetport.
Along with these five key priorities, Commissioners were able to support citizens through the following initiatives, Commissioners
In addition, Commissioners also focused on enhancing the County government workforce to address employee compensation issues and move toward a culture that values high performance and empowers employees to provide top-notch services to residents. In July and August of 2021, the Board addressed pay and retention issues for mission critical employees, including sworn law enforcement officers, first responders, code enforcement, and transit drivers. Following a very positive County audit for Fiscal Year 2021 and higher-than-forecasted sales tax projections for the current year, the Board made the decision to address the County’s remaining employees, raising employee salaries to competitive levels and allowing the County to compete for highly skilled and experienced employees in the region. The Board also provided a one-time bonus for County employees who provided and continued to provide essential services for citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Board also embarked on a process to develop the County’s first ever Strategic Plan, partnering with the UNC School of Government and Consultant Rebecca Jackson who led the Board, County Management, and the County’s department heads in strategic planning sessions to help create a mission, vision, and organizational values for Harnett County Government, along with goals for the next one to five years. The County also solicited feedback from citizens and employees to inform the plan during multiple in-person and virtual community and staff input meetings. A draft plan will be presented to the Board in February and upon adoption, the plan will help inform the Board’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget priorities and provide County departments with clear direction regarding priority areas for the county.
Following the retirement of County Manager Paula Stewart in June 2021 ,the Board brought in George Wood to serve as Interim County Manager and lead County Government operations while the Board searched for a permanent County Manager. The Board hired Slavin Management Consultants to engage in a nationwide search for a new County Manager, which resulted in the hiring of former Topeka, Kansas City Manager, Brent Trout, in December 2021.
County Commissioners plan to continue this forward movement for the County in 2022.
“Our goals for this upcoming year haven’t changed a lot from our 2021 goals,” stated Weatherspoon. “We still have a lot of work to do. We need to get broadband to underserved areas in the county; work to make Harnett County attractive to new companies and help bring good paying jobs to the county; continue to push for transportation improvements; upgrade our school system with better pay, supplements for teachers and better, new schools; and continue supporting County employees and enhancing the quality of service the County provides our citizens.”
This Spring, Commissioners plan to finalize the Strategic Plan and task County Management with putting this comprehensive plan into action. As part of plan implementation, the County will continue working with the School of Government to add a Performance Management system to track progress on plan objectives and results. Annual performance reports will also be made available to the public to highlight the County’s accomplishments and track progress toward the County’s goals.
The Board will also adopt a plan for the use of the County’s $26.4 million ARPA allocation, which offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the County to make substantial progress on numerous priority projects like Broadband expansion.
Commissioners have also updated their Legislative Priorities and will meet with the County’s State and Federal Legislative delegation in February to discuss the Board’s priorities for the coming year and opportunities to continue to meet the needs of Harnett County’s residents.
For more information on the Harnett County Board of Commissioners, visit www.harnett.org/boc.