Dr. John Crumpton retired as Lee County Manager after 16 years on February 28.

By Dr. John Crumpton

The Rant has asked me on several occasions in recent years to write a guest column on topics relevant to local government and Lee County. As the sitting county manager, I never thought it was appropriate to do so.

But with my retirement effective Feb. 28, I decided it would be okay to give a few personal and professional opinions for readers to think about when I am no longer the manager. I certainly will have different perspectives on many issues than readers. Some of my opinions may even shock a few. But my 25 years of experience in local government and seven as an adjunct professor at the UNC School of Government have exposed me to lots of issues that I’ve had to view from various political points of view. Over the next three months I will give you a look into how a local government manager thinks. The first topic will be growth.

No issue is more difficult to manage in local government than growth. I’ve managed in several hot spot areas such as Emerald Isle, Morrisville, Scotland County and Lee County. Each jurisdiction had their unique issues with growth (or lack of growth). No matter the town, city or county, there are always two camps – pro-growth and anti-growth. It’s always surprised me when people say “we aren’t ready for growth.” Why? Every board I worked for was pro-growth. Whether it was building homes, or expanding commercial and industrial areas, growth was always the focal point. Growing tax base and creating jobs was what most politicians ran on. So, when people say we aren’t ready, who are they talking about?

Locally, the city of Sanford and Lee County have been partners in an effort to grow since I started here 16 years ago. In 2013, both boards along with the town of Broadway, the Lee County Economic Development Corporation, and the Sanford Chamber of Commerce began in intensive review of how to attract growth. After working with a consultant for almost a year, the Sanford Lee County Partnership for Prosperity, later renamed the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, was created. All meetings of the working group were open to the public and local media wrote about the work. The goal of SAGA is to create economic growth which includes new jobs and investment in our community. The city, county and SAGA set the course that would lead to our current economic boom back in 2014.

Seeing that growth was coming, the various partners began updating our joint land use plan. Again, numerous public meetings were held seeking input on how we should grow into the future. The plan outlined the growth corridors for the city, where they would extend sewer and improve water services. All three boards adopted the plan in 2016. Due to the rapid growth in recent years, the plan now needs to be updated. Citizens will get another opportunity to take part in the growth plan.

The county has been preparing for growth by planning for future parks and recreation facilities and a new library. The county has also built reserves to address capital and opportunities that may come up in the future. Our capital improvement plan outlines our needs for the future. The county’s financial position has never been better. County staff has been watching and preparing for growth. So, when people say we aren’t ready, they can’t be talking about Lee County Government. Normally they are talking about two major issues – roads and schools.

The county is not responsible for roads under North Carolina law. That responsibility falls to the city of Sanford and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Both have done an excellent job expanding U.S. 1 and building the 421 Bypass. I know Tramway is a bottle neck on U.S. 1 and needs to be addressed. Outside of this area, future projects in the DOT transportation improvement plan will continue to address traffic issues in our community. We are in a lot better shape than a lot of surrounding communities.

So that leaves the county responsibility to build schools. This includes K-12 schools and Central Carolina Community College. We do not have an immediate need to build new schools for the K-12 system. Over six years ago a report given to the County Commissioners showed the seating capacity in total for all schools in Lee County Schools to be 10,400. At that time, the average daily membership was around 10,100. We were headed for needing a new school, and then an interesting thing happened – ADM began to drop. The ADM in September of 2022 was around 9,200 students. With three new charter schools, growth in two private schools and over 800 students now being home schooled, the need for a new school in Lee County is not imminent.

Depending on who is looking at the numbers, there are between 800 to 1,200 seats available in Lee County Schools. If growth in the public schools started, there would probably be a need to redistrict to take advantage of the current seating capacity. We can also add trailers to elementary and middle schools while we are getting ready for the construction of new schools.

That’s not to say there won’t be a need down the road. Due to the number of residential units approved for building by the city and county, planning has begun. Now that we know where the residential growth will occur in Lee County and Sanford, we can begin the acquisition of future school sites. Once the county and Board of Education own the sites it will reduce the time to build a new school by 12 months.

Speaking for Lee County Government, I can say we are ready for the growth. Plans are in place and I am confident the county can adapt and grow to meet the needs of the citizens.

So that leaves who isn’t ready? To be honest, it’s usually the people saying we’re not ready. When a citizen steps up to the podium and says we aren’t ready for all these new developments, I believe they’re really saying they aren’t ready for those developments to land in their backyard. People are continually asking for change, but often have a problem adapting to it.

I hear a lot of people say they would like a Target in our community. Target, like most major commercial companies, looks at population and household income as the top two matrices (along with many others) as indicators of where to locate a new store. As our community grows in population and continues to add jobs that pay really well, we will become more attractive to companies like Target. We are getting very close to their numbers. Are you ready for a Target to come to Sanford? The answer is probably yes. Are you still ready if it lands in your backyard or causes more traffic as you leave your home?