06/16/04 — Fremont residents may face bigger bills

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Fremont residents may face bigger bills

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on June 16, 2004 2:01 PM

FREMONT -- Fremont residents will have to dig deeper in their wallets -- maybe much deeper -- if the town's proposed budget is approved.

The town's new administrator, Kerry McDuffie, presented a balanced budget on Tuesday night that called for a 30 percent increase in the property tax, a 25 percent hike in the sewer rate and a 2 percent raise in the electricity rate.

"I feel terrible about it," first-term Mayor Devone Jones said during the town board meeting in Town Hall.

"We can't operate with nothing. It's a hard decision, and no one hates it more than we do. If we don't do it, citizens will be dissatisfied because they won't be getting the services."

The proposed tax rate, 65 cents per $100 valuation, is a 15-cent jump from the current 50-cent rate.

The basic monthly sewer rate is $17.50. McDuffie said the surcharge would rise from $5.25 per 1,000 gallons to about $7.

McDuffie also noted that last year the town spent $50,000 from its savings to balance the budget, leaving only $44,000. That's less than what the state requires.

Fremont's biggest problem, McDuffie said, is a $630,000 sewer bill from Goldsboro, and town customers paid only $460,000. Because of leaky sewer lines and service lines to customers, Fremont is sending a large amount of rainwater to the Goldsboro sewer plant. That problem, Alderman Billy Harvey said, "is killing us."

The 25 percent increase in the sewer rate, McDuffie said, would take care of Goldsboro's bill and the lack of money in savings.

"I don't know anything we can do to run the town more efficiently," he said. "The only thing we can do is cut certain services. Do we want that amount of a tax increase or do we want to cut services?" he asked the board.

Jones suggested that the sewer increase be held to 20 percent and to remove the electrical increase. The mayor said he hoped U.S. Rep. Walter Jones would help the town get a grant for its continuing sewer problems.

Mayor Jones said the town had cut everything from the budget that it can.

"What we're doing," he said, "will help in the future."

Last year the former board cut the tax rate from 55 cents to 50 cents because property had been revalued. Most property increased in value.

The public will get a chance to comment on the budget during a special town board meeting June 29.

One audience member, Priscilla Cummings, already told the board how she felt about it.

"If these increases are approved," she said, "we'll be near about a ghost town."

She said she would sell her two homes and move away.

But Mayor Jones responded, "We've tried to cut the budget. If we're going to have a town of Fremont, we need it."