05/11/05 — Fremont tax, utility rates not likely to rise

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Fremont tax, utility rates not likely to rise

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on May 11, 2005 1:50 PM

FREMONT -- Fremont residents won't be paying more in property taxes in 2005-06 and might not be paying more in utility fees.

The town board did not discuss its current 65-cent tax rate during Tuesday night's budget workshop in Town Hall. But Town Administrator Kerry McDuffie has said he does not plan to propose a tax increase. The 65-cent rate is a 30 percent hike from the 2003-04 rate of 50 cents.

McDuffie said the sewer and water charges and the monthly garbage fee also would remain the same.

The administrator presented a budget that also called for the same electric rates. But he noted that ElectriCities had passed on four recent increases that total 8.7 percent to the town. The town has absorbed the increases.

McDuffie said that if Fremont does not increase its electric charges, the town would have a $194,000 shortfall. The expected revenue from the current rates would bring in about $1.2 million, he said, but the town would spend about $1.4 million for electricity.

Alderman Leon Mooring said Progress Energy, which supplies electric power to ElectriCities, has increased rates because of higher fuel costs.

McDuffie's proposed budget contains only slight increases for each department.

The proposed general fund budget was $784,000, about $21,000 more than last year. McDuffie also put $33,790 in a first-time contingency fund. He said he hoped that the money would not be spent and could be used to get the fund balance in the black and closer to the 8 percent surplus recommended by state officials. The total budget was $2,958,000.

One full-time police officer position was removed from the budget. The position became vacant when Officer Andrew Smith resigned and accepted a similar job in Stantonsburg. McDuffie said that spot would be filled by two part-time officers who would be paid less. Three full-time officers and one part-timer remain.

McDuffie's proposed budget includes $20,000 for two police cars and said he hopes to get grant money to make up the difference. Mooring noted that one car was needed but questioned the need for a second. Neil Mallory, the town's contracted adviser, also said that state grants may not be available.

Last week, McDuffie asked the board members to rank their budget priorities.

The four highest-ranked items -- the town's 401K plan, Christmas decorations, storm drainage and street striping -- were kept in the budget. But the three lowest-ranking items -- a minimum housing code, economic development and cemetery development -- were left out.

McDuffie also suggested that the town use state Powell Bill funds to buy two blades for its dump trucks and salt spray equipment for snow removal.

"This is a big improvement over last year, but we're not out of the woods," Mayor Devone Jones said of the budget proposal.

The board scheduled another workshop on June 7 and a public hearing on the budget during its June 21 regular meeting.