05/16/07 — Fremont officials not expected to raise taxes or fees

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Fremont officials not expected to raise taxes or fees

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 16, 2007 1:45 PM

No new taxes in Fremont -- at least for now.

The Fremont Board of Aldermen got its first opportunity to see the town's preliminary budget Tuesday night. But the balanced budget, which does not call for any tax, fee or rate increases, could need revisions before the budget is implemented on July 1, Town Administrator Kerry McDuffie said.

"I do feel comfortable with what we have, but we should make some changes," McDuffie said.

The Local Government Commission also could make its own alterations to the town's budget. Although budget amendments are needed near the end of each fiscal year, McDuffie said there could be more than usual because the commission wants the town's financial books updated.

"We shouldn't expect to collect due bills from 25 years ago. We just need more current books and the Local Government Commission will come in and help," McDuffie said.

The initial budget presented Tuesday night requests a 2.5 percent pay increase for all town employees. Fremont police officers would receive an additional $1,000 in an attempt to reduce turnover in the department. In the past year, Fremont has been forced to spend more than $10,000 on qualifying tests and hiring needs for new police officers because of the high turnover rate. McDuffie said he believes it would be cheaper to give more money up front to keep officers on the payroll.

Fremont's current tax rate is 65 cents per $100 worth of property.

Much of next year's budget focuses on the town's sewage costs. The town pays for all of Fremont's sewage to be sent to Goldsboro's wastewater treatment plant, which it has done since 2003. Problems with the town's inflow and infiltration have caused those costs to increase over the past five years.

Improvements to the system and a lack of significant rain in the past several months have kept costs down, but McDuffie proposed that the town create a budget line item of $300,000 to be paid to Goldsboro.

As improvements to inflow and infiltration continue over the next year, the town is also considering opening its old spray field to handle some of its own sewage.

The original site is about 44 acres, but the town owns another 33 acres surrounding the former spray field. A contract the board approved Tuesday night would allow The Wooten Company to conduct soil samples and other tests of the fields to ensure that the spray field could be reopened. The company also would provide engineering reports, designs and construction. The initial tests would cost $5,800 and the company's employees would be paid based on a predetermined hourly rate.

If it is proven that the spray field cannot be reopened, then the town would only owe the company expenses to that point up to $15,000. If the entire project is completed, it will cost about $22,000. The money would come from a previous loan for improvements to the sewer system, McDuffie said.

A reopened spray field would significantly reduce the amount of sewage being sent to Goldsboro's wastewater treatment plant. McDuffie estimated last week that a reopened spray field with a capacity of 80,000 gallons of sewer per day would save Fremont about $400 a day, or $12,000 a month, that is now being paid to Goldsboro.

Although the project would require the hiring of another town employee and additional supplies and equipment, McDuffie said the town could save $80,000 a year.

That cost reduction would be crucial to a sewer system that is not financially self-sufficient, McDuffie said. The sewer system was originally installed in the 1920s and major improvements did not begin until about five years ago.

Some of the other recommendations in the preliminary budget include hiring a part-time worker to assist at Town Hall during the busiest days of the week and providing more money towards the town's annual Daffodil Festival. Fremont usually provides town services and a $300 donation, but McDuffie said the town should be willing to give a $500.

"All of these changes are based on conversations with staff and their recommendations. All of this is a starting point," McDuffie said.

The board agreed to meet at 7 p.m. next Tuesday to further discuss the budget and consider any changes that need to be made.