12/23/09 — Fremont will end breaks for utilities

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Fremont will end breaks for utilities

By Laura Collins
Published in News on December 23, 2009 1:46 PM

Rental home owners whose properties are vacant will see an increase in their base utility rates.

At a special meeting of the Fremont Board of Aldermen Tuesday night, board members voted 4-1 to do away with the special rental rates the town had been offering. Board member Leroy Ruffin was the dissenting vote.

The rental rates were set up for property owners who did not have renters but still wanted utilities. The town charged them a base fee of $20 per month for electric, water and sewer. The base fee for the rest of the residents is about $56, which also includes a trash collection fee.

Board members voted to change the rental rate fee to be the same base fee as the other residents, not including trash. So the new rental rate fee would be about $42.

The change was the result of several things. For one, Town Administrator Kerry McDuffie said the rental rate was the "most abused thing" in the town, with many people claiming no one was living in the residence, when someone actually was.

"The rental rate encourages people to own rental property, and that's not something that we need to encourage," McDuffie said.

Currently there are about 41 customers receiving the rental rate which, if they all remain customers, could translate into an additional $800 each month for the town.

The decision to take a closer look at the utility rates stemmed from a letter from the Local Government Commission. In the letter, Sharon Edmundson, director of the LGC fiscal management section, cited several concerns with the town's budget.

"The town continues to have serious financial problems which the town's governing board must address," she wrote in the letter.

The first problem noted was its low electrical fund balance. McDuffie said board members addressed that concern at the Dec. 8 board meeting when they voted to increase the electric rate by 4 percent.

Additionally, the town is planning to use the service of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Division of Government to conduct a study of the town's utility rate structure and make recommendations by the Jan. 19 board meeting. The service is of no cost to the town.

"We may not like the results they come back with," McDuffie said. "But if we don't do something, I think the LGC is going to have even more concern then."

Mayor Devone Jones said he thought it was a good idea to get outside input on the rate structure.

"I think they should go ahead and do the work for us and we'll go from there," he said.