03/28/13 — Fremont touts schools, debunks rates

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Fremont touts schools, debunks rates

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 28, 2013 1:46 PM

FREMONT -- Promoting Fremont's high-quality schools while debunking the town's reputation for high utility rates needs to be pursued as the town looks for ways to make itself more attractive to potential newcomers.

That was the consensus opinion Tuesday night of members of Fremont's Small Towns Economic Prosperity program committee.

How best to accomplish those goals is still to be worked out, said Fremont Town Administrator Kerry McDuffie.

The STEP program is a state program that uses community coaching, leadership training, planning assistance and grants to help struggling small towns with economic renewal.

A part of the state Rural Economic Development Center, the program is open to municipalities with a population of 7,500 or less.

Some 25 people attended Tuesday's meeting, including some who live outside the town but who have a business in town or have other interests there.

The town was accepted into the program last June and has been moving through the organizational and planning stages since then. The discussion has now turned more to strategy and possible projects.

"We just talked over ideas to slowly move through the planning process," McDuffie said. "We are getting more into the strategy of what makes a good community and what people are looking for.

"What are the things that we need to do to draw good people? Good schools, we have those."

Fremont has a reputation for having higher utility rates, but looking at the rates the town is not the highest in the area, he said. However, there are a number of older homes in the town that use more energy, creating higher bills because they have not been made energy efficient, he said.

"We could do a public campaign to let people know the rates are not the highest," McDuffie said. "Our community has reasonable rates and we need to let people know that."

Just as importantly is letting people know about the quality of schools in the area, McDuffie said.

"We have some of the best schools in the county," he said. "Good quality schools are a good draw, particularly for families."

The committee approved its vision statement that reads, "Fremont, the Daffodil Town, is a small active town, where citizens of any age can participate in a wide range of recreation, community, and educational experiences in a safe and friendly environment. Fremont has well-kept properties and a 21st century progressive infrastructure that make economic growth and development possible for those who live here."

The next meeting will be Tuesday, April 23 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Fremont Town Hall. The public is invited.

Fremont has received $25,000 for planning and technical assistance from an economic development adviser. Once the town develops a plan for economic development the state will provide $100,000 to implement it.

The N.C. Rural Economic Development Center is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop sound economic strategies that improve the quality of life in rural North Carolina, with a special focus on individuals with low to moderate incomes and communities with limited resources.