07/24/13 — Fremont STEP money in doubt

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Fremont STEP money in doubt

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on July 24, 2013 1:46 PM


FREMONT -- The freezing of money for the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center could hurt funding for the North Carolina Small Town Economic Prosperity Program that Fremont has been working with to boost economic development.

For the past few weeks Fremont has been working through the NC STEP Program to come up with projects to spur business growth.

But at the NC STEP meeting Tuesday night, Mayor Darron Flowers announced that funding through the Rural Center has been frozen by the state.

The NC STEP Program allocates $25,000 for planning projects to develop economic prosperity in rural communities and then grants $100,000 of seed money for project implementation once the project plan is approved by the Rural Center.

"Whether we get the $100,000 or not I think we should finish out the program because it is useful to us anyways," said Flowers.

Flowers asked the committees involved if they would continue to meet if the funding didn't come through and they responded that they would.

Oliver Bass, chief planner with the Division of Community Assistance in the Department of Commerce, on loan to the Rural Center, has been helping Fremont to work with the NC STEP program. He was asked if he would be able to continue to attend the Fremont STEP meetings.

Bass responded that while he could continue to attend the meetings, the town would have to pay for his time and travel.

"The board (of aldermen) can't decide that, the town will have to make that decision," said Flowers. "I don't know, this could all be cleared up in a month. My hope is that the state will follow through with at least the $25,000. I assume we'll be treated decent by the state."

There are four town committees, each focusing on a different aspect of Fremont: developing new businesses, developing current businesses, building community support for locally-owned businesses and housing.

Flowers asked Bass if different types of projects that have been discussed would continue to be funded through the Rural Center. Projects discussed include the creation of a farmers market or housing improvements to make buildings more energy efficient.

Bass said that the Rural Center would likely fund studies for those projects but he was not sure about the projects themselves.

He advised that the town undertake a consumer study to determine what industries might flourish in Fremont and which ones would likely not prosper.

When asked how much a study like that would cost, Judy Hills, executive director with the Eastern Carolina Council, said that she could perform the study for about $10,000.

The council is a community planning corporation based in New Bern that serves nine eastern counties.

Bass reminded town board members that they would have to invest some of their own money in the projects as well as the NC STEP seed money, if it becomes available.