09/15/13 — STEP program deadline approaching

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STEP program deadline approaching

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on September 15, 2013 1:50 AM


FREMONT -- Fremont's Small Town Economic Prosperity Program is trying to get back on track after a Thursday meeting between STEP representatives and local town leaders and residents.

Chilton Rogers, the NC STEP program coordinator with the North Carolina Rural Center, came to town with Olliver Bass, the STEP representative to Fremont, to help guide town leaders toward having the projects under contract by December.

Some of the projects are developing facade grants to beautify the downtown area, develop a farmers market and attract new businesses to the area.

Town Administrator Kerry McDuffie spoke to the group assembled in the Town Hall before the meeting started at 2 p.m.

"I'm gonna be a little bit negative here, but we are not moving as quickly as we can be. We need to move quicker to get out projects to the Rural Center by November," McDuffie said. "So the question is, 'Is Fremont willing to help ourselves?'"

After the meeting, McDuffie said he was excited by the response that the STEP committees showed and that he was optimistic about meeting the November deadline.

At the meeting questions were raised about the security of the $100,000 in implementation funds expected by Fremont following an investigation into the Rural Center's use of money and its shift to the state Department of Commerce. At one point, the money had been frozen by state officials concerned over the operation of the Rural Center.

Mrs. Rogers assured the group that despite the controversy surrounding the agency, the money would be provided to Fremont on schedule.

"We're still here, I'm still employed," Mrs. Rogers said.

In the next two months, the town will need to have pared down its 14 months of planning into well-defined, detailed project plans to present to the Rural Center.

"You're not in as bad a shape as you think. You have a lot of projects here to work with," Mrs. Rogers said.

She told the STEP committees they would need to meet between scheduled meetings with their groups to have the details of the projects fleshed out.

The strategies in Fremont center on attracting and retaining new businesses as well as new residents in the area and the development of downtown business growth.

"In October, you should have the projects pretty much completed, with your i's dotted and your t's crossed," Mrs. Rogers said.

She made it clear that STEP funds could be used for developing plans to bring about the goals the town representatives have identified.

The projects themselves would be expected to be funded through a variety of partners, such as private investors and grants.

By the Sept. 24 meeting, Mrs. Rogers said that she would expect a draft of the strategy narrative to be completed.

The members could choose to reduce the numbers of ideas to make the project more manageable to stop from developing ideas they aren't going to work on right at the front of the project to make the November deadline.