09/22/13 — Fremont starts working on STEP grant strategies

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Fremont starts working on STEP grant strategies

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on September 22, 2013 1:50 AM

FREMONT -- With a November deadline looming, the Fremont Small Town Economic Prosperity program committees met individually Tuesday to work on pulling together strategy statements.

The purpose is to attract business to and to retain business in Fremont, to provide quality housing options for families and retirees and to encourage the renovation and re-purposing of vacant properties.

The statement will address not only the means to achieve the ends, but obstacles that could interfere with accomplishing the goals.

The STEP program, offered through the North Carolina Rural Center, grants a municipality $25,000 to plan how to use a $100,000 grant as seed money to implement change in their community.

The project templates are due in November, with the goal of having the projects under contract by December.

The templates will include pricing information as well as what the committees expect to achieve, whether that be developing a downtown Streetscape plan or implementing a farmers' market to promote tourism.

Other projects on the table are to develop a housing packet to attract prospective home buyers.

Currently, about 15 percent of the town's houses are sitting empty, with another 50 percent renter-occupied, Town Administrator Kerry McDuffie said.

"I've come to know two teachers at (Charles B. Aycock High School) that got a job from out of the area. They'd never lived in Wayne County before, and they live in Goldsboro because they didn't know we were here," McDuffie said. "We could get together a packet for area employers to give to new hires with their job offer."

Another idea from the housing group is to provide current residents with a packet explaining energy efficiency strategies to keep utility bills, which are notoriously high in Fremont, down.

McDuffie said that the main reason for the higher bills relates to the age of the houses, most of which were built in the 1960s. If those houses were improved, the utility costs would drop, he said.

Fremont also faces the added challenge of competing with area municipalities serviced by Duke Energy Progress, he added. Fremont is part of ElectriCities, a municipality-owned power cooperative, which adds about 30 percent to the rate residents pay.

Fremont could walk away from the cooperative, but not without paying off $6.4 million owed to the cooperative -- an obligation that is slated to be paid off in 2026.

STEP committee member Keith Spivey said when he contacts developers to ask them to consider bringing new construction to Fremont, they tell him "there's nothing there."

Spivey said he disagrees, adding that Fremont has a lot to offer.

"We have the attraction of easy access to I-795 to eliminate morning and afternoon traffic," he said.