12/11/13 — Fremont STEP proposal gets final approval

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Fremont STEP proposal gets final approval

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on December 11, 2013 1:46 PM

FREMONT -- The Fremont Small Town Economic Prosperity grant team met Tuesday to give final approval on a plan for how the town will spend the $100,000 in grant funding from the state.

The North Carolina STEP program allocates $25,000 to a town to use to spend a year planning out how to use $100,000 in funding to boost economic growth in the town.

The bulk of the changes to the rough draft came from NC STEP Coach Chilton Rogers, who mostly made adjustments to the budget for individual projects.

Ms. Rogers allocated the remaining $20,000 of unappropriated planning funds into the implementation of projects, as well as adjusted the expected pay for a STEP administrator from $25,000 to $12,000.

Mayor W. Darron Flowers was uncomfortable with the reduction by over half.

"So instead of us making the decision here, they fix the budget to make the decision there," he said.

NC STEP Coordinator Oliver Bass said that Ms. Rogers' changes were based on her past experience with the cost of the projects.

Flowers was content to let the point sit after Bass' explanation.

The STEP administrator would work part time managing the town's STEP projects.

Another concern for Flowers was that the language of the project template to have the STEP team approve a welcome sign to be placed coming off of I-795 advertising Fremont gave too much power to the committee.

"The way this reads it looks like they would have the power to supersede the board," Flowers said.

Bass explained to the team that all expenditures had to come from the Town Board as well as final approval for all design elements.

"The STEP team is here to help with the work and be responsible for these projects, but the approval for the money has to come from the Town Board," Bass said.

Other changes to the application included merging two housing projects into one to share funding as well as placing other projects together for the same reason.

"If you have $7,000 to spend on developing a website and it only costs $5,000 you can use those extra funds towards another branding project," Bass said.

Following a discussion about the proposed changes a vote to send the grant application to the Town Board of Aldermen for approval at its meeting Dec. 17 passed by a wide margin.

Once the board approves the application it will be presented to the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center for review and must be approved and under contract with the Department of Commerce by Dec. 31.

The funding will be funneled through the Department of Commerce after the expenditures of the Rural Center were called into question and the center was moved under the department.

The STEP team's projects fall under three main strategies: attracting and retaining businesses, attracting retirees and families and developing marketing strategies to accomplish those goals.

The town will have 18 months to implement the projects.

The $100,000 will be provided on a reimbursement basis meaning the city will have to structure its projects in a way that the town can recoup funds from one project to fund another.