SEVEN SPRINGS -- "I am planning to come back. I will be here God willing," Seven Springs Mayor Stephen Potter said Friday morning as he stood in his gutted Main Street home.
Potter is rebuilding following the historic flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew in October -- he is not sure how many of his neighbors will return.
And he has heard the rumors that Seven Springs, devastated by two major floods in 17 years, will give up its charter and cease to exist as an incorporated town.
Potter is hopeful that a meeting between Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and county officials and local residents will provide some answers.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, at Seven Springs Baptist Church at 5924 N.C. 55 East.
"Certainly we want to keep this as an incorporated town if possible, but you do run into an issue," Potter said. "The state laws have changed on annexation and in talking dollars if you are going to have a municipal government, you've got to have money to run it. I don't know how many people will be left when everything is said and done."
Prior to the flood the town had a population of around 115.
"My guess is, just based on what I am hearing, I am thinking roughly around 50 (residents will return)," Potter said. "That is just what I am hearing. Everybody can say what they are going to do, but when the rubber hits the road it is going to come down to what people can afford to do as to what will eventually happen."
The town had only a handful of businesses prior to the flood, and Potter is not sure how many will return. He doesn't think many will. Also, the county has relocated its EMS unit and the fire department is looking for a new home as well.
"I will be happy when I can actually see them putting it back together," Potter said of his home. "I will feel better, I think, then. Just sitting here watching them tear it apart has just really hurt my heart. Watching it all you feel like the town is dying, and there is nothing that you can do about it, but watch it happen.
"You just can't fix all of this. That's the hard part for me. I know what my situation is, but I have neighbors who have it far worse, far worse, than I do, and what can you do? What can you do? But we will keep trying, and we will see where we end up. Even if the rumors, even if that pans out and dropping the charter becomes a reality, we will still be a village. We will still be a community which is what we were up until 1951. I think it was 1951 when we incorporated."
The only difference is there won't be a mayor or a town board and all of that to worry with, he said.
"I hate to say this, but it is an option," Potter said. "It may come to that. I don't know. I think, right now, it is wait and see and get information. You have got to be financially viable. That is what we have got to look at. If FEMA buys out (lots), they bought 11 residential lots after the '99 flood, and that hurt our tax base terribly because you can't rebuild on those properties. We have invited everyone in the town (to the Thursday meeting) of course and in the community who has questions that they need answers to," Potter said. "It will be a good opportunity for them to get all of the players at the same time and hear the same information.
"One of the things that I have found in this process is depending on who you talk to you might get three different answers from three different sources. This was a way that I thought would be good to get everyone on the same page and hearing the same thing. We felt that was a good way to start to go ahead and let the community hear all the information we as a town board and mayor are hearing."
The meeting will give residents a chance to have questions answered and maybe get some help, he said.
"I think they are not going to be able to go and apply for services there, but they can at least get pointed in the right direction if they have run into any roadblocks, because at this point obviously everyone has started their process and some may be running into roadblocks," he said.
Potter said he knows of some who have run into obstacles.
"So maybe they can get some guidance out of this meeting on where they need to go," he said.
Potter and the town board will meet with areas residents following the session to talk about "where are we going with the town," he said.
"That way the commissioners can all hear the same thing that I am hearing," he said. "Seven Springs, they (government officials) have told us is a priority. The state recognizes it as a priority. How that will shake out of we don't know.
"We talked about where we are going to be and how many people are going to be coming back. Unfortunately, my understanding at the county level most of the people who are looking for help are looking at buyouts versus flood proofing like raising (a dwelling) or whatever -- a vast majority."
One factor that could play into who returns is that the town's population has changed since the Floyd flood, he said.
"One of the main differences between now and where we were in '99 (following Hurricane Floyd) all of these homes around here in '99 were occupied by mostly older residents who have been here a number of years," Potter said. "In that 17-year span since then many of those people have passed away or moved on.
"Their relatives didn't choose to come back to live here so most of those properties were made into rental properties. I just don't know how many of those are going to get built back. That is the big difference I think, where we are now and where we were then. Plus it was a larger flood event."
What also needs to be taken into account is that flooding caused by Floyd and Matthew have been 500-year floods within 17 years of one another, he said.
"It kind of makes you wonder, is this going to be kind of the new normal for our area?" he said. "That has ramifications not only for us in Seven Springs, but Wayne County as well. We were not the only folks who flooded out during this storm. That impacts a lot."
For now the town's finance are in good shape to get it through the year, he said.
The town has received flood insurance for the town hall, which is located in the old Baptist Church building. But Potter said he is not sure it will be sufficient to rebuild it or not.
Also, the building is in the floodway.
"Do we want to go back and rebuild right where it is, just like it is or do we need to raise it or do we need to move to another location for town hall," Potter said. "Those are all things that the commissioners are going to have to decide.
"As small as our town is going to be, I think we are going to have some serious questions we have to answer about what kind of building will meet our needs. I think everybody probably has different thoughts on that."
Potter said he does not want to deal with the same thing happening to a town hall the next time the Neuse River floods.
Seven Springs canceled its Christmas November Christmas parade, traditionally the first held in the county, because of the flooding. The town holds its Ole Timey Days celebration on the second Saturday in May.
Potter does not think the town will be in shape to pull off the festival this year. However, there has been some talk about holding a street dance.
"If we have made some progress, we might try to do at least something," he said. "That is just something that is in the talking stage. We thought it would be a good idea to let people know that we are still around and haven't gone away yet.
"Maybe we will be well off enough by next November to do a Christmas parade. We will see. Regardless of how it plays out, those of us that are here aren't going away. We will still be here."