SEVEN SPRINGS -- The post office will reopen in this flood-ravaged village.
Even though no timetable was mentioned the nearly 70 people attending a town-hall style meeting Thursday broke into applause when that announcement was made just minutes after residents of Wayne County's oldest community had worried over what their address would be should the town give up its charter.
"I know that there have been a lot of rumors flying about what will happen to Seven Springs," said Stephen Potter, who introduced himself as the mayor of flood city. "Let me say this right now, nothing is going to happen to Seven Springs immediately. Anything that happens is going to happen over time."
"We have talked about a plan in order to move forward, and I think that is something all you who live in the village are going to have to have input in as well as our commissioners."
The meeting, held in the Seven Springs Baptist Church fellowship hall between residents and officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local officials, was called to allow residents to ask questions and discuss the town's future.
Cities and counties are created by an act of the General Assembly, said Norma Houston with the UNC School of Government. It can dissolve counties, it can merge counties, create towns and uncreate towns, she said
Deciding if the town will remain incorporated is not easy or quick, she said.
"If you decide, and this is really your decision as a community working with your board members to ultimately answer this question," she said. "Anytime your charter is amended, it has to happen by the General Assembly. So for the town of Seven Springs to no longer be an incorporated municipality that can only ultimately be passed legally by the General Assembly passing a bill that repeals your charter."
Residents would not be allowed to vote to unincorporate unless authorized to do so by the General Assembly, she said.
"The town board has no legal authority to take a vote to suspend or revoke or give up your charter," Ms. Houston said. "The mayor cannot stand on Main Street and rip your charter in half, and say, 'We are no longer a town.'
"The General Assembly could repeal your charter and make that repeal subject to a vote to the people and/or the town board. But again, you would have to decide (if) that is what you wanted, and you would have to talk to your representatives in Raleigh, the Senators and House members who represent your community, and they would have to file legislation, and that bill would have to be passed."
There is much to consider, she said.
Should the town unincorporate, residents would no longer pay town taxes and the community would no longer receive state funding including Powell Bill funds for streets, she said.
"So the streets you have in your town not on the state system, either DOT takes them if they are up to DOT standards, or they become private roads and those who live on them would become responsible for maintaining them," she said.
Also, there would be no town board or town employees and any assets and fund balance would remain public property and would have to be transferred to another governmental entity such as the county, she said.
"Tax bills already gone out," Potter said. "We have revenue. We are going to be fine this year. Next year, I am guessing, those tax revenues are not going to look as pretty. So we are going to have a shortfall we know. Thankfully, we have been careful about what we have expended through the years, and I think we are sound enough that next year we can survive that financially with very little more income.
"But a lot more goes into it than just our property taxes in the town of Seven Springs. If we are going to survive on property taxes alone in Seven Springs, your tax rate would probably be about four times what the county rate is. We get our money primarily from state funds -- sales taxes and franchise taxes."
That revenue amounts to roughly 66 percent of the town's operating budget. The rest is town property taxes, he said.
"We aren't having to look at oh, my God. What are we going to have to do right now?" Potter said. "But there is going to come a day because we don't know how many people are going to come back.
"We don't know how many people are going to sell out to FEMA. The bottom line is we have some people in the town limits who aren't going to flood."
County Planner Chip Crumpler said his office has received a mix of buyout and house elevation. Crumpler said he did not have any numbers with him, but that there have been more buyout applications.
However, not everyone in the town has applied, he said.
"We have got some hard times coming," Potter said. "We have had some hard times for about five months now."
Gavin Smith, a research professor with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, worked in the area following Hurricanes Fran and Floyd.
"What I have been asked to do in working with the state, and with all of you in Seven Springs, is to help you develop what we would call a disaster recovery plan," Smith said. "A lot of what we have been talking about so far is two things. One is housing, and another key issue is risk reduction or often called hazard mitigation.
"That is a very important part of recovery because you want to rebuild your community in a way to make it safer for the next time that it rains hard or floods. So hazard mitigation is going to be an important part of this plan."
The plan will not just look at housing, but infrastructure, small business and finding funding to met unmet needs as well, he said.
Another goal is working with residents to come up with a vision for what they want their community to be, he said.
"It is one thing to buy out homes and elevate homes and so forth, and that is really important because that is your house," Smith said. "But a fundamental question is what do you want your future to be? That is what I am going to be doing with other member of the team that I am going to be putting together.
"I am hoping we can figure this out and start in the next couple of weeks. We would have people come down and meet with you in public meetings and sketch out a vision. It is not for us or other people to say what you should do. That is what we would work with you on making sure that the public is heavily involved in this."
The group would then use that vision to develop a set of goals and ideas, policy and/or projects the community might want he said.
It might involve retrofitting small businesses to make them less vulnerable or looking at location at infrastructure, he said.
It could even look at how the community could take advantage of being located next to the Neuse River, Smith said.
"It is maybe a chance for you to explore opportunities to continue to live next to the river and enjoy it and look at it as an amenity and not just a threat" he said.