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Saturday April 1st

Small North Carolina town proposes bill to dissolve its own charter

<p>The town of Centerville is located about 70 miles from Chapel Hill. Google Earth screenshot by The Daily Tar Heel.</p>
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The town of Centerville is located about 70 miles from Chapel Hill. Google Earth screenshot by The Daily Tar Heel.

N.C. Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, and N.C. Rep. Bobbie Richardson, D-Franklin, sponsored bills in February that would effectively repeal Centerville’s charter and disband the local government currently in place. The bills are still being considered in the North Carolina Senate.

Located about 44 miles northeast of Raleigh, Centerville is positioned at the intersection of N.C. highways 561 and 58 and had only 89 residents in a 2010 Census.

The local government can only offer streetlights and speed limit signs, receiving $400 in tax revenue each year. Without a property tax, the town is ineligible for additional state funding, Richardson said.

“To stay incorporated, they would have to generate more revenue,” she said. “The only option they had available to them was raising taxes, and the citizens voted not to raise taxes.”

Without property taxes, there is no way to pay for other services a town typically offers. Marsha Strawbridge, mayor of Bunn, North Carolina, said she could understand the town’s need to dissolve.

“It costs several thousand dollars holding municipal elections,” Strawbridge said. “If you’re not charging taxes then you have no way to pay for the election costs.”

Centerville is a largely rural community made up of government workers and retired farmers with only a handful of businesses — among them a dollar store and a couple convenience stores and gas stations.

Unlike Bunn, which is located only 40 minutes from Raleigh, Centerville does not easily connect to the larger towns and cities in the area.

“It’s in a really rural area,” Strawbridge said. “If you look at Centerville, it’s mainly just a crossroads out there.”

Jeff Lewis, director of the Franklin County Office of Emergency Services, described the town as “a very little farm — rural community — very close knit.”

But passing the bill does not mean an end to Centerville, just its local governance. The township signs would be removed, and the streetlights might turn off, but the community would remain.

“The area would continue to exist. It would become a community now, rather than a township,” Richardson said. “It wouldn’t have any governmental leadership or anything like that ... It would still be ‘Centerville’ but it would not be incorporated.”

Regardless of the town’s charter, some will still feel connected to the community.

“In my mind, I’ll call it Centerville for the rest of my life,” Lewis said.

Centerville would still have access to vital services provided by Franklin County, should the bill pass.

“As far as emergency services go ... It doesn’t affect that at all,” Lewis said. “Emergency services is funded by the county.”

If passed, the bill would give the town 30 days after its last audit to eliminate its debt, Richardson said. The town plans on giving leftover money to Centerville’s volunteer fire department.

Despite the lack of actual change the bill might bring, many residents of the county took the news to heart.

“We were not that completely shocked,” Cedric Jones, chairperson of the Franklin County Commissioners, said. “We were not surprised by it, but we were saddened by it.”

Centerville Mayor Margaret Nelms could not be reached for comment but spoke about the town in a News & Observer interview.

“People don’t want a tax. There’s nothing else we can do,” Nelms told the News & Observer. “There’s nothing left to do except this. I’m very sad.”


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