State Sen. Chad Barefoot filed a bill this week that would repeal the charter of a small Franklin County town in his district.
Centerville, a town of 89 people spread over fewer than 200 acres, was incorporated in the 1960s in northeastern Franklin County, according to the county’s website. Louisburg is about 12 miles west, Castalia is about 10 miles south and Warrenton is about 17 miles north.
Mayor Margaret Nelms said the move to dissolve the town has been in the works for a while and that two community meetings were held. The final straw came in January after the town’s four-person town council voted against a property tax.
“We did it because we don’t get enough funding to keep going, and people don’t want a tax. There’s nothing else we can do,” said Nelms, a Democrat who has served as mayor for 14 years and lived in Centerville for more than 45 years. “There’s nothing left to do except this. I’m very sad.”
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The town has its own church, two convenience stores, a Dollar General, an auto repair shop, a medical clinic and several other stores. On New Year’s Day, about 40 residents hold an annual parade and drive their four-wheelers and tractors down to the intersection of N.C. 561 and N.C. 58, which makes up downtown Centerville.
There’s no post office or police department, and the only services the town provides are streetlights, Nelms said. The annual budget is about $5,500, said Centerville council member Amy Denton, who also helps run Centerville Baptist Church, the town’s only functioning church.
“It was a very tough decision,” Denton said. She has lived in Centerville since 1972, and her uncle was a founding member of the town. “We had to ask ourselves why we existed and what additional services we would be giving people in return for a tax. We haven’t grown, and we haven’t wanted to. Ultimately, there were too many unknowns in too rural of a community.”
For more than a year, Nelms looked for alternative funding sources. But without a property tax, the town was ineligible for additional state funding. In January, leaders sent a letter to businesses and residents of the town informing them of the financial challenges and held what could be their last town meeting on Jan. 31.
If Centerville is dissolved, they plan to donate the remaining funds to the town’s volunteer fire department and pay the final streetlight bills, Denton said. After that, she wasn’t sure whether the county would take over paying for streetlights. Businesses or homeowners might buy the streetlight nearest them and pay the utility bill for it because they want lighting, she said.
“Nothing about the town will really change,” she said. “The lights might go dark for a little while, but they’ll be back on.”
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler