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Huge Turnout Turns Town Hall Day 2014 Into Big Success!

Town Hall Day 2014 was one of the most successful in the League’s history, made possible by the more than 490 municipal officials representing 196 cities and towns who attended, along with the legislators and state officials who took time from their busy schedules to participate and meet with city and town representatives. The day culminated with an informative panel discussion in which Governor Pat McCrory, Transportation Secretary Tony Tata, and Assistant Commerce Secretary Patricia Mitchell discussed transportation and economic development issues.

During the hour-long discussion, McCrory noted his close working relationship with the League and his longtime ties to many of the city officials there. “I’m still a city councilman and mayor at heart,” McCrory said. The Governor, Tata, and Mitchell took time to take questions from the audience, including those involving how the state’s new road-building formula may affect different areas of the state.

From left: Transportation Secretary Tony Tata, Governor Pat McCrory, and Assistant Commerce Secretary Patricia Mitchell address 2014 Town Hall Day attendees

McCrory revealed that he planned an announcement next week that would tie transportation infrastructure to the arts, predicting the new initiative would be well-received in cities and towns across the state. He reiterated a pledge that he would work to find an alternative to the local privilege license tax, scheduled to expire July 1, 2015.

The privilege license tax was a major topic during earlier, lively talks from Representative Tim Moore, chairman of the House Rules Committee, and Senator Bob Rucho, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Like McCrory, both pledged to try to find solutions to the looming revenue loss by cities. Rucho urged municipal officials to remain engaged in the discussions. “We are committed to doing it. We can’t do it alone,” Sen. Rucho said. It was a theme touched on throughout the day. Moore noted that League Executive Director Paul Meyer had “very zealously” advocated for cities and towns on the issue.

In between those presentations, city and town representatives were a major presence in the Legislative Building, meeting with legislators to discuss the privilege license tax, the extension of historic rehabilitation and film tax credits, and keeping current development review protocols.

NCLM members gather outside of the General Assembly after a day of lobbying on behalf of cities

We’d like to thank Gov. McCrory, Secretary Tata, and Dr. Mitchell for taking time to meet with municipal officials. Rucho and Moore deserve big thanks for the never-easy job of breaking away from a busy legislative day. Special thanks also go to Rucho for pledging that a proposal to restrict local tree ordinances will not advance this session.

Most of all, thank you to all the town officials who made the day a success, not just by your attendance but by your involvement and dialogue with your State Representatives and Senators. It is your dedication that is the key to strong cities.

See media coverage of Town Hall Day here and here.

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Film Grant Program Added to Senate's Commerce Privatization Bill

Similar House and Senate bills that would form a nonprofit public-private partnership designed to take over portions of the state Commerce Department's business recruitment functions are swiftly moving through both chambers of the General Assembly. Senate Bill 743 NC Economic Development Partnership Modifications includes language to incentivize film production in North Carolina through a new film grant program, while House Bill 1031 NC Economic Development Partnership Modifications does not.

Republican lawmakers attempted to lay the framework for the new public-private partnership last year, but the legislation was not enacted before the long session ended. Under the companion bills moving this session, the nonprofit would be required to raise $5.75 million during its first five years of operation from private sources, while the state would contribute $87.5 million to the nonprofit during the same time period.

The Senate Bill's "Film and Entertainment Grant Fund" is intended to replace the current state film tax credit that is set to expire at the end of this year. The Senate Bill sets aside $20 million in funds for the program, which would become available immediately upon the existing tax credit's sunset on January 1, 2015. Some supporters of the existing incentive criticized the proposed grant program because it would rely on an appropriation from the General Assembly each year, which could not be guaranteed. A bipartisan group of House members have proposed legislation to slightly modify and extend the current film tax credit along with the historic preservation tax credit, but that bill remains in its initial committee. The League supports retention of both credits. Contact: Whitney Christensen


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Pension Spiking Measure Advances to House Appropriations Committee

Legislation aimed at protecting the fiscal integrity of the Local Government Employees Retirement System by minimizing the impacts of late career "pension spikes" received a unanimously favorable report from the House Committee on State Personnel on Wednesday and will now advance to the House Committee on Appropriations. League members chose the issue of pension spiking as an advocacy goal for the 2014 session, and League staff has been working closely with the state Treasurer's Office and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners on this legislation for several months. We thank the bill's sponsors, Representatives Jeff Collins and Stephen Ross, for their leadership on this issue. Previous League coverage on this issue can be viewed here. Contact: Whitney Christensen.
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House Begins Work on Budget

Following passage of the Senate budget early last Saturday morning, House budget subcommittees met this week to begin the process of developing their version of the state spending plan. House leaders have said that the current plan is to release their budget at the start of next week and have it passed by the end of the week. That would then set up a negotiation between the House and Senate in order to reach agreement on a budget that can be passed by both chambers. In discussing the Senate budget, House subcommittees reviewed a number of provisions, some of which could impact local governments. The Senate budget included a plan to increase pay for teachers statewide. Likely in order to help fund that plan, the Senate budget would take unused and interest funds from several grant and loan programs to help pay for departmental operations. The affected areas include the Main Street Program, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. The Senate budget would also require that local governments applying for certain state grant and loan programs certify that they are not using water and wastewater funds to "subsidize" their general fund. This idea follows similar discussions held in meetings of the interim Committee on Public Enterprise Systems and Use of Funds. League staff is working with legislators to clarify the intent and reach of this particular provision. Contact: Chris Nida
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Local Deannexation Bill Not Heard by Committee

The House Government Committee met Thursday to consider a number of primarily local bills. One of the bills originally scheduled to be heard was HB 1127 Maggie Valley Deannexation, which is a local deannexation bill not supported by the current town board. That bill was removed from the committee's agenda before it was heard and is not currently scheduled to be heard again. The League opposed this bill and other bills not supported by the municipality they affect. Contact: Chris Nida
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MEC to Vote on Full Hydraulic Fracturing Rule Package

The N.C. Mining & Energy Commission (MEC) met yesterday and today to review its entire body of rules regarding the management and development of oil and gas exploration. The meeting began with a discussion of the Energy Modernization Act (S.L. 2014-4) that Governor McCrory signed on Wednesday. As a result of that legislation, the Commission had to strike the section of rules regarding impact fees, and Chairman James Womack explained that the MEC had hoped to provide for local cost recovery through impact fees, but the legislature invalidated their attempt by not providing the MEC with statutory authority. Also as a result of the recent legislation, Commissioners approved the text of a new section of rules regarding hearing procedures for preempting local government ordinances. Commissioner Amy Pickle explained that the section addressed the local ordinance preemption procedure in the new legislation and matched similar procedures in the waste management rules. In addition, rules related to chemical disclosure and setbacks all prompted lengthy discussions. It is the hope of the Commission to vote today to send the full rule package to public hearing. Contact: Sarah Collins.

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Join the Regulatory Joint Action Program, REG-TAF

Participation by League members in the Regulatory Technical Assistance Fund (REG-TAF) is growing. REG-TAF is a voluntary joint action program, created to protect N.C. municipalities’ collective interests by hiring external technical support for water quality and electric regulatory issues. The suggested voluntary contribution depends on the potential benefit a municipality or authority will receive from joint regulatory technical assistance, given its electric consumption, wastewater generation, and stormwater controls. The REG-TAF proposal provides more information about the program and the voluntary suggested contribution. The deadline to sign up is August 1. If you have any questions, please contact League Regulatory Affairs Associate Sarah Collins (Read more).

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City-Related Bills Pass out of House, Head to Senate

Several bills that the League has been tracking and working with legislators on passed out of the House this week. Details on those bills, along with previous League reporting on them, can be found below. If you have any questions about any of these bills, please contact League Director of Research and Policy Analysis Chris Nida.

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Infrastructure Needs Study Advances

The House Government Committee advanced a new proposal yesterday that would create a study commission to assess and prioritize the State's infrastructure needs. Added to HB 1043 Prequalification Update (language here), the proposal tasked a panel of legislators and public members -- including an NCLM-recommended representative -- with examining the State's building and infrastructure needs, including new repairs, renovations, expansion, and new construction. The study would include an assessment of local governments' water and sewer infrastructure needs, including prioritization of those needs across the State with an emphasis on projects that met public safety and economic development goals. Ultimately, the study would provide recommendations for funding these unmet capital needs. The League members selected a statewide infrastructure capital needs program as one of their advocacy goals for this year. The bill will next be considered by the full House before moving to the Senate. Contact: Erin Wynia
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Subcommittee on Unmanned Aircrafts Formed to Tackle Drones Bill

After a bill to permit and regulate unmanned aircraft use in North Carolina was met with extensive debate in the House Judiciary Subcommittee B on Wednesday, lawmakers formed a special subcommittee on the topic and redirected the bill there. Representatives John Faircloth, Paul Stam and Rick Glazier have been appointed to the subcommittee. Previous League coverage of House Bill 1099 Unmanned Aircraft Regulation can be viewed here. Contact: Whitney Christensen.
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Bill Introduced to Protect Privacy of Law Enforcement, District Attorneys

A bill originally designed to amend state contract review laws was stripped in the House Rules Committee on Thursday and replaced with language to keep private the personal information of certain government employees. Senate Bill 78 Law Enforcement and DA Privacy/Tax Websites would require cities and counties to develop processes whereby law enforcement officers, district attorneys, and assistant district attorneys can request that the local government remove the individual's personal information from its website. This legislation was initiated in response to the recent abduction of a Wake County assistant district attorney's father by gang members that were reportedly able to locate his address on a local government website. The proposed committee substitute received a favorable report from the committee. Contact: Whitney Christensen