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Report Says Privilege License Tax A 'Burden' to Grocery Stores

Local privilege license taxes “burden grocery stores” and reduce the availability of food in certain areas, and should thus be reformed or repealed, according to the House Committee on Food Desert Zones' committee report. That same report stated that active facilitation by local governments is needed to help ameliorate the state’s problems with access to grocery stores and healthy food options. In the report, which was released Monday, the committee issued eight findings, including one encouraging efforts by local governments to actively support the development of food infrastructure through zoning, public transportation, law enforcement, consistent food code enforcement, and predictable business taxes "not based on gross receipts." The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food deserts as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. The Legislative Research Commission authorized the study of the issue after Rep. Yvonne Holley championed the issue in the 2013 Long Session following two large grocery stores abruptly pulling out of a Southeast Raleigh community. The committee’s report also recommends that a Joint Legislative Food Desert Zones Study Committee be appointed to continue studying the issue.
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Gov. McCrory Announces Support for Historic Rehabilitation Programs

At a press conference held Wednesday in High Point, Governor McCrory announced his support for historic rehabilitation programs. As a part of his budget, Governor McCrory pledged $500,000 for the Main Street Solutions Fund, as well as the creation of a new historic rehabilitation program.

The Main Street Solutions Fund is a preexisting matching grant program designed to assist planning agencies and small businesses in efforts to revitalize local downtown and main street areas. In 2013-2014, the program awarded $425,000 in grants. The fund is specifically targeted at cities and towns in Tier 2 and Tier 3 counties, or those designated as North Carolina Main Street communities. The grants may be used for rehabilitation of buildings, utility infrastructure improvements, new construction, parking facilities, strategic downtown plans, marketing efforts, or efforts to attract entrepreneurs.

The newly created Historic Rehabilitation Investment Program is a proposal of the governor's to replace the State Historic Tax Credit, which is currently set to expire at the end of 2014. Specific details and funding levels for the plan have not yet been released, but according to Governor McCrory, the program will help invest in critical infrastructure and support the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure. Preserving the historic tax credit is one of the municipal advocacy goals selected by the League membership and Board of Directors for the upcoming 2014 Short Session. We encourage you to contact your legislators to explain the positive economic impact of the state historic tax credit, and the importance of at least maintaining current funding levels in any new rehabilitation proposals.

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Recommendation Shifts Liability for Incomplete Infrastructure to Local Governments

A proposal advanced yesterday by the House Committee on Land Development would shift the liability for incomplete sedimentation and erosion control infrastructure in new developments to local governments, under certain circumstances. Both the League and the N.C. Home Builders Association (Association) spoke in opposition to the recommendation at the meeting. The League's concerns echoed those of committee member Rep. Mike Hager, who stated that he worried the proposal would unnecessarily shift the cost of development-related infrastructure to local governments and taxpayers. In the proposal, that liability did not have well-defined limitations.

The proposal (page 21) would hold a city or county responsible for completing any sedimentation and erosion control infrastructure that threatened a residential dwelling at risk of property damage, if that city or county issued a certificate of occupancy before the sedimentation and erosion control infrastructure was completed. However, before imposing that liability, the proposal also would give local governments the ability to deny a certificate of occupancy on the basis of incomplete sedimentation and erosion control infrastructure, if the developer also had not provided a performance guarantee for the work. Performance guarantees include instruments such as a bond or letter of credit. Because, for practical purposes, the proposal would incentivize most local governments to require these performance guarantees of developers and homebuilders, the Association opposed the proposal. In public comments at the meeting, the Association stated that such performance guarantees for sedimentation/erosion infrastructure would drive up the cost of development.

Before voting to approve the recommendation as originally proposed, committee members appeared open to amendments that would address the League's and Association's concerns. Such amendments could potentially be offered before the final approval of the recommendation by the Legislative Research Commission (LRC), which will meet prior to the beginning of the Short Session to approve recommendations that came from numerous LRC study committees meeting during this interim period. Upon gaining LRC approval, the recommendations would be eligible for introduction in the legislative Short Session. This committee previously discussed ways to ensure better coordination between development inspections related to building safety and those related to environmental infrastructure such as retaining walls.

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Legislators Inquire About Coal Ash Disposal Options

The Environmental Review Commission (ERC), an interim legislative oversight committee, met Tuesday to specifically discuss coal ash, gaining insight into current clean-up efforts regarding the Dan River spill and options for closing all 14 open-air pits in the state. Paul Newton, Duke’s North Carolina state president, stated that the status of the 14 coal ash disposal sites was under review, but a top guiding factor for when to retire and close a site was the site's proximity to drinking water. Other factors included community considerations (truck traffic), completion time, environmental considerations, and cost effectiveness. Duke has placed four sites (Dan River, Sutton, Riverbend, and Cliffside) on a priority list for closure and it is likely the ash will be removed to dry, lined landfills or be utilized for reuse. In addition, the committee received presentations from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the N.C. Utilities Commission. The committee did not discuss the comprehensive coal ash plan released last week by Governor Pat McCrory. (Read more from the News and Observer.)

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NCDOT to Hold Transportation Corridors Regional Meetings

The NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) will hold regional meetings across the state with interested stakeholders to discuss the network of Strategic Transportation Corridors. The department will discuss their study of the levels of mobility provided by different transportation modes, and what investments are needed to better serve citizens. The next step is identifying a network of Strategic Transportation Corridors that will be divided into corridors of statewide and regional strategic significance. The League has been serving on the North Carolina Transportation Network Advisory Group that is working to select those corridors. Those who are interested in attending a regional meeting should email Judy Meyer or contact her via phone at (214) 295-0403. The meeting times and locations are as follows:

Wednesday May 7
9:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Chowan County Agricultural Building
730 N. Granville Street, Suite B
Edenton, NC 27932

3:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Lenoir Community College
Administration Building Auditorium
231 Highway 58 South
Kinston, NC 28502

Monday, May 12
9:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Piedmont Triad Regional Council
1398 Carrollton Crossing Drive
Kernersville, NC 27284

1:30 - 3:30 p.m.
Kannapolis Train Station
201 S. Main Street
Kannapolis, NC 28081

Tuesday, May 13
9:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Wake Forest Renaissance Center
405 Brooks Street
Wake Forest, NC 27587

Monday, May 19
1:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Southwestern Community College
Burrell Building Conference Center 102 A & B
447 College Drive
Sylva, NC 28779

Tuesday, May 20
9:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Foothills Higher Education Center
Room 148
2128 S. Sterling St.
Morganton, NC 28655

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Proposed 'Waters of the US' Rule Opens for Public Comment

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) opened the public comment period for a long-awaited proposed rule this week regarding the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act (CWA). With this proposed rule, EPA and USACE hoped to clarify which wetlands and smaller waters were considered "waters of the United States" and therefore "jurisdictional," or subject to federal permitting and other regulatory actions. The jurisdiction issue has long been in dispute and uncertain because of competing U.S. Supreme Court tests and conflicting EPA guidance. Read more about the proposed rule in the April issue of EcoLINC.

The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on Monday. The public comment period will be open for 91 days and will close on July 21. EPA is hosting a conference call for local governments on the proposed rule today from 1-2:30 pm. Conference call information: 1-866-299-3188; Passcode: 2029992299.

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Planning for Prosperity Summit Scheduled for April 30

On April 30, the North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-NC) will co-host the Planning for Prosperity Economic Summit. This event will provide insight on the millennial generation in North Carolina and offer methods for attracting talent to your organization or community, as well as economic development strategies. The Summit will feature a panel of experts, who will provide analysis and discussion on issues related to sound planning for economic success. The Planning for Prosperity Summit will be held in Research Triangle Park and online registration closes April 28th. Visit the APA-NC website for more details or contact APA-NC President Ben Hitchings.
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Kernersville Police Chief Among Governor's Board Appointments

Governor Pat McCrory announced last week appointments to numerous state boards. The League would like to extend a special congratulations to Kernersville Chief of Police Scott Cunningham, who was appointed to serve on the State Community Corrections Advisory Board. The board's duties include reviewing criteria for evaluation of community-based corrections programs. Chief Cunningham has been appointed to a three-year term.

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Legislation to Regulate NC Drone Use Wins Committee Approval

After extended debate and adoption of several amendments, the House Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) unanimously approved legislation to regulate the use of drones in North Carolina. The proposal would not modify the current ban on state and local government drone use prescribed by 2013 budget legislation aside from allowing state and local law enforcement agencies to use the devices under certain circumstances. That ban is set to expire on July 1, 2015, while commercial drone use is currently banned nationwide by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). If enacted, the legislation would prohibit the non-law enforcement use of drones in surveillance of individuals without their consent and would also prohibit both the unconsented taking and publishing of images with human subjects, unless the photographs are taken during a newsworthy or public event. The bill would also impose criminal penalties for operation of drones fitted with weapons, UAS use while hunting or fishing, and interfering with or damaging any sort of manned aircraft during operation.
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Newly Formed Study Committee to Examine Local Government OPEB

The Fiscal Management Section of the State and Local Government Division of the NC Department of State Treasurer has recently formed a study committee to review various fiscal issues related to local government benefits to retirees, particularly non-pension post-retirement benefits. After a series of meetings to examine these issues, the committee will make recommendations to the Treasurer's Office based on its findings. League staff and several League members participated in the committee's first meeting on Thursday, where Fiscal Management staff gave an overview of the committee's goals and initiated discussion. The committee discussed the costs and benefits to local governments of providing other post-employment benefits (OPEB), tools used to calculate a government unit's OPEB liability, and the potential creation of OPEB educational materials for local government use. The League will continue to help represent municipal interests in these discussions and provide updates on the committee's work and recommendations.