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Williams to Serve as League's Governmental Affairs Director

The League is pleased to announce the hiring of Rose Vaughan Williams as Director of Governmental Affairs. Ms. Williams comes to the League following a distinguished career as a state agency legislative counsel, judge and private practice attorney. In 2011, she was ranked among the top 50 most influential lobbyists at the North Carolina General Assembly by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. Her first day with the League will be Jan. 5.

"Rose is a true professional and highly respected by legislators across the political spectrum," said League Executive Director Paul Meyer. "Her depth of knowledge, her experience dealing with an array of policy issues, and her strong relationships with people throughout state government make Rose an ideal fit for North Carolina cities and towns. She will be a tremendous asset to the League as we enter this critical legislative session and moving forward."

Ms. Williams has served as legislative counsel for the Department of Insurance since 2007, representing the department before the General Assembly. In that role, she has promoted legislation favorable to consumers and businesses, much of it involving complex insurance regulatory matters. Prior to working at the Department of Insurance, Williams served as a District Court judge in North Carolina's 8th Judicial District.  Before her time on the North Carolina bench, she was a partner at the Goldsboro law firm of Dees, Smith, Powell, Jarrett, Dees & Jones.

"Cities and towns, and the amenities and services that they provide, are a big part of the outstanding quality of life that we enjoy in North Carolina," Ms. Williams said. "I am excited and honored to work with municipal officials and legislators to keep cities and towns vibrant and strong."

As head of the League's Governmental Affairs Team, Ms. Williams will direct legislative and regulatory policy efforts on behalf of municipalities, and oversee the team's advocacy efforts aimed at promoting those policy goals. The Governmental Affairs Team is thrilled that Ms. Williams, with her outstanding reputation and background, will be joining us and directing the team's efforts starting next month.

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Municipal Finance Meeting Takes Place in Southport

This week, Southport served as the first site in the League's series of regional meetings on the future of municipal finance, A Path Forward: Vibrant Cities Today and Tomorrow, with the meeting eliciting insightful commentary on the financial and policy challenges facing municipalities. Although much of the meeting focused on the pending repeal of business privilege license taxes, other topics included population growth and shifts that are affecting cities, changing demands on city services, sales tax distributions, and the role that municipal services and property taxes play in economic development.   

Chris Nida, the League's Director of Research and Policy Analysis, gave a presentation that covered the history of state tax policy, moving into recent legislative changes that include the pending repeal of the business privilege license tax. The presentation included a comparison of North Carolina's relatively modest property tax rates with those of other states, and a look at projections showing more of North Carolina's population becoming urbanized. A panel discussion followed that included panelists' own experiences dealing with the financial challenges faced by their communities. The four panelists were Shallotte Mayor Walt Eccard, Wilmington Councilman Kevin O'Grady, Fayetteville City Manager Ted Voorhees, and Brunswick County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Jim Bradshaw.

Councilman O'Grady noted that cities spend large sums providing services to non-residents. As an example, he cited how 39 percent of traffic accidents to which Wilmington police respond involve non-residents. Mr. Voorhees said providing fewer revenue options for cities is bad tax policy, and that local elected officials are essentially being left with one decision, "whether to raise or not raise the property tax."

At the end of the discussion, Mayor Eccard recognized and thanked Representative Frank Iler of Oak Island for attending, acknowledging that it was not easy for Representative Iler to hear what at times were critical comments about the General Assembly. Representative Iler called for more communication about the effects of state tax changes on municipalities.

The League would like to thank Representative Iler for attending, all of the panelists for participating, Wilmington City Councilman Earl Sheridan for providing opening remarks, and Whiteville Mayor Terry Mann for moderating the panel discussion. We would also like to thank everyone who attended. Your participation in these discussions is critical in finding ways to keep cities and towns strong and vibrant into the future. We would also like to thank town officials and the people of Southport for hosting the meeting in their beautiful town.

You can read and watch coverage of the meeting here, and find commentary about it in this editorial from the Wilmington StarNews. Meanwhile, look for an announcement about the site of the next meeting in this series in the near future. Contact: Scott Mooneyham

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Draft State Transportation Improvement Plan Released

Governor Pat McCrory and Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata told members of the state Board of Transportation this week that 303 additional transportation projects will be fully or partially funded as a result of the state's new Strategic Transportation Investments law. The results of the new funding formula were contained in a draft 10-year State Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, presented to the board on Thursday. League staff was a part of the workgroup that helped to guide the initial STIP process.

Governor McCrory touted the new plan as basing transportation construction on economic development, safety and congestion, rather than politics. He estimated that it would also create 126,000 more jobs than under the old road-building formula. Read more about the release of the draft program on the DOT's website, here, and in the Raleigh News & Observer here.  

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City Leaders Continue Push for Marketplace Fairness Act

State and local government officials, as well as other organizations, continued to push this week for passage of federal legislation facilitating Internet sales taxes collections. There were some indications, though, that the legislation may stall yet again. The League and the National League of Cities have been among the organizations calling on Congress to approve the Marketplace Fairness Act before adjourning.  The latest from Washington indicates the U.S. House may wait until next year and consider a new bill. If so, the legislation would stall despite the pleas of about 30 House Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Rene Ellmers of North Carolina, to House leaders to move forward.

As those talks were occurring in Washington, The Charlotte Observer published this piece from League Executive Director Paul Meyer, N.C. Association of County Commissioners Executive Director Kevin Leonard and N.C. Retail Merchants Association President Andy Ellen urging Congress to act. The three organizations also penned letters to members of North Carolina's congressional delegation asking that lawmakers approve the legislation.

League members will consider a proposed federal advocacy goal at next week's Advocacy Goals Conference to address the issue. You can read earlier League coverage about the Marketplace Fairness Act here and here.

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State DOT to Pursue Surety Bonds of Hydraulic Fracturing Companies

The state Department of Transportation says it will require surety bonds of energy exploration companies to cover the costs of road repairs associated with the hauling of heavy equipment. The heavy rigs that the hydraulic fracturing industry depend on are known to cause damage to roads, but DOT officials say agreements to pay for road damage are common in other states.

The DOT is scheduled to submit a study to the General Assembly by Jan. 1 examining the impact of hydraulic fracturing on local roads. DOT officials have said that they want legislators to write road maintenance agreements into state law so that there is no ambiguity. Read more about the DOT plans on surety bonds here.

The state Mining & Energy Commission, before finalizing rules governing hydraulic fracturing, received more than 4,980 comments requesting impact fees for cost recovery related to damage to local infrastructure, but the MEC does not have statutory authority to establish such a fee. MEC Chair Dr. Vikram Rao said MEC requests of legislators could include legislation related to impact fees. You can read coverage about that issue and other MEC rules in the Nov. 21 edition of LINC'ed IN.  

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Representative Moore Begins Assembling Leadership Team

House Speaker-nominee Tim Moore is already making some announcements regarding his leadership team. According to the N.C. Insider, Representative Moore announced earlier this week that Rep. David Lewis of Dunn will chair the House Rules Committee, while Clayton Somers, who currently chairs the N.C. Turnpike Authority, will serve as his chief of staff.

The full House must elect Representative Moore as speaker, but he was chosen by the Republican majority as its nominee, making his election when the General Assembly convenes in January highly likely. The House speaker appoints committee chairs, and the House Rules Committee chair is one of the most powerful positions in the chamber. The Rules Committee chair plays a key role in the assignment of bills to committees and typically controls certain procedures on the House floor.

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CDC Provides More Guidance Related to Ebola, Sewage Treatment

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has released interim guidance for managers and workers handling untreated sewage from individuals with Ebola. The CDC continues to reiterate that there has been no evidence to date that Ebola can be transmitted via exposure to sewage. It also notes that wastewater handling procedures in the U.S. are designed to inactivate and remove pathogens such as Ebola.

Nonetheless, the CDC has been issuing recommendations related to the handling of sewage in light of Ebola outbreak in northwest Africa and the handful of cases in the U.S. The League has been active in notifying municipal wastewater systems when those recommendations have been made. The latest recommendations focus on the types of personal protective equipment that should be used and proper hygiene for handling of untreated sewage. The CDC's interim guidance can be found here.

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Skvarla to Head Commerce Department

John Skvarla, who has spent two years as secretary of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, will leave the agency to head the state Department of Commerce. Secretary Skvarla will replace current Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker, whose resignation was announced by Governor Pat McCrory on Tuesday. The move is effective Dec. 31.

Governor McCrory was effusive in his praise of Secretary Decker as he made the announcement. She had led the Commerce Department reorganization that will have a new public-private partnership oversee job recruiting in the state. The governor also praised Secretary Skvarla as the best possible pick to replace Secretary Decker. 

The move leaves open the top job in DENR, a state agency that oversees environmental regulation in North Carolina, including rules that govern municipal water and wastewater systems, as well as other municipal activities. The League would like to thank Secretary Decker for her service to the state, and congratulate Secretary Skvarla on his new role in the McCrory administration.