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NCLM President Hutchens Remarks at NLC Briefing

League President and Elkin Mayor Lestine Hutchens delivered opening remarks this morning at the National League of Cities' (NLC) special daylong Briefing on Municipal Financial Inclusion in Charlotte. The meeting was billed as a unique opportunity for city leaders to learn about innovative approaches for improving the financial health of families and communities. Hutchens noted to attendees --  including Jennifer Roberts, the mayor of Charlotte; Bill Bell, the mayor of Durham; and Heidi Goldberg, director of NLC's Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment Institute for Youth, Education and Families -- that Elkin and scores of other municipalities across the state have put a lot into re-energizing downtowns and central business districts for the benefit of residents, employers and visitors. Elkin in particular saw an old tobacco warehouse revamped into what is now a popular gathering place for food, socials and retail that has attracted a lot of outside dollars.

"Still, we know that to sustain this kind of economic momentum, the financial health and the financial stability of our residents is crucial," Hutchens told the audience. "As a former banker, I can tell you that finding ways to help all residents connect to the financial mainstream helps everyone in our communities." She added: "It is also the right thing to do." Financial inclusion focuses on, among other things, financial education and pathways for individuals and families from all walks of life and income histories. The meeting, held in partnership with the League, the state treasurer's office and the City of Charlotte, served to gather mayors, council members, senior advisors and community partners for networking, brainstorming and connecting with state-level representatives.


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Deadline Approaches! Register for Annual Conference NOW!

With the deadline ahead to register for the best event around for North Carolina's cities and towns, what are you waiting for? Sign up now for the CityVision 2016 Annual Conference in Raleigh, Oct. 23-25. The deadline is next Friday, Sept. 23. As we've been saying, the program is a bit different this year. The Advocacy Goals Conference will be on Sunday the 23rd with cities and towns determining legislative and regulatory priorities for the 2017-2018 biennium of the N.C. General Assembly. Attending the Advocacy Goals Conference is the best way to help us better position cities' and towns' advocacy efforts in 2017 and beyond. Make sure your voice is heard and your vote is cast at the Advocacy Goals Conference!

Moving into the CityVision 2016 Annual Conference, you will learn ways to connect success stories to your citizens, community and beyond, adapt to demographic and cultural changes, and grow a strong economic foundation in your hometown. Make one trip, and check off two important conferences on your calendar! Click here to register for both the Advocacy Goals Conference and the CityVision 2016 Annual Conference.


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Some Republican Lawmakers Want HB2 Changed or Repealed

Following announcements from the NCAA and ACC that they're pulling sporting events from North Carolina in protest of House Bill 2, some Republican legislators are joining calls for modification or repeal of the law, according to media reports this week. Sens. Rick Gunn of Burlington and Tamara Barringer of Cary along with Rep. Gary Pendleton of Raleigh have told fellow Republicans they're concerned with -- as Sen. Barringer put it -- "very sad and unfortunate ramifications and unintended effects of HB2." Her comments, reportedly the first of their kind from a majority-party state legislator here, came after the NCAA canceled seven sporting events in Cary, Greenville and Greensboro over the law as it relates to the LGBT community. In a statement, NCAA leaders pointed to parts of HB2 they found unique and worthy of opposition, starting with its invalidation of "any local law that treats sexual orientation as a protected class or has a purpose to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals." NCAA also noted HB2's gender-focused restroom access restriction in public buildings and schools.

Sen. Gunn issued a statement on Wednesday. "I'm opposed to giving men access to girls’ locker rooms and bathrooms, but I also am concerned about the impact HB 2 is having on our state and the Triad -- especially NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference athletic championship events -- and I think it is time we give serious consideration to modifying, or possibly repealing, HB 2," Sen. Gunn said in the statement, posted to his social media accounts. "It is time for the federal courts to protect women and girls' privacy and strike down President Obama's bathroom sharing mandate." The ACC's cancelations had come just prior to Sen. Gunn's statement, with the organization's council of presidents emphasizing their commitment to "equality, diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination" and declaring HB2 "inconsistent with these values." Gov. Pat McCrory, who supports HB2 on the basis of privacy and safety, responded in separate statements to the sports organizations. "The issue of redefining gender and basic norms of privacy will be resolved in the near future in the United States court system for not only North Carolina, but the entire nation," he said in a press release after the ACC withdrawal. "I strongly encourage all public and private institutions to both respect and allow our nation’s judicial system to proceed without economic threats or political retaliation toward the 22 states that are currently challenging government overreach."

On Thursday, Rep. Pendleton said he wanted the legislature to revisit HB2 in a special session, though he added that there still should be a law preventing men from entering women's restrooms, according to the News & Observer. The Raleigh newspaper also reported that Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius had voiced interest in getting parties together for amendments to HB2, saying the situation might worsen for North Carolina if it stays in effect as is. While HB2's restroom piece has received arguably most of the public's attention, the N&O ran an article reminding readers of other components, including the prohibition on local governments from passing their own non-discrimination ordinances and from placing certain requirements on contractors. The League voiced early opposition to HB2 for its limitations on local authority and, ultimately, the political power of local residents who elect their municipal decisionmakers.


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Podcast: The Value of 'Digital Mindsets' in Local Government

The latest episode of Municipal Equation -- the League's podcast on local government and great communities -- is out, this time with a look at the stakes and applications of the "digital mindset" at city hall. Click here to listen. So, where is your local government with technology? Sensors? Automation? Readiness for self-driving vehicles? Teleportation? Kidding on that last one but, because we're in an age of exponential advances in technology and the Internet of Things, and with the consumer market now so accustomed to quick gratification and one-touch app services, there's pressure on government to act in a more streamlined fashion and more futuristic than ever before. ".... government just can't be immune to this massive change" in our culture and commerce, says William Eggers, executive director of Deloitte's Center for Government Insights. Eggers is our guest as we dive into today's digital technology, where it's going and how local governments can catch up. It's even an issue with government employee hiring and retention, he says. You can find this episode and all past episodes here. Municipal Equation is also available on iTunes and streaming services like Stitcher and Google Play. Have ideas for the show? Send them to host/producer Ben Brown bbrown@nclm.org.


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U.S. Senate Passes Water Resources Bill, House Urged to Act

The U.S. Senate on Thursday, with a solid bipartisan vote of 95-3, passed the latest Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that would provide for vital water resources projects and related infrastructure across the country. Now, WRDA supporters, including the National League of Cities (NLC), are encouraging the House to act. "This strong vote (in the Senate) reflects the wide-spread support among Members of Congress and the American people for bolstering federal investment in our nation's water infrastructure," NLC said in a statement. Click here for the bill's full text, which includes major provisions for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. "The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) is particularly pleased the legislation offers assistance to help communities and homeowners work together to remove lead service lines, and capitalizes the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program with credit subsidies that should deliver at least $700 million worth of low-interest water and wastewater infrastructure loans to cities and towns nationwide," said AMWA CEO Diane VanDe Hei. News outlets including Politico are reporting that WRDA could head to a House floor vote next week.


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Durham's City Website a GovTech Finalist

The City of Durham's website is an example to follow, according to Government Technology magazine. DurhamNC.gov was a finalist in the national publication's 2016 Best of the Web contest for tech innovation and improved service delivery. "Durham launched its streamlined website in August 2015 with a focus on providing better access for constituents and customers," GovTech explained. "In keeping with the city's strategic goal of being an 'innovative and high-performing organization,' the new site enabled citizens better access to commonly used services, online payment capabilities and improved routes to important content."

The website is cloud-based and designed for easy navigation to city services as well as giving input via features like Durham One Call, GovTech found. "As a result of the substantial redesign, Durham officials estimate an annual savings of approximately $30,000 and more than 520 hours of personnel time," the publication wrote. "Weekly design sprints and effective deployment of the agile project management enabled the city to bring 100 services online for its citizens." The site gets nearly 100,000 average monthly unique visitors. This comes on the heels of recognition that Durham and four other municipalities received for smart tech applications at the N.C. Digital Government Summit. Click here for more about that.


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Register Now: Municipal Street Lighting Meeting

Register by Sept. 19 for the next joint meeting between League members and Duke Energy to discuss issues surrounding the modernization of municipal street lighting. The meeting will take place on Sept. 26, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Duke Energy in the O.J. Miller Auditorium (526 S. Church St., Charlotte). This meeting will serve as a continuation of discussions that began after the League, in 2013, intervened in the Duke Energy Carolinas rate case before the N.C. Utilities Commission. It's an opportunity for Duke to check in with municipal customers to discuss outdoor lighting strategies, updates and sustainability efforts. The discussion will include updates on LED modernization, new products, industry news, and more. Click here for the agenda. Contact: Sarah Collins

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'Statistically-Proven' Tips for Success in Water Rate Requests

Need to adjust your city's water or sewer rates? The UNC Environmental Finance Center has come out with research and tools that can benefit municipal officials when considering utility rate changes. Released Tuesday, its "10 Statistically-Proven Tips for Getting High Water Rates Approved (Based on a Survey of >1,000 Utilities)" lists out specifical ways that utilities can make the case to their elected officials. "Hiring a rates consultant to present to the elected officials may add an additional level of objectivity and professional confirmation that some officials may seek," says one tip. The list is written in a simple, straight-foward way with supporting data. "The rate increase requests were 34% higher, on average, when they were requested by an external agent (i.e. a consultant), than when presented by city managers, controlling for all other factors." Click here for the full post.

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Trust Fund Grants Aid City Parks

Grants totaling $8.4 million are going to help local governments in North Carolina pay for parks and recreation space -- ever-important features for quality of life and visitor allure. The N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund is the source for 32 local governments from the mountains to the beach in a funding round that considered 66 applicants requesting a total of $18.3 million, according to a press release from the governor's office. The program provides dollar-for-dollar matching grants. Those awarded include a city marina in Jacksonville, a greenway and rec area in Asheville, a pocket park in Littleton and an aquatics facility in Siler City, among many others. Allocations ranged from $5,000 to the maximum $500,000. Click here for the full list of recipients and amounts awarded. "North Carolina’s parks and recreation areas are experiencing all-time-high visitation rates and continue to be an essential part of our state’s quality of life,” said Gov. Pat McCrory. Since 2013, the trust fund has awarded more than 130 grants totaling roughly $30 million.

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ARC Funds Boost Downtown Wi-Fi, Workforce Training in WNC

Close to $1.8 million will benefit workforce development and downtown Wi-Fi efforts in western North Carolina, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced this week. Bryson City, Forest City, Granite falls, Hudson, Morganton, Rosman, Valdese, Walnut Cove, Wilkesboro and Rutherford College are to receive direct support for Wi-Fi services in their downtowns with investments totaling $272,000, according to an ARC release. The funds will help students, downtown growth, visitorship and hundreds of existing businesses, the release added. Meanwhile, Isothermal Community College in Spindale will receive nearly $988,000 and Southwestern Community College in Sylva will receive roughly $527,000 to improve automotive and aerospace manufacturing training.

ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl made the announcements on Wednesday in Spindale alongside state Commerce Secretary John Skvarla, Information Technology Secretary Keith Werner and Assistant Secretary for Rural Economic Development Pat Mitchell. "Broadband access brings modern vitality to North Carolina’s historic business districts," Skvarla said in a news release from the governor's office. "These investments will serve approximately 415 businesses and attract visitors. Wi-Fi is also a critical resource for secondary and post-secondary students in these communities who may not have high-speed Internet access at home."


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Workshop Focuses on 'The Future of Urban Open Space'

A renowned voice in the conversation about open public spaces will be the keynote speaker at an Oct. 18 program in Raleigh that will focus on space ideas and utilization in the state's metropolitan cities. Gil Penalosa, whose remarks are scheduled for the morning portion of The Future of Urban Open Space: A Workshop for North Carolina's Urban Parks, Recreation and Planning Professionals, is the founder and board chairman of the nonprofit 8 80 Cities -- named after the belief that successful public spaces are enjoyed by everyone, whether 8 years old or 80. Penalosa will also be on hand for a panel discussion, after his keynote address, with parks officials including the City of Greensboro's Wade Walcutt and the City of Raleigh's Diane Sauer. The program additionally includes a networking lunch and video on "How Public Spaces Make Cities Work" along with more from Penalosa on major future issues and, later, reflections and Q&A. Click here for full info and registration.

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Catlin Appointed to CRC

Rick Catlin, the recently resigned state legislator from Wilmington, has found a new role in coastal policy. The environmental engineer was appointed to a seat on the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission (CRC), according to the governor's office. The CRC sets policies for the state's coastal management program and adopts rules for both the Coastal Area Management Act and the Dredge and Fill Act. It also designates areas of environmental concern and sets rules and policy for coastal development. Catlin, during his terms in the House, co-chaired the chamber's Environmental Committee. Wilmington's Holly Grange has been appointed to fill the seat Catlin vacated in the House.

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Download Report on 'Reshaping Suburban Spaces'

As North Carolina's municipalities look back on the growth of suburbia and question how to reshape or refresh such communities today, the UNC School of Government (SOG) has produced a new report on the challenges for local government. "Reshaping suburban spaces is a complex issue, raising questions of zoning, finance, utilities, transportation, and more," SOG Assistant Professor Adam Lovelady says. The report, "Reshaping Suburban Spaces: Lessons from North Carolina Cities," is downloadable here. "What is the local government’s role in this transition?" Lovelady poses. "How does a city or county encourage the redevelopment of suburban spaces? And what are the practical and political implications?"