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League, NCACC Inform Lawmakers About Hurricane Relief Needs

On the heels of a letter to members of Congress urging support for a Hurricane Matthew recovery package, the leadership of the League and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) is now reaching out to state lawmakers to apprise them of related local government needs. "Our collective goal is to provide a concise overview of the major needs and suggested next steps that will allow our communities to rebuild," stated a letter cosigned by League President Bob Matheny and NCACC President Fred McClure. It follows a series of League-NCACC local government input meetings held across the state to document what communities are going through and what they need to recover from the storm's impacts. The letter to lawmakers includes a bullet-point list of clear needs, including funding for debris removal assistance and helping local governments with lost revenues. "Many local governments have stranded costs associated with public utilities that depend on a steady stream of revenue," Matheny and McClure explain in the letter. "When natural disasters disrupt utility services, they impact the revenue stream and the local government’s ability to cover their costs." They additionally bring attention to, and request aid for, small jurisdictions that may have difficulty fronting contract costs for major repair work due to constrained budgets.

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that more than $300 million, in a yet-to-be-approved congressional stop-gap spending measure, is marked for North Carolina's recovery. It's part of a $4 billion package and would cover a portion of what Gov. Pat McCrory requested from the federal government in post-storm assistance. According to the AP, the governor had requested $1 billion before it fell to roughly $600 million when the Federal Emergency Management Agency programmed more relief without needing congressional approval. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis issued a statement about the potential additional assistance on Tuesday. "I'm happy that appropriators listened to the concerns expressed by Governor McCrory, myself and members of the North Carolina delegation by providing the state with immediate funds to help start the recovery following the devastation of Hurricane Matthew," Sen. Tillis said. "It's important to stress that this is only the beginning of the long recovery process. Over the next several months, I’ll be working closely with Governor-elect Cooper and Congressional appropriators to ensure that North Carolina has the resources it needs to become whole again."


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10 Counties See Tier Change for 2017

New county economic tier designations are out for 2017, and 10 counties are seeing changes. Among them, Haywood County is moving from Tier 2 to 3, the latter being the highest rank and meant to reflect less economic distress. Rutherford, for another, is moving from Tier 1 -- the lowest category, meant to reflect greater distress -- to Tier 2 status. Below is a chart of the changes for 2017 from the N.C. Department of Commerce, which assigns the tiers:

Click here to learn more about the 2017 tier system. Tier designations are mandated by state law and can impact how a community qualifies for funding in economic development programs. Many other kinds of programs use the tier system to determine eligibility as well. Many communities, however, notably low-income areas in Tier 3 counties, feel that the tier system disadvantages them. This has led to efforts ongoing in the General Assembly to create an alternate system that better and more fairly addresses hardships in North Carolina. The League, per its 2017-18 advocacy agenda adopted in October, supports legislation to revise the tier method of measuring levels of economic distress to focus on the causes of distress and taking sub-county data into account.


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Sen. Rabon Is New Rules Chairman


Senator Rabon

Sen. Bill Rabon of Southport is moving into one of North Carolina's most powerful political roles -- chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations, commonly referred to as "Senate Rules." That committee is a vital gateway for legislation to reach the Senate floor for votes. Senator Rabon was already a member of the committee, which until recently was chaired by now-retired senator Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville. Senator Rabon, a veterinarian by trade, has served in the Senate since 2010 and has co-chaired the chamber's Transportation and Finance committees. The Associated Press this week noted that Rabon's new post was announced on Tuesday by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the longtime legislator from Eden (who will continue to lead his caucus in the 2017-18 legislative session). "Over the past six years, Bill has been a champion for fiscally conservative policies that have helped our Republican majority cut taxes on middle class families and small businesses, raise teacher pay and improve our public schools, and grow our state's economy," Senator Berger wrote of Senator Rabon on Facebook. The League would like to congratulate Senator Rabon on the new role.


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Podcast: The Potential For Drones in Local Government

Don't miss the latest episode of Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast about the challenges, successes, new concepts and solutions circling today's municipalities. It's a solid primer on a technology -- the drone, alternately called an unmanned aerial system -- that is raising loads of questions inside and outside of city hall. What do drones mean for local government? How can city hall regulate them? What are the rules to fly one? And -- perhaps most interestingly -- how might local governments adopt drones for better service delivery? Or to save money? Or even to save lives?

On this episode, we hear from national and state experts in the public and private sectors, and from one North Carolina town already flying its own drone. And, yes, as drones are commonly outfitted with high-resolution cameras, the discussion didn't get away without a focus on privacy issues. If the topic sounds familiar, it's because the League recently held a great educational forum on the technology. This episode lifts off from that forum and brings in additional voices to supplement and sharpen what we already know. This technology is growing rapidly, and local governments are wise to understand it.

You can find all past episodes of Municipal Equation on our SoundCloud page or at nclm.org. The podcast is also available for free subscription via iTunes or Google Play. To date, it's covered infrastructure funding, local government's role in the startup world, government tech integration, the economics of urban forestry, challenges on local police, and plenty more. Listen in and tell your colleagues about it. Have an idea for a show? Contact host/producer Ben Brown at bbrown@nclm.org.


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Congress Passes Water Resources Compromise

Congressional leaders have released a compromise water-resources bill that encompasses the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and includes drinking water crisis relief in Flint, Mich. The National League of Cities (NLC) on Tuesday said it supported the bill, called the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, or WIIN, which the House approved on Thursday. Awaiting action in the Senate, the bill would authorize $9 billion for 31 flood protection, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects. Here are some specific authorizations NLC has highlighted:

  • $100 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund for any state, such as Michigan, that receives an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act due to a public health threat from lead or other contaminants in a public drinking water supply system
  • $20 million for Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan and loan guarantees for water infrastructure projects nationwide
  • $50 million to support public health initiatives such as lead poisoning prevention, research and health assistance
  • $300 million over five years for lead reduction projects in public water systems nationwide
  • $100 million over five years for lead testing in schools and daycare centers nationwide over five years
  • $300 million over five years for water system improvements in small and disadvantaged communities nationwide

Cities and towns have been pushing for a strong water resources bill in Congress, where the chambers earlier this year passed different versions of WRDA and had to work out a compromise bill -- WIIN. "The WIIN Act is the result of hard work and collaboration among our committees and will strengthen the Nation's transportation and water infrastructure, and our economic competitiveness," wrote House Transportation & Infastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) in a statement on Monday. The American Water Works Association also issued cheers for the bill. Although it is a compromise, already with House approval, it may not weather the Senate floor easily. NLC pointed out this week that it generated some controversy in the chamber over a California drought provision, details of which are reported here.


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Cities Applaud Opioid Combatants in Health Bill

President Barack Obama is expected to sign a wide-reaching health bill that includes opioid-abuse-combatting provisions applauded by municipal leaders. The bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act authorizes access to $1 billion that would help communities fight the opioid crisis and provide what the National League of Cities (NLC) calls "long overdue" reforms to the mental health and criminal justice systems. Opioid abuse has been a scourge to cities across the country, which is why NLC and partners made the fight against it a priority. "As local officials, we are on the frontlines of this health pandemic -- one that leads to more deaths than car accidents," said NLC President and Cleveland Councilmember Matt Zone. "We have seen far too many lives lost and families torn apart, and we must put an end to it. " NLC and the National Association of Counties this year co-launched the City-County National Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which recently released a report of recommendations for how local officials should address the crisis. Click here for more on the issue.


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Cooper Announces Hires for Gov's Office

Governor-elect Roy Cooper plans to begin his sworn service right as 2017 rings in. Cooper scheduled a swearing-in for Jan. 1 before telling the Associated Press that "we want to get started." The AP explains that the North Carolina Constitution sets New Years Day as the term-starter for the governor, but the oath-taking is often timed for later. Click here to read more from the AP on what Cooper envisions for his job ahead.

Cooper has already announced a few hires for his administration, including Kristi Jones as chief of staff -- she also served as chief of staff under Cooper as attorney general -- and Brad Adcock as legislative director. The News & Observer reports that Adcock clocked decades of experience as a lobbyist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and served on the UNC Board of Governors. Cooper's senior advisor will be Ken Eudy, founder of marketing firm Capstrat and a former N.C. Democratic Party leader. A news release from Cooper's team pledged more hiring announcements "soon."


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Does Your Story Have an Audience?


Make a difference for all municipalities at herewegrownc.org

Your intentional public planning and investments have done wonders for your municipality. You've improved your downtown, you're recruiting businesses, more jobs are available and residents have more money to spend. That's a great economic story. But does it have the statewide audience it deserves? The League launched its Here We Grow campaign to help you tell your story and impress upon the broad public that your hometown actions are making North Carolina a better place. Have you checked out herewegrownc.org yet? It's where municipalities across the state are gathering to tell of their individual successes, which collectively show undeniable value. When each of us does better, we all do better. That's the basic concept behind Here We Grow. Join to help your hometown, your fellow municipalities and North Carolina as a whole.

No one knows these stories better than the people in the cities and towns where they are happening. Help spread the word about the successes you’re seeing -- from mill towns utilizing old resources in new ways, to big cities whose bright ideas are turning them into innovation hubs. By telling these stories, you can ensure that cities and towns have the freedom to act and invest in the ways that make the most sense for their residents.

Send us a story today. Need inspiration? Browse what's already at herewegrownc.org and send an email to about@herewegrownc.org to obtain a login. If you're with one of our municipalities, we'll send you a username and password so you can access the site and submit your story and photo. And don't forget, you can also access a site toolkit that will allow you to:

  • Download a customizable PowerPoint presentation that both promotes the campaign and highlights your city or town’s efforts
  • Download a flyer that can be tailored around your investment story

For more information, feel free to email Scott Mooneyham or Ben Brown on the League staff.


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Grassroots Tip of the Week: Share Your Priorities

Has your council discussed the top priorities that require cooperation and assistance from legislators? Maybe it's a local bill that would allow you to clean up derelict downtown buildings, or funding for a water treatment upgrade, or another change that would bring more jobs to your town. As you develop these priorities, please reach out to League staff and share the ideas. It could be that many other towns across the state would benefit as well, and the League can help you make it happen. Our staff can also suggest to you the best way to work the bill through the legislative process, and potential allies that you can enlist in the effort. Find contact information for our Government Affairs staff here.