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Water and Sewer Impact Fees Update

Just before the new year, the N.C. Court of Appeals issued its opinion on remand in Quality Built Homes v. Town of Carthage II.  Recall that in August 2016, the N.C. Supreme Court in Carthage I had invalidated water and sewer impact fees for future expansion. Its order sent the case back to the Court of Appeals for consideration of unresolved issues such as the statute of limitations (i.e. how far back in time claims for refund could go). 
The Court of Appeals denied motions to accept new briefs, including an amicus brief with a number of municipal participants.  The Dec. 30, 2016 unpublished decision contains two holdings:

  • the 10-year statute of limitations applies
  • and the town’s estoppel defense, based on acceptance of benefits, does not.

The Court of Appeals ultimately remanded the matter to the trial court as to the separate issue of attorney’s fees and costs under G.S. 6-21.7 (attorneys’ fees for cities or counties acting outside the scope of their authority). The Court of Appeals' unpublished decision is available here.  The decision is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court, with the town’s petition for discretionary review due in February. Contact: Gregg Schwitzgebel


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Legislators Returning to Raleigh

The 2017 session of the General Assembly will officially begin on Jan. 11 when lawmakers new and re-elected will convene in Raleigh for oaths, photographs and other ceremonial activity, a soft kick-off to what will be the legislature's "long session." Long sessions, held in the odd years, are generally meant to last about six months (though there is no hard limit on how long a legislative session can last) and include the development and adoption of a biennial state budget that lawmakers may tweak in the subsequent even year's "short session." As the Jan. 11 convening is more ceremonial than anything, work will begin in earnest two weeks later, on Jan. 25.

The new chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Bill Rabon of Southport (whom the League interviews in the latest issue of Southern City), told his hometown newspaper, The State Port Pilot, that disaster relief, healthcare, taxes and transportation are likely to be among central issues this time. In the legislative flurry at the end of 2016, the General Assembly passed a $200 million relief package in light of Hurricane Matthew and the western wildfires. The newspaper quotes Senator Rabon calling that the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of damage costs, estimating it's actually beyond $1 billion in terms of the state's share. "We've got to take care of public health issues first," Senator Rabon said. In a separate article, the same publication gathers Oak Island Rep. Frank Iler's perspective on the session ahead. Representative Iler predicts a return to HB2 discussions and conversations about municipalities as well as the governor's powers. The Asheville Citizen-Times on Thursday discussed the session with area legislators including Rep. Chuck McGrady, who said HB2 could be repealed this year, but only if the conversation takes a different tone from both sides. The legislature is also tasked, by court order, with drawing new legislative maps for another round of primaries and fall elections this year. Read on for more about that.


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Panel Says No to Redistricting Postponement

A three-judge panel this week denied state lawmakers' request to postpone a court order for new legislative districts and elections this year. The General Assembly has until March 15 to complete the redrawing of 28 districts and make way for summer primaries and a November election. The order followed the panel's determination that the legislators who drew the maps relied unfairly on race and that new maps are needed. Legislative leaders have fought the order, with measures including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but a postponement motion filed with the lower court that gave the initial order wasn't successful -- essentially, the panel isn't going to stay its own order. As reported by WRAL, the legislators argued that voters in 2016 chose their representatives on two-year terms, and that a new, special election this year isn't a wise use of resources. The judges, however, said voters face greater harm with the current maps in place, news outlet reported. Click here for more media coverage.

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Cooper's DPS Choice Eyes Divide Between Police, Minorities

Gov. Roy Cooper is calling his pick for state secretary of public safety a potential unifier for law enforcement agencies and minority communities. The new governor at a press conference on Thursday announced Erik Hooks to the position, heading up the N.C. Department of Public Safety, a prominent cabinet agency. Hooks is a former SBI assistant director who most recently served as a special agent overseeing the inspections and compliance unit, the News & Observer reports. Cooper said Hooks' experience in crimefighting and public safety is vast, and that he's a good candidate for softening tension between police and minorities. “We definitely have work to do to repair some of the trust issues that exist in some of our communities of color and law enforcement. I think Erik will certainly be leading the way in that effort," the newspaper quoted of Cooper. (Those trust issues were the subject of a law enforcement forum the League held at the request of the Legislative Black Caucus in 2016. Click here for video.) Hooks is a native of Spring Lake. News of other recent Cooper appointments are here and here.


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EPA Adds to NC's Impaired Waters List

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave public notice in December of its decision to add 72 water body segments to North Carolina's 2016 303(d) impaired waters list. The 303(d) list is named after Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act, which requires states to evaluate the health of their streams, rivers and other bodies of water every two years and list those that do not meet water quality standards. Once listed, impaired waters most often become subject to water pollution restrictions for the affected watershed, usually in the form of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits. Local governments, as the holders of wastewater and stormwater discharge permits, bear responsibility for reducing their discharges to these waters under a TMDL, often a costly requirement.

Of additional interest in the public notice, EPA chose to delist Little Alamance Creek from the 303(d) list because of Burlington, Graham, and NCDOT’s co-submittal of a Category 4b demonstration plan -- an alternative to a TMDL. This is the first time a category 4b plan has been used and resulted in a delisting. EPA is seeking public comment on its decisions regarding the state’s list until Feb. 17. Comments can be sent to hopkins.marion@epa.gov.


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League's Podcast Gets Spotlight

Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast all about municipalities, got a national spotlight over the holiday break. Host/producer Ben Brown (the League's advocacy communication associate), appeared on an episode of GovLove to discuss why the League created its own podcast and how it's grown nationwide since launch. GovLove is a podcast produced by the national Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) group and is popular with municipal and county officials, educators and collaborators across the U.S. Asked to explain Municipal Equation, Brown told GovLove host Kent Wyatt (ELGL's co-founder) that it brings the most interesting aspects of modern municipalities to a wide audience -- inside and outside of city hall -- and toward a very specific goal. "The podcast is ... about tapping into the conversations in that (municipal) context, which would be the challenges, the new technologies, the novel ideas, the futuristic concepts, fun personalities ... whatever it happens to be," Brown said. "And if we highlight this stuff, and if we highlight the good ideas in this space or help to boost basic understanding of the things that are impacting cities and towns specifically, then hopefully we can share ideas and raise all the boats at once to make all the communities a better place to be."

Municipal Equation debuted in June 2016 with the tough, against-the-odds story of Winston-Salem City Councilmember Denise "D.D." Adams, and has since covered an array of topics including the local infrastructure burden; local government's role in innovation; the importance of modern technology to public service; place attachment; creative use of government-access channels; tough realities of policing; urban and suburban planning; the economics of urban trees; what drones mean for cities; community branding, and more. "If there's one town out there with a unique formula for doing something -- whether it's paying for infrastructure, or downtown development, or acclimating to the Internet of Things, or whatever it happens to be -- then that's a town I want to talk to just to spread the word about it (via the podcast) to other places where that idea might be duplicated," Brown said.

Appearing on GovLove alongside Town of Gilbert, Ariz., Chief Digital Officer Dana Berchman and Geneva, N.Y., City Manager Matt Horn (both of whom host local government podcasts, found here and here), Brown also explained why he thinks it's wise for local governments to begin thinking about launching their own podcasts, if feasible, as modern communications tools. Podcasts, he said, are generally more relaxed, conversational and fun and convey more of a human feel to listeners. "And I do think there is a place for podcasting in pretty much every local government, even if it is just a 10-minute podcast once a month kind of saying in a conversational way what the city council did at the last meeting and how that affects you as a resident," Brown said. "There are so many ways to do it." Click here for the full episode, which focuses fully on podcasting from a local government angle. Click here for all episodes of Municipal Equation. New episodes for 2017 will start on Jan. 17. If you have an idea for an episode, contact Brown at bbrown@nclm.org. And please feel free to leave a good review on iTunes.


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Latest Revenue Report is Out

The League has released its latest Revenue Report -- an update on, and lead-in to, the League's annual forecast of state-collected local revenues. Click here to read it. Produced by League Director of Research and Analysis Chris Nida, the report examines state-collected local government revenues through the first quarter of the 2016-17 fiscal year. The League also recently released its annual Salary Survey and can be found here by either logging in with your League website account or registering for an account with the League website.


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Charlotte Spotlighted in New Report on Smart Cities

"Trends in Smart City Development" is a new report from National League of Cities featuring case studies about how five cities -- Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, Charlotte, and New Delhi, India -- are implementing smart city projects from different approaches. The report also provides recommendations to help local governments consider and plan smart city projects. A "smart city" is one that has developed technological infrastructure that enables it to collect, aggregate, and analyze real-time data to improve the lives of its residents. The report suggests that any smart city effort should include explicit policy recommendations regarding smart infrastructure and data, a functioning administrative component, and some form of community engagement. Look for more on this report in a near-future episode Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast.


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Grassroots Tip of the Week: Share Your Goals

The League's members, at CityVision 2016 this past October, set a smart slate of municipal advocacy goals for the 2017-2018 legislative biennium. With the next General Assembly session just ahead, take some time to flesh out what those goals mean to your city or town, specifically. Click here for a printable PDF of those advocacy goals, many of which focus on the significant revenue challenges facing municipalities, and write down how they relate to your town. Relay that information to your legislators over the phone or during an in-person visit with a productive, teamwork approach, and offer to be a contextual resource for those legislators as the session unfolds. These positive, informed relationships will help your town and others continue to serve as engines for the state's growing economy.