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Six Counties Change in Tier Status

Six North Carolina counties will change in economic tier status in 2018, per revisions announced Wednesday by the N.C. Department of Commerce. The state's economic tier system is mandated by law and plays a significant role in a community's eligiblity for economic assistance programs, ranking each county on a scale of 1 to 3. (Tier 3 is considered to be the least economically distressed). Under the new numbers, Lenoir and Perquimans counties will move from Tier 2 to Tier 1 status. Forsyth County will shift from Tier 3 to Tier 2. Beaufort and Caldwell counties are going from Tier 1 to Tier 2. And Granville County will graduate from Tier 2 to Tier 3.

"Tier designations determine eligibility for a number of different grant programs that N.C. Commerce administers including building reuse, water and sewer infrastructure, and the downtown revitalization Main Street program," the press release explains. Many other public and private programs use the tiers as well.

There have been legislative efforts to modify or replace the tier system, as it's often considered problematic for North Carolina's communities in accurately measuring distress. Many Tier 3 counties, for instance, include communities with Tier 1 characteristics. The Department of Commerce's website includes a general information page about the current system.


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Cities Applaud U.S. House Passage of Brownfields Bill

While members of Congress were moving on federal tax reform (still in progress at the time of this writing), the U.S. House on Thursday passed bipartisan legislation that would provide important economic development funding -- the Brownfields Enhancement Economic Development and Reauthorization Act of 2017, HR 3017. "We commend members of the U.S. House of Representatives for passing this important legislation in a bipartisan manner. It marks a critical step forward in providing local officials not only with the funding they need, but also the flexibility to tailor their brownfield redevelopment to meet the individual needs of their cities, counties and regions," the National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, and the National Association of Regional Councils said in a Friday statement.

"For many people, brownfields are just the neighborhood eyesore or the former industrial site, but for mayors and other local officials they also represent unrealized potential," the statement continued. "We see the redevelopment of brownfields as a chance to bring jobs back to a community, revitalize neighborhoods, increase our tax base, and reuse and enhance already existing infrastructure in a more sustainable way." The groups praised the House for inviting testimony from local officials and incorporating their suggestions before approving the bill. There are more than 400,000 brownfield sites across the U.S.


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New Laws Take Effect For Drone Use

Drone operators in North Carolina have new laws to observe as of Friday, Dec. 1. The following is from the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT):

House Bill 128 prohibits drone use near prisons, jails and any other correction or containment facility. "Near" is defined as a horizontal distance of 500 feet or a vertical distance of 250 feet. Signs will be placed around facilities to remind drone users of the boundaries.

House Bill 337 revises existing state drone laws. The language of the law has been changed to clarify that UAS laws will now apply to model aircraft as well. Model aircraft users are still exempt from the state’s permitting requirements.

The revisions also loosen restrictions on the use of UAS (unmanned aircraft systems, or drones) in emergency management. The law permits emergency management agencies to use drones for all activities related to emergency management and removes the restriction on the use of special imaging technology. The use of technologies such as thermal and infrared was previously only permitted for scientific purposes. The removal of the restriction allows private and commercial operators to assist law enforcement with emergency management efforts such as search and rescue operations.

NCDOT says it has updated its UAS Knowledge Test Study Guide to reflect the changes.


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W-S Council Member Adams Joins NLC Board of Directors

The National League of Cities (NLC) has announced its 2018 roster of leadership and Board of Directors members, and it includes Winston-Salem City Council Member Denise "D.D." Adams. It's a continuation of NLC service for Adams, appointed to the NLC Board of Directors for a two-year term following a previous role with the organization's Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Relations Committee. Adams, who joined the Winston-Salem City Council in 2009, also has a history of involvement with the N.C. League, including past service on its Board of Directors. Southern City, the League's bimonthly magazine, profiled Adams last year.

NLC's 2018 officers include Little Rock, Ark., Mayor Mark Stodola as president; Gary, Ind., Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson as first vice-president; Los Angeles City Council Member Joe Buscaino as second vice-president; and Cleveland City Council Member Matt Zone as immediate past president.


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Podcast: The Police Recruitment Problem (And Solutions?)

Time for a new episode of Municipal Equation. The focus? It's a nationwide issue weighing on police departments of all sizes: the lack of good, qualified applicants when police chiefs seek to hire officers. Salary concerns, public scrutiny, the inherent dangers, long hours and the need for wholehearted commitment are just a few factors stressing the profession. And there's more. To get a handle on it, we talk with an expert and visit with police officials who recently changed their own agency's hiring approach expressly to turn things around. Did it work? Find out. (Oh, and after the serious talk, we have a few more names to add to our ongoing list of Best Fictional Mayors.)

Municipal Equation is the League's biweekly podcast about cities and towns in changing times. Subscribe for free on iTunes, Google Play or via your favorite podcast app. Have a good idea for an episode? Is your municipality doing something different that merits attention? Or do you see a new challenge on the horizon? Reach out to host/producer Ben Brown.


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What's New on Here We Grow: Kannapolis and Newton


Confetti rains down Kannapolis as locals kick off the city's downtown revitalization project. Photo submitted by City of Kannapolis.

Kannapolis and Newton are the latest municipalities to outline growth visions and milestones on Here We Grow, the League's economic development storytelling tool. In its sixth contribution to herewegrownc.org, the City of Kannapolis details how hundreds of local officials, business people and residents gathered last week to celebrate the kickoff of the city's downtown revitalization project. "We are embarking on a journey which will bring new investments, new businesses and new opportunities for a better quality of life for our citizens,” said City Manager Mike Legg. "For every dollar we invest in our downtown we expect to triple it with private investment dollars." In Newton, city government has taken an innovative approach to show residents and visitors the "after" view of its streetscape project. That's through "a set of cutting-edge interactive renderings that allow you to feel as if you are walking through the city’s soon-to-be-improved streets," the city writes on herewegrownc.org, where you can find the full story and scores of others

Here We Grow collects stories like these from around the state for a visual, cumulative representation -- by way of its story map -- of how local investments and innovations add up for North Carolina. It's about jobs, economic growth and quality of life. Here We Grow also makes customizable tools available for communicating your town's economic success. Have a story to contribute? No need to stay quiet. Join! Send an email to about@herewegrownc.org to request login credentials. And browse the story list for inspiration, if you need. As Here We Grow makes clear, when each of us does better, we all do better.


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SOG Students Offering Help in Revitalization Projects

The UNC School of Government (SOG) invites cities and towns to submit community revitalization projects for free consideration by graduate students. Information about the program explains: "Graduate students enrolled in the Community Revitalization course and working with the School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative are current professional degree students in business, planning, and public administration, among others. Under the supervision of faculty and staff, students conduct market research, feasibility analysis, and financial modeling to help communities understand how they can attract private investment into community revitalization projects across North Carolina. Students work in multi-disciplinary teams over the course of a semester at no charge for local governments." SOG offers a form to fill out and submit for consideration in the program. Direct questions to Christy Raulli at (919) 843-7736.