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A New Day at the League

It is hard to believe that I am writing this on Ellis Hankins' final day at the N.C. League of Municipalities. As most of you undoubtedly know by now, Ellis has elected to retire as League Executive Director, a position he has held since 1997. His tenure as ED comes after previously serving on the League staff for more than a decade in the 1980s and early 1990s. For so many years, Ellis has been synonymous with the League, assisting cities and towns from across the state through his leadership and guidance. All of us at the League thank him for his time with us and appreciate all that he has done, not only for the League staff but for all of our member cities and towns. I am sure he is looking forward to spending more time with his family, and we wish him all the best in all his future pursuits.

It is my honor to be able to follow Ellis as the League's next Executive Director. Throughout my time at both the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and here at the League, I have always enjoyed the opportunity to work directly with local government officials, and I am looking forward to doing even more of that as ED. The League remains the only organization representing all of North Carolina's cities and towns, and I am eager to work with all of our 540-plus municipal members. With the League's active and engaged membership across the state, supported by the highly talented staff we have on hand here, I truly believe that the League is poised for even greater things in the years to come. While I will transition from focusing solely on Government Affairs matters to addressing a broad range of League concerns as ED, I have full confidence in our advocacy team, and I know that we will have a more than capable replacement for myself named in the weeks to come. I look forward to working with many of you in the future, and please never hesitate to reach out to me if you need anything. The League is its members, and I want to hear from you about how we can best serve your city or town.

To Ellis, again, thank you for all that you have done for us over the course of your career. Best wishes in your retirement.

Sincerely,

Paul Meyer

  Today is the final day at the League for retiring Executive Director Ellis Hankins (right). He will be succeeded by the League's current Director of Governmental Affairs, Paul Meyer (left). 


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NC Tax Collections Ahead of Forecast, But Most Risk in 2nd Half of Year

At the Tuesday meeting of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, Fiscal Research staff presented a detailed update on state revenue projections for Fiscal Year 2013-14. The report forecasted tax revenue growth in North Carolina this fiscal year, with one of the most dramatic areas of revenue growth being in the area of Corporate Income Tax collections. Staff pointed out that state tax collections were $83.5 million above the state's $10 billion prorated target as of December, but also explained that most of the risk in state revenue forecasting is carried in the second half of the fiscal year.

Fiscal Research staff also projected that Amazon's recent announcement that it would begin collecting sales tax on online purchases made from North Carolina would deliver approximately $20 million in new tax revenue to the state's General Fund and $10-$13 million in additional revenue to City and County governments in North Carolina, which will begin coming into the state on Feb. 1. Federal law does not currently require online retailers to collect sales tax in states where they do not have a brick and mortar store, warehouse, or other form of physical presence. Like Amazon, the League has been supportive of the federal Marketplace Fairness Act, which would give state and local governments that meet certain conditions nationwide the authority to collect the sales taxes on Internet purchases that they are currently owed.


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U.S. Senate Votes to Delay Flood Insurance Increases

The U.S. Senate voted Thursday in favor of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which would delay many of the changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that were passed as part of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. Those changes, designed to ensure the solvency of the NFIP, have been leading to significant flood insurance rate increases for property owners around the country. The bill would delay some increases in premiums and elimination of flood insurance subsidies until a study of the affordability of those increases is completed. The League has joined local officials and fellow state and national organizations in supporting a delay of the flood insurance reforms until a study is performed. The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act must still pass the U.S. House of Representatives before it goes into effect. According to reports, its future in the House was not immediately clear following the Senate vote.
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NC 911 Board Approves Revenue Sharing Model for Secondary PSAPs

At its Jan. 24 board meeting, the North Carolina 911 Board approved by an 8-6 margin a proposal under which 911 Fund disbursements may be permitted to secondary Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) through primary PSAPs. City of Burlington Mayor Ronnie Wall, City of Concord Assistant City Manager Merl Hamilton, and League Governmental Affairs Associate Whitney Christensen all spoke in support of the new funding model during the Board's public comment period, as did representatives from six different North Carolina police departments. The League supported the proposal as an incremental first step toward an equitable funding formula for all PSAPs. Under the proposal, secondary PSAP funding will be determined on a per 911 call basis as measured by the Electronic Call Analysis Tracking System (ECaTS). The 911 Board has provided a sample of how disbursements could be determined here. The new revenue sharing model will go into effect on July 1 of this year.


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Local Officials Speak Out on Homeowners Insurance Proposal

City officials were among those attending a public hearing last Friday to speak against an increase in homeowners insurance rates requested by the insurance industry. That increase will average approximately 25 percent statewide but could be as much as 35 percent in some coastal communities. Local leaders, particularly those in coastal areas, said at the meeting that they are seeing residents leave their communities as a result of the increasing insurance rates. N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, who has come out against the rate increase, has until next month to either accept the industry's proposal or send it to a public hearing he would preside over where representatives from the industry and the state would make their case for or against the rate increase.
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Legislators Begin Look at Local, State Development Oversight

Members of the legislative Committee on Land Development met for the first time yesterday to begin examination of the ways local and State governments oversee development activities, including permitting and inspections of development. While the committee has a broad charge, the idea for the committee grew out of a development in Lowell. In that situation, the developer received approvals of its sedimentation/erosion control plans and other associated designs, but it did not complete a key retaining wall before going bankrupt. Now, homeowners' properties receive significant flooding, even during normal rainfall (photos here). Committee chair Rep. John Torbett, whose legislative district includes the affected homeowners, proposed a bill last session to require developers statewide to secure bonds for retaining walls. Many local governments already require such bonds for various built components in developments, including shared infrastructure like retaining walls, culverts, and streets.

At the meeting, committee members questioned both State and local government staff on their individual roles in inspecting and approving various stages of development. Some legislators expressed frustration that these inspections tend to take place in silos, with little communication between the levels of government regarding problems on development sites. The committee will meet three more times, and Torbett announced the next meeting would take place February 27 in Lowell.


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State Economic Development Partnership Transition Delayed, CDBG Issue Clarified

In a meeting of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations Tuesday, state officials explained that the highly publicized move of the state's Department of Commerce to the nonprofit Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina won't begin until the third quarter of this year, at the earliest. This report goes against earlier assurances from the Department's current leadership and the Governor's office that at least two of the Department's Divisions, the Business and Industry Division and the Marketing Division, would be turned over to the nonprofit partnership in the first half of this year. In their joint presentation, Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker and newly appointed Interim Chief Executive Officer of the nonprofit partnership Richard Lindenmuth assured legislators that the delay was due only to their commitment to ensuring the success of the controversial transition.

Immediately following Decker and Lindenmuth's presentation, legislative Fiscal Research staff and representatives from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) gave an update on a lingering issue about how Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) would be administered in North Carolina going forward. During the 2013 Long Session of the General Assembly, a discrepancy between the budget bill and its corresponding money report caused some confusion about which tiers of North Carolina counties would be eligible for the grants. DENR representatives told the committee that they would rely on the State Budget Act in their interpretations, meaning they would not block Community Development Block Grants in any Tier 1, 2 or 3 Counties.


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Cities, Officials Honored With Main Street Awards

The N.C. Department of Commerce announced its 2013 Main Street Awards yesterday, handing out 21 awards to participants in the N.C. Main Street and Small Town Main Street programs. The awards recognize excellence in downtown revitalization and included such categories as promotion, organization, design, and economic restructuring. Additionally, 33 individuals were named as Main Street Champions after being designated by their local N.C. Main Street programs for the remarkable contributions they have made to the downtown revitalization process in their communities. Among the individuals honored this year were City of Concord Mayor Scott Padgett and City of Clinton Mayor Lew Starling. A full list of all of the honorees can be found here. Congratulations to all these communities and individuals for their hard work and dedication.