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Stormwater Rulemakers Approve Largescale Revisions, Additions

Top state regulators voted on Thursday to adopt a large package of stormwater rules that would affect cities and towns. The N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) gave final approval to a proposal brought forward after several years of stakeholder involvement and a recent public comment period. Four municipal stormwater experts took part in stakeholder discussions, which focused on defining technical standards for stormwater control measures as well as creating a fast-track permitting option for these devices (read more background here).

The package also included a substantial reorganization and update of existing stormwater rules, which was prompted by the "review of rules" process, a legislative mandate requiring state agencies to review and potentially change their rules every 10 years.

Commissioners’ discussions of the rule package focused on which licensed professionals should be allowed to access the new fast-track permitting process, noting that since plans for stormwater control measures will not be reviewed prior to being built, the submitting professional needs to be competent in stormwater design to ensure the protection of the public and property. Additionally, under their federal stormwater permits, cities and towns are generally required to ensure that stormwater control measures operate in perpetuity. League affiliate organization the Storm Water Association of North Carolina provided detailed advance comments to the EMC that highlighted these issues. The rules package next heads to the Rules Review Commission for approval. The scheduled effective date of the rule package is January 1, 2017.


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Program Helps Towns Provide Electric Vehicle Charging Spots

Duke Energy is investing in the expansion of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in cities and towns around the state. Its goal: to see 30 percent more of them. The utility announced its “EV Charging Infrastructure Support Project” on Tuesday, reserving $1 million to help municipalities develop public charging stations. According to a press release, Duke Energy will cover all costs up to $5,000 per charge port; $20,000 per site, or $50,000 per city. “Adoption of EVs depends on a robust infrastructure for consumers,” said David Fountain, president of Duke Energy North Carolina. There are roughly 4,700 registered plug-in EVs and about 700 public charging stations in North Carolina right now, according to the industry. An article posted Tuesday on techcrunch.com reported expectations of 62 percent year-over-year growth in the EV market in 2016, as the vehicles become more accessible and affordable.

“Duke Energy's new program will give communities the opportunity to provide a new amenity for residents and visitors that also benefits the local economy and air quality,” said Dr. Robert Koger, president of Advanced Energy, a nonprofit established by the N.C. Utilities Commission. The program also includes $500,000 for electric bus charging for transit agencies. The utility would pay fully for electric bus-charging infrastructure up to $250,000 per entity, the press release says. To apply, download this EV charging form, or this one for the bus program. The deadline is Sept. 1. Questions may be directed to PlugIn@Duke-Energy.com. Click here for media coverage.


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Gov. McCrory Signs Law Enforcement Legislation

Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law HB 972 Law Enforcement Recordings/No Public Record during a ceremony with bill sponsors on Monday, setting up a much-needed legal framework regarding access to police footage from body-worn or dashboard cameras. The governor’s office in a press release explained that the legislation “seeks to gain public trust while respecting the rights of public safety officers by establishing clear and distinct procedures and standards by which a law enforcement agency may disclose or release a recording from a body-worn or dashboard camera.”

Bill sponsors including Reps. John Faircloth and Allen McNeill, who come from law enforcement backgrounds, received bipartisan recognition during the legislation’s development for their diligent work on a complicated topic. It involved League-member presentations to an interim legislative study committee on the vast and complex issues related to law enforcement agencies' use of body-worn cameras. That feedback helped to shape the final language, which does not mandate the use of body cams. Click here for past League coverage.

Gov. McCrory at the same ceremony also signed HB 1044 Law Enforcement Omnibus Bill, which makes various minor changes to state law enforcement statutes but also establishes a Blue Alert System to help apprehend suspects of murder or serious bodily injury committed on a law enforcement officer. “This legislation will help curtail violence against our police officers by engaging the community to help capture suspects who seek to harm an officer,” the governor’s office said.


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Budget Among Other Bills Signed; Many Still Pending

Nearly 30 bills approved in the 2016 legislative session still awaited Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature as of Friday morning, including measures of interest to municipalities. But the governor has been reducing the stack. In addition to signing the state’s $22.3 billion budget and law enforcement legislation mentioned earlier in this newsletter, this week he put into law a handful of bills including House Bill 959 DOT Proposed Legislative Changes. That one includes a provision responding to a N.C. Supreme Court Ruling from June 10 that struck down the state’s 29-year-old law allowing NCDOT to place development restrictions on land planned for future roads. The legislative changes include using dollars currently earmarked for state-funded transportation projects to pay court costs and landowner fees, which could eventually run into amounts of hundreds of millions of dollars. The FY16-17 state budget included just over $32 million in additional amounts for this same transportation program. The new transportation law includes various other technical changes and updates requested by NCDOT. Click here for a rundown of that and other bills the governor signed this week. Click here for a governor's-office press release and here for news coverage about the signing of the budget, which includes several wins for municipalities, as noted in previous League coverage.

Many bills still await the governor’s pen as of Friday morning, according to the General Assembly's website. They include:

  • HB 483 Land-Use Regulatory Changes – Passed on the final day of the 2016 General Assembly after negotiations by municipal officials and land-use attorneys, this measure is a much-abbreviated version of its prior form. This legislation would grant statutory vested rights for multi-phase developments for a period of seven years. Click here for previous League coverage of the bill's earlier language.
  • HB 630 Drinking Water Protect’n/Coal Ash Cleanup Act – Includes League-requested language to assure that a public water system’s solvency be taken into account when electric providers are required provide alternative drinking water supplies to property owners near coal ash impoundments.
  • SB 326 Local Gov'ts/Bldgs/Structures/Inspections – Places restrictions on the ways cities run rental registration programs. Cities around the state have used these programs successfully to force absentee landlords to address repeated housing violations on their properties, improving the quality of available housing and protecting the public safety of neighboring tenants and property owners. (Click here to read the League's previous coverage of the bill and changes made.)
  • SB 667 Elections Omnibus Revisions – A League-opposed provision in this bill sets sight on even-numbered-year municipal elections by 2020. Section 5 directs the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee to study implementation options and recommend any related legislation.

Click here to see a full list of bills pending on the governor’s desk. Click here to see a full list of bills the governor has already signed.


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State Projects Budget Surplus

State revenue analysts project that North Carolina will have $425 million more in tax collections than expected from the recently ended fiscal year. The office of Gov. Pat McCrory announced the surplus in a press release on Tuesday. “North Carolina has posted record revenue surpluses driven by strong economic growth, job creation and responsible financial management,” Gov. McCrory said. “At a time when neighboring states are revealing steep revenue deficits, North Carolina’s economy is firing on all cylinders.” This latest revenue projection is $95 million more than projected in May. Officials say the surplus is driven by increased employment and better income. Click here for media coverage.

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Hearing Set on HB2 Lawsuit

A federal judge on Aug. 1 is set to hear arguments on whether to suspend parts of House Bill 2 while a lawsuit is pending against the legislation, the Raleigh News & Observer reported on Thursday. According the newspaper, it’s one of four legal challenges against HB2, which went into law after a one-day special session of the N.C. General Assembly in March. Plaintiffs in this case took issue with the law’s requirement that individuals in schools and public buildings use only the restrooms that match their biological sex as noted on their birth certificates, as opposed to their gender identity, a measures seen as discriminatory to the transgender community. The plaintiffs claim HB2 violates federal law on gender equity, the newspaper reported. The U.S. Department of Justice has also sued over the law. HB2 separately prohibits local governments from regulating against discrimination in places of public accommodation.


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Sen. Apodaca Resigns After 14 Years

Sen. Tom Apodaca, the Hendersonville lawmaker known as second-in-command in the N.C. Senate as chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, has announced his resignation from the state legislature after seven terms of service. "It has been the honor of my lifetime to represent and serve the people of Western North Carolina in the State Senate," he said in a Friday morning statement quoted by news outlets across the state. "It was a privilege to serve in such a special institution and I am grateful for the many friendships formed with constituents and colleagues on both sides of the aisle." Apodaca had previously announced that this term would be his last in the General Assembly. The News & Observer's Insider State Government News Service reported that Apodaca may have his eye on a lobbying career. He was first elected to the legislature in 2002. "Sure will be strange serving in the (General Assembly) and representing Henderson County without him," Rep. Chuck McGrady tweeted Friday morning. Click here for more media coverage.

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Report: Mayors Value Economic Development Above All

Economic development remains the number-one focus of U.S. mayors, the National League of Cities reported on Thursday from the findings of its annual State of the Cities study examining mayors' state-of-the-city speeches in 100 municipalities of various sizes and regional traits. According to NLC’s summary, economic development was mentioned in 75 percent of those speeches, followed by public safety at 70 percent and city budgets at 52 percent. All in all, the bottom lines represent what cities and towns have accomplished and the challenges still ahead. "As the economy rebounds, mayors are utilizing their state of the city speeches to highlight the progress their communities have made since the Great Recession," said NLC CEO Clarence E. Anthony in a press release about the study. "Mayors are focusing on innovative strategies to grow jobs, modernize manufacturing and keep our residents safe. But we must work hard to address critical challenges -- including inequality, gun violence, inclusion issues and a dilapidated infrastructure -- for our cities, and our nation, to thrive and succeed.”

Other top issues for mayors this year included housing, energy, data and technology issues, and healthcare. Public safety’s second-place focus in these speeches is a change from last year’s heavy emphasis on infrastructure, which was still mentioned in 48 percent of speeches and concentrated mostly on roads and bicycling. Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane’s speech, delivered in March, was among those NLC sampled for its study. Read the full report here, which includes tools for local leaders to address the various issues most highlighted in state-of-the-city speeches.


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ICYMI - Podcast: Reps. Ross, Torbett Discuss Local Infrastructure

State Reps. Stephen Ross and John Torbett weighed in on the local infrastructure funding burden in the latest episode of Municipal Equation, the League’s recently launched podcast about local government and great communities. “We’re not treating the economic engine the way it needs to be treated,” Rep. Ross, a former mayor of Burlington, said in a featured interview about the lack of funding resources available to municipalities -- being the economic engines -- so they can keep up with growth by way of reliable infrastructure. He said he hopes the legislature can soon discuss new funding options. Rep. Torbett, a chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said the state feels obligated to road funding but would like to see municipalities be able to handle water and sewer needs. He called for essential planning to highly prioritize maintenance of existing infrastructure. Some cities’ underground pipes are several decades old. Listen in to hear more about the local infrastructure funding quandary, learn about tools to reduce the deficit and a piece of creative thinking that the City of Raleigh has put to use.

Our next episode -- an interview with renowned innovation and entrepreneurship expert Christopher Gergen on how municipal government can help foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem -- will be out on Tuesday, July 19. Click here for a preview.


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Nat’l Ranks: Motorists Fare Better in N.C. Municipalities

Four North Carolina cities are in a new, national top-20 list of best cities for driving. Popular consumer finance website WalletHub recognized Greensboro (14th), Winston-Salem (17th), Charlotte (19th) and Durham (20th) after a narrative about the increasingly burdensome nature of owning and operating an automobile. “Each year, those who drive spend an average of about 200 hours on the road -- plus another 41 hours in gridlock. For a full-time worker, 241 hours is the equivalent of a six-week vacation,” the site explained. It tabulated the collective cost of wasted time and fuel by way of traffic congestion at $1,700 per household, or $124 billion overall, per year. “But some cities are friendlier toward Americans behind the wheel,” WalletHub contributor Richard Bernardo notes. The report is a number-crunch involving the nation’s 100 most populous cities with attention to gas prices, average annual hours of traffic delays and number of automobile repair establishments per capita. Beneath the overall rankings, which saw Greensboro along the forefront nationally, are individual accolades that consider Winston-Salem among the top-five in the U.S. for lowest average annual hours of traffic delays. Raleigh was fifth for lowest auto maintenance costs. And three North Carolina municipalities were in the top-five for lowest parking rates: Durham (1st), Winston-Salem (2nd) and Greensboro (5th).