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Cities Flexed Connectivity During Storm

While Hurricane Matthew brought hard devastation, it also brought a clear showing of the strength and smarts of North Carolina municipalities east to west, with public information officers making deft use of social media to alert residents to weather and traffic issues while town managers steadily traded knowledge over listservs for the most conscientious preparations and responses. These efforts, without a doubt, made a massive difference for the public's safety, and they continue for many municipalities still feeling the storm's effects. They include Greenville, whose city staffers and web team went all-out to inform locals about evacuations and curfews as the Tar River swelled. Mayor Allen Thomas was constant on Twitter and Facebook, passing along safety notes and calls for prayer as flood waters threatened lives, properties and incomes.

 

The City of Wilmington, like many other cities as the storm poured from overhead, publicized remarkable images of floodwaters to impress upon residents that they should use good judgment and stay off the roads. It was difficult to argue with a picture that the city's fire department posted online of the Cape Fear River overtaking Water Street downtown.

 

The City of Raleigh in the aftermath spread word online that it would provide hot showers to those bearing with power outages and would waive fees at its yard-waste center to "make it a little easier."

The Town of Rutherfordton rallied online followers to donate to waterlogged areas whose residents had lost basic necessities.

In hard-hit Fayetteville, the city regularly shared relief information on Twitter and Facebook and let locals know that Gov. Pat McCrory had arrived to survey the scene and discuss recovery.

Gov. McCrory on Thursday issued a statement saying his team "saw the best of North Carolina" in terms of human strength and public-sector response. "We saw people who are resilient and caring, including first responders risking their lives to save others and hundreds of volunteers helping those in need," Gov. McCrory said. "There are still people hurting and we are doing all we can to help them. I want to especially thank our National Guard, Highway Patrol troopers, sheriffs and emergency responders for their incredible teamwork under very difficult circumstances." The League offers its best as areas across the state recover from the storm. Local governments may visit the League's readynclocal.org for resources.


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Princeville 'Under Water'; Relief Efforts Underway

It's not over between North Carolinians and the former Hurricane Matthew. For many, the recovery and grieving period will be long. "Sadly we have just been informed of two more storm-related deaths," Gov. Pat McCrory told reporters at a press conference on Thursday, where he noted the state death toll was, at that point, at least 22. He added that the situation was dire for homes and businesses in Princeville, which he said was "basically under water at this point in time," so badly that even rooflines were submerged. Princeville, a Tar River town in Edgecombe County with a population of more than 2,000, is the oldest municipality in the U.S. incorporated by African Americans. Gov. McCrory said quick, local thinking saved lives there this week. "I just flew over Princeville, and I've also talked to their outstanding mayor, Bobbie Jones -- them and Edgecombe County officials have done an outstanding job in ensuring that the entire town was evacuated," the governor said. "I mean, I just cannot praise them more. We have not had a loss of life in a town that is totally under water at this point in time." Mayor Jones, he added, "is a strong, strong mayor. He says his city is going to come back." Read Washington Post coverage of the town's flooding here and Associated Press coverage here.

Officials at all levels have praised the teamwork of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state agencies and local governments to coordinate with emergency operation centers and perform thousands of rescues. More responses are expected as rivers continue to crest. According to the News & Observer, power outages across the state as of Thursday were down to about 43,700, but ongoing river floods could boost that number. Officials urge anyone affected to visit www.disasterassistance.gov or call (800) 621-3362 to file for FEMA relief. Anyone with items to donate should dial 211. And anyone with money to donate should visit www.ncdisasterrelief.org. Additionally, the state Department of Revenue (DOR) this week announced tax relief for individuals and businesses unable to file tax returns or pay taxes due between Oct. 7 and Nov. 7, if the storm is the reason why. DOR said it will waive penalties for that period in counties designated to receive "individual assistance" under the disaster declaration. Click here for full information.


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League Launches 'Here We Grow' Campaign

The League officially kicked off its Here We Grow promotional campaign on Wednesday. Some of you may have read or heard about the campaign; some of you may not. The idea behind it, though, is simple: When each of us does better, we all do better.
 
North Carolina's economic strength is rooted in the diversity of its cities and towns -- a diversity that's the direct result of allowing residents to pursue their own unique visions and allowing municipalities to make investments that help create jobs and grow the economy. To preserve the local decision-making authority that has allowed cities and towns to prosper, it is crucial that we tell that story.
 
As a major part of this effort, we are launching the Here We Grow website, at www.herewegrownc.org, to help provide tools to each municipality, individually, to tell about its economic successes, and to help tell the collective story of how cities and towns are working hand-in-hand with the private sector to build our state's economic foundation.
 
This effort, though, will only work with your involvement, with municipalities working together to tell this story. The League staff wants this to be your campaign. You'll find that we have already worked with several cities and towns to include their economic success stories on the site -- we hope you will add yours. 
 
The Here We Grow website was created as a crowdsourcing site. You can get a login, post a story and photo of your latest economic success, and then let the larger world know about it through the social media tools on the site. To obtain a login, send an email to: about@herewegrownc.org and you'll receive a username and password that allows you to access the site.


 
Besides the story-telling components of the site, a site toolkit 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.

There will be more tools to come in the future.
 
All of this was designed to make it easy for you to use and to bring public attention to your efforts. We’ve also developed a detailed how-to guide to answer any questions. And we’ll continue to make more information available about the campaign and how to get involved in coming weeks, including at the League’s annual conference, CityVision 2016. So, don’t wait. Get involved. Be a part of the story. Here We Grow is here. And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact Scott Mooneyham or Ben Brown on the NCLM staff.


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City Officials Gather for NCLM Wireless Forum

Heather Campbell, Sprint's director of radio-frequency engineering - Southeast, was among speakers. Photo credit: Ben Brown

More than 150 city and wireless industry officials gathered for a small-cell wireless technology forum hosted by the League in Raleigh on Wednesday. Speakers from the wireless industry and governments that manage rights of way explored the new technology, which usually consists of small antennas and accompanying equipment, including a power source. Quickly becoming the industry standard, the technology typically attaches to existing public buildings, infrastructure in the public right of way like streetlights or electric distribution poles, or new monopoles. This latest technology allows wireless carriers to meet surges in demand in highly-trafficked areas, such as busy street intersections or sports stadiums. It also may address gaps in coverage in more rural areas where traditional cell tower signals cannot reach.

At the forum, participants heard explanations of the agreements negotiated by entities like the City of Raleigh, N.C. Department of Transportation and Duke Energy. Industry presenters from Mobility, Verizon and Sprint gave a background on this technology and explained the business rationale for the infrastructure build-out. You may listen to the full forum, including questions and answers, at this link.


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5 Reasons to Listen to Municipal Equation

Have you checked out the Municipal Equation podcast yet? If not, here are five reasons you should:

  1. It puts complex issues of interest to municipalities into easy-going episodes that you can play any time you want.
  2. It has YOU in mind. Municipal Equation explores challenges, quirks, leaders, new ideas, emerging concepts and character traits of cities and towns.
  3. It balances simplicity with depth -- thoroughness that doesn't bog you down.
  4. Episodes to date have covered placemaking, police issues, innovation ideas, infrastructure funding, creative use of government access television, and more.
  5. The episodes range 25-35 minutes, which may pair nicely with your commutes.

On the latest episode:

A question dangles before populous states that grew with low-density development in the 20th century: What do we do now? Generally speaking, planning and development preferences aren't what they used to be. Today they favor higher-density, walkable, mixed use layouts, and local governments far and wide are wondering how to best reshape the traditionally spread-out suburban spaces. "What is the local government’s role in this transition? How does a city or county encourage the redevelopment of suburban spaces? And what are the practical and political implications?" Those are questions posed by UNC School of Government Assistant Professor Adam Lovelady, our guest on this episode. If one thing's for sure, he says, it's a complex issue.

You can find all past episodes here. Municipal Equation is also available on iTunes and streaming services like Stitcher and Google Play. Have ideas for the show? Send them to host/producer Ben Brown at bbrown@nclm.org.


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Report: State, Cities Among Best in Nation for Pension Health

A new report shows North Carolina is in the 11th-best shape in the country in terms of funding its pension and other post-employment benefits costs. The report, from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, adds that both Charlotte and Raleigh are among the 15 best (out of the nation's 50 largest cities) in terms of cost burden. The authors sought to combat popular references to flailing-out-of-control pension systems, as studies reveal that's frequently not the case. "For example, a quick Google search turns up phrases like 'trillion-dollar hole' and 'budget time bombs,'" according to the report. "This assessment is both too sweeping and too narrow. Looking at aggregate costs ignores the heterogeneity of the situation across governments."

New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut are among those carrying large pension costs versus revenue base, but they shouldn't serve as poster cases, the report argues. "The overall state average of 4.3 percent is far below that of the most troubled states.... At the same time, focusing only on pensions and only on states ignores both the pension costs facing local governments and the non-pension costs facing both state and local governments." Governments doing well with pension cost management may be spared from the "unpalatable options" the report describes for those with large burdens. Those options including substantial tax increases, large spending cuts, raising employee contributions or simply praying for higher returns,. "Clearly," the report concludes, "those governments in the worst shape face an enormous challenge." The pension burdens, according to 2014 numbers used in the report, ranged from Illinois' national high of 29 percent of own-source revenue to Nebraska's 1 percent. North Carolina's percentage is not specified in the report, but it's just behind the 10th-best slot claimed by Idaho, which has slightly smaller required pension payments.


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Lawmakers Hear of Police Recruitment Issues

State lawmakers heard from law enforcement trainers this week on the need for more resources in personnel and facilities. The Insider State Government News Service reported on Friday that state Criminal Justice Standards Division Director Steven Combs addressed the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety about recruitment shortfalls and noted that the state wasn't seeing the transition it had expected in military personnel moving into law enforcement roles. According to the Insider, Combs said he saw only scant participation in related state programs, like one that serves to help military police officers shift to local police department jobs. He added that students of criminal justice programs were, in the context of student debt, nervous about the low salaries that can accompany police work, according to the publication. It quoted Rep. Allen McNeill of Asheboro calling it a "serious problem.... We don't have the qualified personnel we need to fill these positions." Click here to view video of a recent police forum that the League held at the request of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus. Focused on police training and community relations, the forum included much conversation about the need for more resources at departments across the state.