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Bill Filings + Faster Pace = NCLM Bill Tracking System + Issue Briefs

As we draw nearer to bill filing deadlines in both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly, we are seeing more and more bills being introduced -- many of which impact cities and towns in various ways. The League Governmental Affairs Team has expanded its offerings this year by including bill summaries in the NCLM Bill Tracking System, which is a key component of our website. Please use the system for up-to-date information on bills of interest, and grab easy-to-digest issue briefs to help you work with General Assembly members back home this weekend.
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ACTION ALERT: Design Controls Bill Scheduled for Hearing

A bill promoted by large track homebuilding interests to restrict the ability of a local community to shape the look and feel of its own community, has been scheduled to be heard Wednesday in the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee on Local Government. HB 150 Zoning/Design & Aesthetic Controls (Dollar, Moffitt, W. Brawley, Jordan) eliminates the ability of cities to impose aesthetics controls over 1- and 2-family dwellings in all zoning districts (with some exceptions), unless agreed to by the homebuilder. This jeopardizes property values in surrounding neighborhoods and reduces community buy-in to new development projects. Local use of these planning tools vary widely, and they are consistent with the wishes and desires of local citizens who determine what is right for their own communities through local codes. Please contact members of the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee on Local Government and your local delegation, and tell them to oppose this anti-local community bill. Contact: Paul Meyer
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Committee Votes To Limit Local Building Inspections

This week the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee on Local Government voted in favor of HB 120 Building Codes: Local Consistency/Exempt Cable. Among other changes, the bill would limit the building inspections cities could conduct to the eight specific areas referenced in the N.C. Building Code (see page 5, Section 107.1 here). Any jurisdiction wishing to require additional inspections beyond those areas would have to bring their request before the N.C. Building Code Council and have it approved. Local inspectors have raised concerns that the legislation would eliminate their ability to conduct additional safety inspections necessary in areas such as high wind zones. HB 120 would also move revision of the N.C. Building Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings from a three-year to a six-year cycle. The bill is scheduled to be heard on the House floor Monday night. For more information, see Building Inspections Bill Given Committee Approval. The League opposes the bill. Contact: Chris Nida
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Criminalizing Public Records/Open Meetings Violators?

SB 125 Public Meeting/Records Law Violators will be discussed at next Tuesday's meeting of the Senate Judiciary I Committee (March 12). In a new version of the bill, any elected or appointed officials who deny access to a public record, and any member of a public body (elected) who violates the Open Meetings Law, will be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. While cities and towns support transparency and fairness in public decision-making, adequate civil remedies exist in both of these areas for violations that may occur, rendering this bill simply unnecessary.  The inevitable result of criminalization of public records violations is a reduction in turnaround time on public records and increased costs to taxpayers in processing public records requests. The League opposes the proposed legislation. Contact: Paul Meyer
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Seen in Raleigh

Answering a request for elected officials and local leadership to have a presence at the General Assembly, more than 40 members of the NCLM Planning & Environment and General Government Legislative Action Committees were in Raleigh Tuesday and Wednesday this week meeting one on one with legislators. Our thanks to House and Senate members for taking time to meet with these small groups during a busy legislative week. Meetings were scheduled with Senators Meredith and Rabin, Speaker Thom Tillis's office, and Representatives Boles, Faircloth, Lewis, Moore, Murry, Starnes and Stone. Committee members donned green ties and blue NCLM name badges to be recognized as NCLM member hometowns. These small-group legislator meetings will continue throughout the legislative session. Contact: Jennifer Webb
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Bill Would Permit Electronic Publication Of Public Notices

Cities and towns would be able to publish legally required public notices online rather than paying for advertisement in a print publication under the terms of SB 186 Notice Publication by Counties and Cities. Municipalities spend upwards of $4 million in taxpayer money annually advertising public notices in newspapers, when most newspaper readers are not looking for public notice information and overall print readership is decreasing. SB 186 would streamline the process of public notification by letting cities and towns publish public notices on their government websites, as well as use other techniques to disseminate public information. Electronic publication of legally required notices was chosen by League members as one of their advocacy goals for the 2013-14 biennium. Contact: Chris Nida
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ACTION ALERT: Legislators Must Know You Support Hold Harmless

As deadlines to submit bills draw closer, legislators need to hear your support of the transitional hold harmless payment, currently set to expire for the 114 municipalities that currently receive it. Last weekend, Sen. Pete Brunstetter told the News & Observer that he did not see such a bill succeeding this session. But many towns, such as Zebulon, would experience a loss equating to a five- or six-cent increase on their property tax rates if the payments did not continue. When meeting with members of your local delegation (log in to your LeagueLINC account to get information on your local legislators), let them know the budgetary impact you would face without the hold harmless payments, and encourage them to build support among their colleagues. Contact: Erin Wynia
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Elimination Of All ETJ Authority Proposed

All extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) authority would be retroactively eliminated statewide if new proposed legislation passes. HB 264 Justice for Rural Citizens Act aims to "remove the injustice of extraterritorial jurisdiction" by preventing any municipality from exercising any authority outside its corporate limits, without any proposed transfer of jurisdiction to county governments. ETJ is a longstanding planning tool in North Carolina that frequently includes county involvement and helps ensure that municipal residents living near corporate limits are protected from problematic development outside corporate limits. This bill not only hurts individual property owners but violates the wishes of many counties who support ETJ as an important planning component. For a more thorough discussion of ETJ authority in North Carolina, see here. Contact: Chris Nida
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Requirement For Total Bond Amount On Ballot Reappears

Legislative language in HB 248 Taxpayer Debt Information Act would require any bond referendum put before voters to include the estimated total amount of interest and total debt on the ballot. This concept has been raised in previous legislative sessions. During those discussions bond counsel indicated that doing so could invalidate the debt issuance given that interest rates at the time of issuance are likely to be different than those used to estimate costs for the ballot. Those variations are also likely to make any figures on the ballot inaccurate and thus more confusing for voters. The bill is opposed by the League. Contact: Chris Nida
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Pair of Bills Put Asheville in Bullseye

Asheville-area representatives introduced two bills this week that would remove certain authorities and funding from the City of Asheville. The first, HB 224 Asheville Extraterritorial Jurisdiction and Annexation, would require the city to relinquish its extraterritorial jurisdiction to Buncombe County effective April 1, 2013, a move the city is already considering independent of the filed legislation. It also would not allow the city to initiate annexation proceedings, or, inexplicably, to complete VOLUNTARY annexations requested by individual property owners in the full exercise of their property rights. The second bill, HB 252 Asheville Transfers, would remove current authority of the city to use up to five percent of its utility revenues for sidewalk and street repair associated with water line improvements. Both of the new bills are assigned to the House Committee on Government, and if favorable, to the House Finance Committee. Contact: Erin Wynia
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Deannexation Bills Filed Include Some Against City's Wishes

Four deannexation bills were filed in the House this week, affecting Grifton (HB 191), Kannapolis (HB 261), Salisbury (HB 260), and Troutman (HB 245). Salisbury and Troutman do not support these efforts. The Salisbury deannexation involves a property inside the city limits that is owned by Rowan County at the Rowan County Airport. Grifton and Kannapolis support the bills concerning deannexation of properties currently within their jurisdiction. Contact: Jordan Smith
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Powell Bill Changes Could Be In Offing

The League continues to hear rumblings that changes to the Powell Bill system could be coming. Currently Powell Bill funds are distributed based on a formula that takes into account population (75%) and local street mileage (25%). At a recent meeting of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, staff raised the idea of adjusting those percentages to weigh population less and street mileage more. There is no firm proposal yet, but we will continue to monitor these discussions and the impact they would have on cities and towns. Contact: Chris Nida
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LGC Could Take Over Public Utilities Under Proposed Bill

A pair of bills filed in the House and Senate would allow the Local Government Commission to take control of local water and sewer systems in the event that the utilities meet certain criteria. HB 238/SB 207 Maintaining Water & Sewer Fiscal Health would grant the LGC the authority to take over the operations of local government or public authority utility systems if those systems are found to have negative working capital, a quick ratio of less than 1.0, or a net loss of revenue in the system for three consecutive years. Before the Commission takes control of the utility, it must notify the system of its problems and find that the financial stability of the utility is threatened and that the utility has failed to make changes to correct its issues. Contact: Chris Nida
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Water Rights Proposal Resurfaces

Senators introduced SB 163 Protect Landowner Water Rights, a bill close to SB 492 from the previous biennium, this week. The renewed proposal would reiterate the ability of landowners to drill wells on their property and withdraw water from those wells, except in areas of known groundwater contamination. A priority of agricultural interests, a similar bill passed the Senate but not the House in 2011. Contact: Erin Wynia
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Boards & Commissions Revamp Headed To Conference Committee

The House gave final approval Monday night to its version of SB 10 Government Reorganization and Efficiency Act. The bill, which would eliminate several boards and commissions as currently constituted and then reform those same boards -- often with different membership qualifications, numbers of members, and appointing officials -- differed substantially from the version that was previously passed by the Senate. The Senate opted not to concur with the House's version, meaning the bill is headed to a conference committee between the two chambers. One of the boards that would be altered by the bill is the N.C. Environmental Management Commission, which the League follows closely as part of its regulatory advocacy program. For more information, refer to the League's blog post earlier this week Boards & Commissions Bill Could be Headed for Conference Committee. Contact: Erin Wynia
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Will You Be in Raleigh March 27?

Plan to 'Bring 5' from your hometown and join your fellow municipal officials in Raleigh March 27 to let legislators know how the decisions that they are making impact North Carolina's cities and towns. Confirm your plans to attend Town Hall Day March 27 today. Remember that consistent visits with your Senators and Representatives make a difference. We'll see you on the 27th! Contact: Jennifer Webb