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Fire Damages League Offices, But Services Continue

A fire late Thursday night at a downtown Raleigh building adjacent to League properties did substantial damage to NCLM buildings while creating a giant fireball seen from several miles away. No one was killed or hurt during the fire, and League operations continued Friday in spite of the damage, with staff working remotely from home while the damage continued to be assessed.

The fire started in a yet-to-be occupied apartment building that was still under construction. Although Raleigh firefighters largely contained the blaze to that property, the intense heat blew out windows to League buildings and the nearby Quorum Center, and fire, heat and water damage occurred as a result.

League staff is working to restore our telephone system, as it is not yet operating at full capacity and may not be for several days. The League’s website and email system continue to be fully functional, so please utilize those systems to contact staff.  

NCLM Executive Director Paul Meyer issued the following public statement:

"Thursday night’s devastating fire did significant damage to the buildings housing the N.C. League of Municipalities. The League’s leadership is thankful that all members of our staff are safe, and that workers and nearby residents all appeared to escape harm during the fire. That is obviously the most important consideration during a calamity such as this.

"We cannot thank enough the brave firefighters, police and other first responders who kept people safe despite the extent of the fire and who did a tremendous job preventing it from spreading further. They are heroes every day, and proved that once again last night.

"Despite the damage to the Reynolds Building and the Coates Local Government Center, the business, operations and service provided by the League staff to its 540 members and insurance pool members will continue and continue largely uninterrupted.  The organization is fortunate that our computing operations and data storage is housed almost exclusively by third-party servers away from the League campus. Nonetheless, we ask patience of League and insurance pool members as we continue to assess the damage and adjust operations in light of that damage.

"For more than 100 years, the League’s mission has been to serve cities and towns on a variety of fronts and to advocate on their behalf. Nothing that occurred on Thursday night will change the mission or the dedication of the League’s members and staff to it."

Our staff is grateful for the many offers of help pouring in from members. We will continue to keep you informed as we adjust operations due to the fire damage.  

Click here to view dramatic video of the fire captured by Travis Long of the Raleigh News & Observer.


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DEADLINE: Pre-Registration for Town Hall Day

The deadline is here! Town Hall Day's pre-registration period ends at midnight Friday -- leaving mere hours until the window closes. Sign up now, if you haven't already, for the year's biggest day of municipal advocacy with legislators in Raleigh. Town Hall Day, March 29, will see hundreds of municipal officials from across North Carolina communicating their messages and priorities to General Assembly lawmakers at the Legislative Building, with an agenda of events and speakers including top state officials like Gov. Roy Cooper and House Speaker Tim Moore.

This crucial day of advocacy for towns and cities also will highlight those municipalities that have uploaded stories to the League's Here We Grow website promoting municipal investments that foster economic growth, with a special treat for those municipalities -- a customized handout featuring their local story. Those stories, and the local investments that help generate jobs and create a great quality of life in North Carolina, will again be a significant part of the day's advocacy.

And if you haven't done so yet, contact League staff or go to the Here We Grow website to put your story up on the site so that your municipality can be featured on this special day. Town Hall Day 2017 will be one for the books -- and it's just ahead!



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Get the Town Hall Day App!

So, you're going to Town Hall Day -- the best advocacy event of the year. Have you downloaded the helpful, companion app yet? Get it! Just type "NCLM events" into the app search on your smart-device for the download. (Direct links: iTunes; Google Play.) 

The League events app is your simple, go-to resource for all things Town Hall Day, no matter where you are. You can tap through the conference's general info, schedule, list of speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, social media activity and a map to help you navigate.


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Free Wireless Forums -- Not Too Late to Register


The League's Erin Wynia leading a wireless forum in Wilmington on Friday morning. Two more forums are ahead.

It’s not too late to register for one of the League’s free upcoming wireless technology forums! All over the country, municipalities big and small are taking steps to make their city operations smarter, faster and more efficient. Join local officials from across your region for a two-hour forum to learn about wireless technologies that can help achieve those aims. You’ll hear from industry and government experts on public safety initiatives such as FirstNet, good government practices such as the Internet of Things and smart cities, and next-generation wireless capabilities enabled by small-cell technologies. Register now to attend an event in either Greensboro (March 20), or Charlotte (March 27).


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House Bill on Sanctuary Cities Advances

House Judiciary II Committee members resumed discussion Tuesday of a legislative proposal to financially penalize so-called "sanctuary cities" in North Carolina. HB 63 Citizens Protection Act of 2017 received a favorable report from the committee in a close vote following a League-suggested amendment to limit the revenues that could be withheld from non-compliant local governments. To date, no one has presented any evidence publicly that any North Carolina municipality is failing to comply with the 2015 state law that prohibits sanctuary city practices.

HB 63 and SB 145 Government Immigration Compliance both lay out a process by which a local government may be stripped of state and local revenues -- such as Powell Bill funds or beer and wine tax revenues, among others -- if the state attorney general's office finds that a local government violated state laws related to local enforcement of federal immigration laws. However, the amendment, suggested by the League and offered by Rep. John Faircloth of High Point, changed the proposal so that the revenues at issue would no longer be withheld for an entire fiscal year. Many of those revenues are spilt into multiple disbursements throughout the year; with the change, once a local government's action is corrected, the local government would be eligible to receive disbursements again. The League sincerely thanks Representative Faircloth and the other committee members who supported his amendment.

Withholding these types of funds as an enforcement mechanism is unprecedented in North Carolina. The League still has many concerns and will continue to be involved in conversations with legislators over both proposals. HB 63 will next be heard by the House Finance Committee and then Appropriations; bill sponsor Rep. Harry Warren of Salisbury ensured that his proposal would receive additional substantive vetting in both committees.


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Local Bills Filed This Week Address Occupancy, Meals Taxes

Two local bills filed this week deal with municipal revenue sources in separate counties and may align with policy goals set by cities and towns this past October. SB 283 Modify Jacksonville Occupancy Tax would change how revenues from the occupancy tax in the City of Jacksonville are spent for 10 years. From July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2027, at least two-thirds of the proceeds of the tax would be spent on tourism-related expenditures. The remaining funds would be spent on promotion of travel and tourism in Jacksonville. After July 1, 2027, expenditure requirements would revert to two-thirds on promotion, and the remainder on expenditures. In the past, the City of Jacksonville's tourism authority has considered tourism-related infrastructure projects, such as a sports complex, to draw visitors to the city. This bill would allow more funds to be spent on such projects. It's also consistent with a municipal goal to allow room occupancy tax revenues to be used to fund service and infrastructure costs in order to support travel and tourism.

HB 398 Brunswick County/Municipal Meals Taxes would authorize Brunswick County to adopt a half-cent tax on the sales of prepared food and meals in the county and all municipalities therein. If the county doesn't adopt the tax, then individual municipalities would be able to adopt the tax themselves. In either case, proceeds of the tax must be used for either beach nourishment and/or the construction and improvement of public infrastructure and facilities. Currently, only two municipalities in the state have authority to levy a prepared meals tax, and only one municipality has actually adopted such a tax. Statewide authority for such a tax would help achieve a League goal to provide municipalities with additional locally-controlled revenue options. Follow along with these and other bills via the League's bill tracker. Contact: Chris Nida


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Bill Would Burden Municipal Taxpayers with School Street Improvements

Senators introduced a bill Wednesday designed to shift the cost of street improvements needed when new schools are built from education funding sources to transportation funding sources. Ultimately, SB 296 Road Improvements Adjacent to Schools would likely hand municipal property taxpayers the responsibility for paying for additional travel lanes, traffic signals, and other transportation improvements to handle additional cars and buses on city streets during school drop-off and pick-up hours.

Currently, cities and the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) conduct traffic simulations prior to construction of all types of new development, including schools. Then, they require developers to pay for the additional burdens placed on state and local road networks from the development. This proposal, modeled after one that received consideration in the House last year, would require NCDOT to pay for right of way acquisition costs as well as any improvements required beyond those for ingress and egress and physically connected to a driveway on the school site. In the event that NCDOT refuses to approve and pay for a city's recommended improvements, then municipal property taxpayers would pick up the tab for any necessary upgrades to the street network near new schools, including charter schools. A fiscal note for last year's similar bill estimated annual costs to NCDOT in the tens of millions of dollars. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Morrisville, Winston-Salem Win Nat'l Diversity Awards


Pictured among fellow winners are Morrisville and Winston-Salem (whose respective Mayor Pro Tem Steve Rao and Council Member Jeff MacIntosh are at right). Photo contributed.

Two North Carolina municipalities received honors for cultural diversity programs at a national gathering in Washington, D.C. this week. Morrisville and Winston-Salem both won first place in their population categories at the National League of Cities' City Cultural Diversity Awards, which highlight municipal programs to improve human relations and harmony. Six U.S. cities were selected. Morrisville won for its town-supported East Meets West Festival. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Rao was on hand to accept the award and remarked that Morrisville is among the fastest growing and most diverse towns in the state. "The Festival is incredibly important to town council as a means of both connecting with the public and showcasing how our diversity is representative of the community," he said.

Winston-Salem was honored for its Building Integrated Communities Newcomers Pipeline geared to ensure good service to all populations in the city. Click here for more information. Programs in Decatur, Ga., Rock Hill, S.C., and Westminster and Aurora, Colo. also won honors. "The strength of our nation lies in the diversity of our cities and towns,” said NLC President Matt Zone. "Across the country, municipal officials are taking the lead on creating policies that are more accessible to and more inclusive of their diverse residents." Click here for full details.


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Podcast: Sister Cities, Explored; Cary, Burlington and Beyond

No doubt you've heard of sister cities. Your town might even have one in a far-off country. Some towns, like Cary, have multiple sister cities. But do you know the origin of sister cities? How the concept took off? And what it's evolved to? And that it's greased the track for huge business relationships? And probably even saved lives? It's fascinating when you dig in. We do so on the latest episode of Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast on the challenges, concepts and new ideas flowing through today's cities and towns. If you haven't checked it out yet, this week's episode is a great place to start. You can find all past episodes -- always for free -- right here. To make it easy, click here to subscribe on iTunes. Have feedback or ideas for future episodes? Reach out to host/producer Ben Brown at bbrown@nclm.org.