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ACTION ALERT: Tell Legislators to Support Water System Fees Bills

Please pick up the phone this weekend to urge your local legislators to support HB 624/SB 641 Uniform System Development Fees for Water. And when talking with your House members, please ask them to sign onto HB 624 as a co-sponsor before the Monday evening deadline.

These companion bills would achieve a critical League advocacy goal to reduce municipalities' legal exposure -- stemming from the 2016 N.C. Supreme Court decision in Quality-Built Homes v. Carthage -- to repay water and sewer growth-related fees charged in the past. The bills would also provide municipalities with clear authority to assess these fees in the future. The League thanks all the bill sponsors and co-sponsors for their support of this goal, especially primary sponsors Sens. Paul Newton, Chuck Edwards, and Norm Sanderson, and Reps. Chuck McGrady, Linda Johnson, Craig Horn, and Linda Hunt Williams. These bills will ensure that the costs of upgrades to water and wastewater treatment systems that are attributable to new development will be borne by those developers rather than ratepayers or property taxpayers. They will also prevent a slowdown in growth that will otherwise happen if development must wait for taxpayers to pay for these upgrades.

The bills also include language describing the formula that cities must use to calculate these fees. Cities and towns appreciate the bill sponsors' willingness to continue negotiating this language and other aspects of the bill with all affected stakeholders, and the League is committed to those ongoing discussions. As a result of that commitment, the League opposed HB 436 Local Government/Regulatory Fees when it came up for a vote in a House local government committee Wednesday. While we appreciate HB 436 bill sponsor Rep. Sarah Stevens for acknowledging that willingness to bargain, in public comments to the committee, the League stated that HB 436 was unnecessary and would cause growth to slow in many communities, as well as increased water bills and property taxes. Read more coverage of that committee debate in this News & Observer article. HB 436 must next have a hearing in the House Finance Committee. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Revisions to IVC Laws Supports League Goal

Bills filed in both chambers of the General Assembly this week to revise the state's involuntary commitment (IVC) laws contain provisions in the spirit of a League advocacy goal to reduce strain on law enforcement officers. HB 564 Revise IVC Laws to Improve Behavioral Health (SB 630) would, among many other changes, do the following:

  • revise the process for law enforcement officials that take custody of and transport individuals subject to an involuntary commitment order to their first commitment examination;
  • require local mental health management entities to formulate a local area crisis services plan for these custody and transportation services, developed through a stakeholder process that includes local law enforcement agencies;
  • direct local management entities to also develop a training program for law enforcement officers who provide these services;
  • give more flexibility to law enforcement officers performing these duties in the event that the designated facility does not have commitment examiners available, allowing transport of the individuals to a wider array of facilities;
  • grant additional authority to cities and counties in formulating their plans for custody and transportation of these individuals.

The League's board in October 2016 adopted a goal to support legislation that bolsters the state's mental health and intellectual/developmental disabilities treatment resources, including resources and solutions to lessen the strain on sworn law enforcement officers when providing custody of individuals in crisis. Cities and towns appreciate the attention given to this issue by bill sponsors Reps. Josh Dobson, Susan Martin, Donnie Lambeth, and Chris Malone; and Sens. Ralph Hise, Joyce Krawiec, and Shirley Randleman.


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Code Enforcement Limits Move to Senate

The House on Thursday approved a slightly improved version of this year's first regulatory reform bill, sending to the Senate an omnibus proposal that contains a controversial code enforcement measure that cities and towns continue to oppose. We thank Rep. Sam Watford for successfully sponsoring an amendment that softened this provision, which otherwise flips local code enforcement practices on their head by limiting how long a local government may enforce its codes. After Watford's amendment, Section 2.15 of SB 131 Regulatory Reform Act of 2016-2017 now institutes a seven-year statute of limitations for enforcement of any local or state land-use regulations, beginning when a violation is "apparent" from a public right-of-way or in plain view from a place to which the public is invited. Within those seven years, the measure shortens the time frame for code enforcement to five years once the local government actually knows of the violation. The proposal contains one exclusion to this limitation, in the cases of enforcement of dangers to public health or safety.

This provision received virtually no public debate during two House committee debates last week, and now that it is in the Senate's hands for a concurrence vote, it will not receive further committee discussion. Please take action this weekend to convey your concerns about this provision to members of the Senate. Your outreach is critical, given the limited opportunity for public debate of this measure. Tell senators that:

  • This measure cuts off all remedies a local government may have to ensure neighboring property owners aren’t affected by illegal or nonconforming land uses.
  • Because the proposal ties a local government's hands and reduces its flexibility, neighbors’ only remedy will be expensive lawsuits against neighbors in violation.
  • As written, this proposal allows a property owner who knowingly breaks the law to avoid any punishment after a statute of limitations has passed.
  • Because land use violations are ongoing and not just a one-time incident, public policy up until now has favored allowing enforcement actions at any time the violation is occurring.
  • You oppose this controversial measure and appreciate their vote to remove it from the bill.

Contact: Erin Wynia


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Billboards Industry Splits Requests into Four Bills

Led by Rep. David Lewis, House members introduced four billboard industry-supported bills on Wednesday. The bills recall many of the provisions included in a 2015 industry bill that the League opposed because it stripped away all local rules governing existing billboards. As in the past, under this year's proposals, an existing billboard could be moved from its current location to any other non-residential zone in the city, regardless of a local community's restrictions on location. Further, those relocated billboards could be enlarged, made taller, mounted on a steel monopole, or converted to digital displays.

In addition, these proposals would change the calculation for compensation owed to billboard owners during condemnation actions. This change would drastically increase the amounts taxpayers would pay to billboard owners when condemning for public infrastructure projects (like roads) because it would take into account future earnings that the owner might receive if the sign had continued in use. No other class of property owners is given this special consideration in condemnation actions.

In touting the bills' introduction, Rep. Lewis issued a press release focused on one provision whereby state government may request that billboard owners display public emergency messages for the traveling public. The four bills all share the same name and are numbered consecutively, beginning with HB 579 Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws. The House assigned them to the House Rules Committee, where they await further action. No Senate companion bills were filed prior to that chamber's bill filing deadline Tuesday. Contact: Erin Wynia


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House Passes Firefighter Special Retirement Benefit

A House proposal to provide firefighters and rescue squad workers with an extra post-retirement benefit called a "special separation allowance" advanced through the House State and Local II Committee on Wednesday and received approval from the full House the following day without a funding mechanism to support the added cost to local governments.

The special separation allowance benefit in HB 340 Special Separation Allowance Firefighters/RSW would be in addition to the firefighter and rescue squad workers' pension benefit, serving as a gap-filler from the time of retirement until the age of social security eligibility. According to an actuarial analysis provided by the state, the present total value of the additional benefit for local employees is $298 million -- the cost of which is paid solely by the last employer.

In remarks to the committee about the proposal, the League explained that without a funding mechanism this benefit is an unfunded legislative mandate on the local government employer, coming at a time when there have been many recent legislative constraints on municipalities' revenue authority. The League asked for a funding mechanism in the bill and requested support of additional revenue options for cities and towns.

Cities and towns thanks Rep. Jeff Collins for comments he made on the House floor noting that HB 340 will put a substantial cost on local governments, and for expressing his hope that there isn't a continued trend of legislating unfunded mandates on cities and towns as property-tax increases may result to fund new mandates. The bill now heads to the Senate. Contact: Sarah Collins


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LGERS Removed from COLA Bill

The House Pensions Committee on Wednesday removed mention of the Local Government Employees Retirement System (LGERS) from a proposal to provide retirees in the state's pension systems with a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). As originally proposed, HB 497 Retirement Systems 2% COLAs/Funds would have provided the COLA to retirees in both LGERS and the Teacher and State Employees Retirement System (TSERS). A legislatively mandated COLA of 2 percent would have meant that local governments' contribution rate for general employees would rise an additional .6 percent for FY2017-18 at a cost that would total more than $250 million.

The League thanks Rep. Steven Ross for offering the amendment and the members of the House Pension Committee for their support. In making the amendment, Rep. Ross noted that the LGERS Board already has the authority to grant a COLA to retirees, and that to require one legislatively would be an unfunded mandate on local government employers. Contact: Sarah Collins


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Economic Development Bills Target Distressed Areas

A pair of nearly identical Senate bills filed this week would focus the state's economic development incentive programs on distressed areas. SB 618 EDGE Committee Draft and SB 660 Economic Development Incentives Modifications place limitations on awards from the Job Development Investment Grant and One North Carolina funds that have the effect of directing more of each program's funds away from high-performing areas of the state and into areas classified as economically distressed under the state tier ranking system.

Importantly to cities and towns, the bills reform the current economic tier system, transforming it into an index against which counties are compared and eliminating adjustment factors and exceptions in current law, such as one that automatically designates small-population counties as the most distressed in the state. While these proposals generally address the League advocacy goal of revising the current economic tier system, if passed into law, they would not reform the system to measure the causes of distress or take into account sub-county data, all components of the League goal. The bills also direct the N.C. Department of Commerce to create individualized plans for improving the economic performance of each county that underperforms against the economic distress index. SB 660 has been assigned to three Senate committees for hearings, while SB 618 has been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee.

Senators also took a step toward increasing economic development assistance to local governments by proposing a new state loan program. This program would advance a League advocacy goal that supports state funding for economic development incentive funds. As described in SB 591 Site and Building Development Fund, the new program would allow cities, counties and non-profit economic development corporations contracting with those units of local government to receive loans for improvements to real property related to business recruitment. These improvements may include the purchase of new buildings, renovations of existing buildings, construction of water and sewer lines or other utility improvements on the property, transportation access facilities, and other measures necessary to make the property marketable for immediate use in commercial operations. SB 591 awaits a committee assignment while remaining in the Senate Rules Committee, standard procedure for bills in that chamber. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Busy Week for the Bill-Tracker; See What's New!

By now, you're familiar and practiced with our already-easy-to-use legislative bill tracker -- an important tool to help cities and towns follow pertinent proposals afloat at the General Assembly. And you might have noticed that it's been a pretty robust week for it. Tuesday was the Senate's ultimate bill-filing deadline, while one of the House's last major deadlines is just ahead on Tuesday, April 11. In total this week, legislators proposed 212 bills, four dozen of which were added to our tracking system.

If you're not yet familiar with how our bill-tracker works, let's examine a few of the newly added proposals. Take a pair of bills dealing with mitigation services: HB 632 Amend Mitigation Services Law and HB 557 Mitigation Services Amendments (the latter mirrored in the Senate as SB 611). For each, our bill-tracker gives a staff analysis, level of importance to cities and towns, the committees assigned to deal with it, sponsor information, and all of the General Assembly's original content about the bill.

A few more examples of activity this week on the bill-tracker:

SB 585 Study Intergovernmental Relations, which would direct a legislative study of how the various levels of government interact and what their powers are;

SB 642 Burden of Proof -- Planning and Zoning, a bill that would overturn decades of board of adjustment appeals procedures;

HB 590 Interior Design Profession Act, which would set out new requirements on local government regarding interior professionals and projects and, separately, building-permit denials.

HB 602 Cities/Require Performance Guarantees, seeking to grant cities new authority to require a performance guarantee for demolition and removal of all material from industrial properties.

Keep up with the bill-tracker as the legislative session progresses. You can bookmark this link or always find it under the "Legislative Advocacy" tab at www.nclm.org.


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Here We Grow Makes an Impression

Here We Grow, the League's storytelling economic development campaign, was a tremendous success at Town Hall Day this year. Not only did it provide lawmakers an updated overall picture of how local-level investments and public-private teamwork are making a difference for the statewide economy, it also afforded each town on the map at herewegrownc.org an individualized handout to present their state officials, with a narrative explaining exactly how these local efforts are creating jobs and prosperity.

Reidsville, for one, kept an industry in town with important infrastructure investments. Albemarle, for another, has attracted new corporate residents and jobs since its establishment of a task force that streamlined development processes and hiring of an economic development officer. These stories are specific and telling. Take a look at the herewegrownc.org map (featured in the "Local Stories" section) to see the dozens of similar stories from the municipalities across the state (and notice how they're easily sharable on Twitter and Facebook). Haven't added your town's story yet? Now is the time. Show the world how your town is doing its part. Because when each of us does better, we all do better. Send an email to about@herewegrownc.org to obtain login credentials (available to League members) so you can add your story and photo today. The map is making a difference.


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First Round of State Funds Released For Matthew Recovery

Gov. Roy Cooper's office this week announced the first round of state grants for communities harmed by 2016's Hurricane Matthew. The governor is also requesting additional federal aid. "We're working closely with our local, state and federal partners to seek the resources needed to help storm survivors rebuild homes and help businesses and communities recover," Governor Cooper said in a press release. The first round of grants were marked for repairs to water and sewer systems, drainage improvements and the rebuilding of a local airport. The funding came from the Disaster Recovery Act passed by the legislature in 2016. Click here for details about funding recipients and uses.

The new federal aid request totals near $1 billion to help families, businesses and localities impacted by the storm, the statewide damage total from which is an estimated $4.8 billion. The funds aren't guaranteed, Governor Cooper noted in a release. He said the state legislature will be asked to appropriate matching funds. The federal request includes subtotals for housing repairs and elevation work, agriculture, public facilities, small businesses and health. Click here for media coverage with additional background.


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Public May Comment on CDBG Disaster Recovery Plan

The state is welcoming public comment on its Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery Action Plan for use of nearly $200 million meant for eastern North Carolina communities' critical housing and economic development needs following Hurricane Matthew. "We still have a long way to go before those devastated by the storm are whole again but (state) grants and this action plan are key steps to get us there," Gov. Roy Cooper said in a release about the plan. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers CDBG, has appropriated $198.5 million in disaster recovery funds for North Carolina. Click here and scroll down to access the forms for filing public comments about the planned use of those funds, which includes addressing the lack of affordable housing in the storm-torn communities of Edgecombe, Wayne, Robeson and Cumberland counties.