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ACTION ALERT: Tell House Members to Keep Local Billboard Controls

Now is the time to contact your House members to urge them to keep in place local authority to regulate billboards. Two separate bills -- HB 579 Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws and HB 580 Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws -- could be heard on the House floor as early as Monday night. Urge legislators to oppose these two bills, as League President Bob Matheny did during testimony before a House committee yesterday.


Zebulon Mayor and League President Bob Matheny addressing a House committee on outdoor advertising legislation. Standing at left is Rep. John Bradford of Cornelius. Photo credit: Sarah Collins

Both of these bills would restrict local control of billboards as well as drastically increase the costs for state and local taxpayers when infrastructure and development require billboards be condemned. In one instance before a gubernatorial veto of a similar bill in 2004, the City of Greensboro could have been forced to pay $240,000 for the removal of a single billboard.

By changing definitions of what it means to erect a billboard, these bills would also have the effect of allowing an existing billboard to be relocated in like zoning areas of a city or town. The changes also would allow the billboards to be reconstructed of new materials, potentially making them more obtrusive.

These two bills would clearly have the effect of restricting municipalities and their residents from pursuing the unique visions they have for their communities, visions that are typically tied to their local economies and how they wish to pursue economic growth and attract jobs. Let your House members know how these two proposals could damage your town or city and its ability to determine its own economic course. Tell them to oppose HB 579 Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws and HB 580 Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws.

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Committee Decides to Study Impact Fees, Not Repeal

A strong majority of House Finance Committee members voted on Thursday to convert a measure to repeal impact fees into one that would study them instead. Cities and towns had opposed the repeal. Now, HB 436 Local Government/Regulatory Fees would require an interim legislative committee study of the impact fees imposed by local governments. It would also cap the fees now charged by local governments at the amounts in effect on June 30, 2016. The committee's 16-9 approval vote for the amendment followed a contentious discussion. During that discussion, members argued a repeal represented a heavy-handed approach that would summarily end a significant revenue stream that paid for water/sewer system upgrades made necessary by development. Cities and towns thank amendment sponsor Rep. Graig Meyer and committee member Rep. Jay Adams for voicing concerns about the original bill. Cities and towns also appreciate bill sponsor Rep. Sarah Stevens' acknowledgement of their commitment to addressing legislators' concerns by standardizing calculations of water system development fees, an issue addressed in the League-supported HB 624/SB 641 Uniform System Development Fees for Water. HB 436 will receive consideration by the full House next week. Contact: Erin Wynia

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Bills Boost Transportation Funding Options

A pair of transportation funding bills that would boost options for building roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure advanced in this House this week. Both HB 110 DOT/DMV Changes--Megaproject Funding and HB 220 State Infrastructure Bank Revisions would, if funded, provide alternatives to local governments in paying for transportation needs. When capitalized via state budget appropriations, each bill would also meet a League advocacy goal to increase state-level funding for municipal infrastructure needs. Cities and towns thank bill sponsor Rep. John Torbett for putting forth creative ideas to address this critical need.

Before passing HB 110 on to the Senate, House members added language previously contained in HB 219 Transportation Megaproject Funding that would authorize a new fund for transportation projects "of statewide or regional significance" whose cost exceeds $200 million. The fund would exist outside of the current State Transportation Investment Program and would receive separate funding. A workgroup comprised almost entirely of local officials, including a League designee, would decide which projects received funding, based on criteria set out in the bill.

HB 220, which would create a revolving loan fund, received many critical questions before passing the first of its two House committee hearings Wednesday. After assurances that all typical oversight for local government lending would apply to any loans awarded through this fund -- including that of the Local Government Commission -- the House Transportation Committee voted to move the bill forward. The League especially appreciates the supportive comments of Rep. Becky Carney, a past House Transportation Committee co-chair, during that committee debate. This bill would receive its next hearing in the House Finance Committee. Contact: Erin Wynia


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House Hands Off Broadband Partnerships Bill

Legislators zipped a broadband bill through the House this week that aimed to authorize public-private partnerships for broadband service. Following a thorough committee discussion of the topic last week, the House on Thursday approved and sent to the Senate HB 68 BRIGHT Futures Act. While cities believe the bill requires modifications to fully authorize local governments to participate in these partnerships, they thank bill sponsors Reps. John Szoka, Jason Saine, Susan Martin, and Brendan Jones for advancing the bill. At their full potential, these partnerships would increase availability of broadband in rural areas as well as underserved urban areas of the state.

The bill contained a simple concept: a local government may lease excess fiber capacity in a broadband network that the local government built for its own internal purposes, while the private-sector partner may utilize the local government's infrastructure, including retail broadband services to homes and businesses. Local governments build these high-speed broadband internal networks to enhance public services, such as public safety communications, disaster relief, traffic signalization, and electric- or water-meter reading. Support for government involvement in broadband is high among the general public. According to a national Pew Research Center poll conducted last month, 70 percent of Americans believe local governments should be able to build their own broadband networks if existing services in the area are either too expensive or not good enough. Read more about these partnerships in last week's LeagueLINC Bulletin. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Sen. Wade's E-Notice Bill Headed to Floor Vote

Headed to the Senate floor next week is needed legislation to create standards for cities and counties that choose to publish required public notices on their own government websites, instead of publication in the newspaper. SB 343 Increase Teacher Supplement/Electronic Notice would also authorize, for the first time, the ability for legal notices required for other private-sector transactions to be published electronically, on a county government website, with proceeds benefitting county governments and to be partially spent on paying local teacher supplements.

Cities and towns have long supported legislation allowing municipalities to publish required public notices electronically on their own websites, benefiting taxpayers and the public's knowledge. "The future is websites and we all know that. That is the way of the future and we just want to get the public informed," the Associated Press quoted of sponsor Sen. Trudy Wade in coverage of the bill, which won approval in the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday. We are grateful to Sen. Wade and to fellow primary sponsors Sens. Wesley Meredith and Ralph Hise for putting forward this proposal now scheduled for an April 24 Senate floor vote. Contact: Erin Wynia


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House Approves Bill to Change Land-Use Law

House lawmakers this week approved and sent the Senate a bill proposing substantial changes in law that among other things could incentivize land-use litigation and burden taxpayers with the costs. HB 507 Land-Use Regulatory Changes, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Jordan, brings back proposed measures that failed to pass into law last session, thanks to intense advocacy from League members. It also adds several brand-new provisions related to development permitting. The bill, which passed both a final committee vote and a floor vote this week, would:

  • Incentivize land-use litigation in a number of ways, making this a dream bill for plaintiffs' lawyers who specialize in this type of litigation.
  • Burden taxpayers with the costs incurred by more litigation, whether it's municipal taxpayers paying for additional court costs and legal fees or state taxpayers paying for an additional case load for an already overburdened court system.
  • Weaken protections for neighboring property owners by creating an uneven playing field in the courts.
  • Undermine performance guarantees, meaning that local property taxpayers will pay the cost of failing infrastructure and homebuyers suffer the harms created by failing infrastructure.

Both the League and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners offered comments in opposition to this bill during committee debate and look forward to continued dialogue with lawmakers as the session progresses.


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Environmental Legislation Moves As Crossover Approaches

With the crossover deadline looming (April 27), many bills with environmental provisions of interest to cities and towns received committee hearings this week. They included SB 107 Streamline Dam Removal, which would authorize a process by which a professionally licensed engineer oversees removal of dams. At cities and towns' request, the bill was amended Wednesday to provide 60 days' notice to an impacted local government downstream whose base floodplains would be impacted by the dam removal. The League thanks Sen. Andy Wells of Hickory for addressing this concern. 

Additionally, both the Senate and House made multiple changes in committee to their omnibus environmental-law amendments bills, many of which affect cities and towns with utilities. Additions requested by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality were made to HB 56 Amend Environmental Laws. They included a provision to clarify the reporting of untreated wastewater discharges. The provision would change reporting requirements to allow a wastewater utility to report after first actual knowledge of a spill, and would expand that reporting requirement to any size spill that reaches waters of the state and to a land-reaching spill of more than 1,000 gallons.

SB 434 Amend Environmental Laws 2 received many amendments, including one to extend the timeline for the study of the Jordan and Falls Lake nutrient management regulations. Another would allow the buffers required by the Jordan Lake Rules to be exempt from mowing and maintenance restrictions if it is determined by the head of a local law enforcement agency that the overgrowth of a buffer area poses a risk to public safety. Lastly, the House Environment Committee gave approval to HB 632 Amend Mitigation Services Law -- a mitigation services proposal that followed extensive stakeholder discussions that included the League. Contact: Sarah Collins


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Police Officer Protection Bill Moves in House

House Bill 37 Protect Law Enforcement Officers received a favorable report in the House Judiciary III Committee this week. Although it was substantially amended, the bill's provisions still limit a law enforcement agency's ability to discharge an officer and therefore runs counter to the League’s member goal of "Supporting municipal authority over municipal personnel issues."

Committee discussion highlighted state and federal protections already in place for wrongful termination of employees. Many legislators said it was unclear why this bill was necessary. Police chiefs present at the committee expressed worry that it would encourage frivolous complaints by law enforcement officers to avoid being disciplined, making it much more difficult for a law enforcement agency to hold accountable "bad" officers who are not complying with departmental policies or state law. The bill's next stop is the House State and Local Government II Committee. Cities and towns thank sponsors Reps. Chris Malone, Nelson Dollar, Debra Conrad, and Darren Jackson for amending the bill to add an exemption for law enforcement agencies that have binding policies against retaliation. Contact: Sarah Collins


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Bill Tracker: Performance Guarantees, E-Verify Rules, Economic Tiers and More

With the last bill-filing deadline (in the House) ahead on Tuesday and the crossover deadline coming up on Thursday, we're at a flurry point in this year's long legislative session. That's why our bill tracker exists -- to serve as your easy-to-follow intelligence portal for proposals introduced or moving through the General Assembly concerning cities and towns. There are hundreds of bills in the tracker right now. Let's look at a few that buzzed this week:

HB 602 Cities/Require Performance Guarantees passed the House State and Local Government II Committee on Thursday. It would grant new authority to cities to require a performance guarantee for demolition and removal of all material from industrial properties and provide details to guide the performance guarantee issuance process. Cities and towns thank Rep. Josh Dobson of Nebo for sponsoring this bill and working with the League in its development.

HB 306 E-Verify Required-All Government Contracts, which would increase the number of E-Verify checks required of cities, passed in the House State and Local Government II Committee on Thursday. Specifically, the bill in its current form would clarify that any contractor or subcontractor performing work pursuant to a contract with a unit of government, including municipalities, must utilize the federal E-Verify system to ascertain the work authorization of each employee of that contractor or subcontractor.

HB 275 No Stormwater Fees on Taxiways or Runways, which would be an unprecedented attempt to restrict a class of property from utility fees, passed the House Finance Commitee without any debate on Thursday and is headed to the House floor. The proposal would exempt airports from paying the stormwater utility fee for the impervious surface from runways and taxis.

SB 660 Economic Development Incentives Modifications, which among other things would amend the state's current economic tier system (though not in line with the League's related advocacy goal), passed the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee on Thursday and is headed to the chamber's Finance Commitee. A portion of the bill would 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 it generally addresses the League advocacy goal of revising the current economic tier system, it wouldn't reform the system to measure the causes of distress or take into account sub-county data, all components of the League goal.

Get a full report of actions by session-day easily via the "Yesterday's Actions" button on the bill tracker page, which you can also access via the "Legislative Advocacy" menu at nclm.org.


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Spring Tour Deadlines Approaching

League Executive Director Paul Meyer and staff are winding through North Carolina on Spring Tour 2017, with a series of stops to discuss hot-button issues and what might help you find solutions to pressing problems in your city or town. The meetings will also cover League services and offerings, like insurance, risk reduction and insurance liability knowhow; training for elected and appointed officials; financial savings programs; legal advice; and advocacy. The event’s agenda and session information is available here, but registration deadlines are looming. Register online today and join us for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sign up before midnight April 24 to attend any of the following:

  • May 2, 7:30 a.m.,  Asheboro
  • May 2, 5 p.m., Franklin
  • May 3, 11:30 a.m., Black Mountain

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Sign Up for May 18 Infrastructure Symposium

Infrastructure affects our daily lives, whether roads, water and sewer or the energy grid. Join the League and Smith Moore Leatherwood on May 18 in Raleigh for an Infrastructure Symposium that will provide attendees with practical information that can be applied to cities and towns across the state. This event is perfect for elected officials, city and town managers, attorneys, public works/utilities directors, engineers and planning officials, economic development directors, transit agencies and utility authorities, among others. Click here for more information.


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'Here We Grow' as a News Source

In addition to the original local stories, social media tools and customizable presentation templates offered at herewegrownc.org, we're charting articles from news outlets across the state that collectively show how cities and towns are creating jobs and boosting the state's economy. News clips from Burlington, Eden, Mayodan, High Point and more were added just this week. You can also sign up for a weekly roundup. (Just click any news story in the News section and click "Sign up for emails.")

Are you not seeing your town's story in the "News" section? Then you have a perfect reason to submit an original writeup and photo (which we promote to a statewide audience). You can do so easily at herewegrownc.org; just click the "Local Stories" section for examples. League members not already signed up for Here We Grow can simply email about@herewegrownc.org to receive login details. Original stories that you submit to us -- remember, only your original stories get on the website's interactive map -- reflect the closest telling of what's happening in your town that advances economic health. Here We Grow is your statewide loudspeaker.


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Folwell Cuts Investment Fees

State Treasurer Dale Folwell has cut nearly $25 million in state pension system investment fees, making good on his promise while campaigning for the office, news outlets are reporting. Folwell had pledged to save during his term $100 million in these fees paid to third-party managers, according to the News & Observer. "The purpose of talking about $100 million is to under-promise and over-deliver," the newspaper quoted of Folwell, a featured speaker at Town Hall Day last month. The League thanks Folwell for his diligence and efforts to maintain the system's health.


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Report Helps Prepare Cities for Driverless Cars

Autonomous vehicles, and readying your town for them, is the focus of a new report from the National League of Cities (NLC). Released Wednesday, "Autonomous Vehicles: A Police Preparation Guide," explains the technology and covers the most frequently asked questions before exploring public policy considerations, municipal coordination and infrastructure investment. Important to know is that driverless cars aren't a distant-future concept. "Autonomous vehicles are rolling out on city streets across the country at a rapid pace -- much faster than anticipated just a few years ago," Brooks Rainwater, director of NLC's Center for City Solutions, said in a release. It's meaningful that most driverless-car activity is in cities. "Ultimately, cities play a critical role in maximizing the benefits of autonomous vehicle technology, and are in the unique position of understanding how and where these new technologies will work best," Rainwater said. Click here to read the full report.


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NCAA, ACC Reinstate Champ Games in North Carolina

Crediting HB2's repeal, the NCAA and ACC plan to restore their tournament presence in the Tar Heel State. NCAA issued a press release on Tuesday listing events planned through 2022 in venues including Raleigh and Greensboro. "The site selections follow the NCAA Board of Governors’ vote to allow consideration of championship bids in North Carolina," the release explained. It follows the association's fall 2016 decision to delist events in North Carolina while HB2 remained on the books. ACC, which too had pulled events last year, on Wednesday announced returns starting with a December football championship game in Charlotte. "We are thrilled to renew our relationships with so many terrific people, outstanding cities and first-class venues," ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. Click here for news coverage of the announcements.


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Chairman of Economic Development Partnership Resigning

John Lassiter is stepping down as chairman of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, the public-private body established in 2014 to oversee the state's economic development work. That includes the areas of film, tourism and sports. Per the bylaws, Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to name a successor. Lassiter, chairman since the partnership's inception, cited his Charlotte business and family priorities in his decision. Click here for news coverage.


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News Spotlights Drones in Public Safety

A recent News & Observer story continues the growing focus on drones and their possibilities for public safety, a conversation that received much attention during a League forum late last year on these "unmanned aerial systems." (Click here for a video of that discussion.) "Drones can be used in several ways, including dealing with active shooters, documenting crime scenes, monitoring crowds and assessing damage caused by natural disasters," the N&O points out, though work remains in terms of policy and practices. That's also discussed in an episode of Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast, after the release of a National League of Cities report about drones in cities.