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Tell Legislators to Approve Revenue Flexibility Bill

This weekend may be the last prime opportunity to speak with your legislators and urge them to support and pass HB 900 Safe Infrastructure & Low Property Tax Act. This crucial piece of legislation could be considered on the House floor as early as Monday night, and comes as legislative leaders are discussing adjournment of the session by the end of next week. Sponsored by Reps. Stephen Ross of Burlington and Jason Saine of Lincolnton, it would authorize municipalities to levy a municipal-only quarter-cent sales and use tax that could only be approved with the consent of local voters in a referendum. Proceeds could go only toward the construction and improvement of public infrastructure or for economic development. The bill, satisfying a goal set by cities and towns, received near-unanimous backing in the House Finance Committee last week.

HB 900 would provide a needed revenue option and financial flexibility for cities and towns as they invest in infrastructure that is helping to drive economic growth and improve residents’ quality of life. It’s important to remind legislators that this is revenue that can help support specific projects like street improvements, downtown revitalization, multi-use facilities that help bring commerce to business corridors, and local parks that make towns attractive to residents. The flexibility created by the legislation also would reduce pressure on local property tax rates and encourage municipal investments that promote economic growth and job creation. Cities and towns thank Representatives Ross and Saine for their leadership on this significant piece of public policy aiding cities and towns.


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Senate Unveils Water Impact Fees Compromise

The Senate unveiled a compromise water impact fees bill this week, making great strides to ensure that North Carolina's path to growth is not imperiled and limiting potential liability from any future adverse court rulings related to these fees. For months, League representatives negotiated the compromise language with the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and the N.C. Home Builders Association. HB 436 Local Government/Regulatory Fees, which started out as legislation banning local water and sewer impact fees, now includes only this consensus language, and grants cities and counties clear authority to charge these fees. Additionally, it puts in place a three-year statute of limitations to clarify that any past local government liability for illegally-charged fees goes back only three years. Without this clarification, a court interpretation that applied a 10-year statute of limitations would remain in effect. This bill, supported by the League, creates uniformity in water and sewer fees and represents a fair approach that balances the interest of developers, local governments, and their existing tax and utility rate payers.

The Senate State & Local Government Committee gave the bill unanimous approval Tuesday. This support came one day after the Senate took away the authority of Orange County to charge school impact fees, a clear rebuke that shows legislative sentiment is not on the side of local government when these fees and their uses are not directly tied to the construction that they help support. In the case of the fees at issue in HB 436, they help pay for the larger water and sewer capacity required of new development. The committee's vote on Tuesday represents a commitment by legislators to making sure local governments have the ability to accommodate the significant infrastructure demands caused by growth. Without HB 436, existing water and sewer ratepayers would foot more of the bill to pay for growth, which would delay construction approvals or reject growth outright. The League would like to extend a special thanks to primary bill sponsor Sen. Paul Newton for his leadership throughout the negotiations on this issue. HB 436 will likely receive the remainder of its votes next week, including consideration by the Senate Finance and Senate Rules committees, then the full Senate and full House. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Cities Find Wins in General Assembly's Budget

Cities and towns are finding good news in the General Assembly's $23 billion final budget, which received its last needed approval mostly along part lines Thursday afternoon. It's now headed to the governor for consideration. The League extends sincere thanks to all legislators for crafting a budget that supports the efforts of cities and towns to create communities that draw jobs, residents, and visitors. Please take time this weekend to thank your local legislator for this support. The budget:

  • continues Powell Bill funding at the current $147.5 million annual level
  • creates the N.C. Ready Sites Fund, intended to assist local governments in the improvement of public infrastructure serving publicly owned or controled industrial sites, and gives the fund $2 million for fiscal year 2017-18
  • provides more than $7.1 million in grants-in-aid to specific local governments -- primarily municipalities -- for revitalization and economic development projects
  • provides $500,000 in nonrecurring funds to the Main Street Solutions program to offer matching grants to local governments to assist planning agencies and small businesses with efforts to revitalize downtown areas
  • enacts the "Raise the Age" policy supported by the League's Executive Committee
  • gives $18.3 million in fiscal year 2017-18 and $14.3 milion in 2018-19 to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to support grants addressing water pollution problems
  • includes $1.3 million in grants-in-aid for specified parks and recreation projects, many of them municipal
  • gives an additional $100 million to last year's disaster relief effort
  • refills the film grant program, with $15 million in fiscal year 2017-18 and $31 million in 2018-19, with $33.6 million projected to be available in the first year
  • relieves cities from participation in a budget transparency initiative that would have held them to burdensome new requirements, even as cities are already leading in government transparency.

And there's more. A League-prepared spreadsheet offers a deeper dive on municpality-related budget items in an easy-to-follow format.

The items of concern are relatively few, but do include a requirement that cities reimburse schools for any required street improvements; a continued cap on light rail; and a new real property sales tax exemption for a "transformative project," defined as $4 billion of investment and 5,000 jobs. Additionally, the budget includes a prohibition on the use of Powell Bill funds for "construction of a sidewalk into which is built a mailbox, utility pole, fire hydrant, or similar obstruction that impedes the clear passage of pedestrians." The budget would also initiate a study of local government water and sewer rates and interfund transfers, which had been the subject of separate legislation (reduced from a wider scope of action). The budget's final passage on Thursday followed House debate that included House Rules Chairman David Lewis of Dunn describing the overall document as a plan to improve infrastructure, education and business. Gov. Roy Cooper has taken issue with numerous individual sections of the budget, including those that implement funding cuts or authority changes to offices in his purview. Governor Cooper has 10 days to act on the budget once he receives it. A veto would send the plan back to the General Assembly, whose majority may vote to override that veto and greenlight the budget.


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House Calendars Billboard Bill for Monday Vote

House leaders have calendared a highly problematic billboard bill for a full vote Monday night. Two previously scheduled House floor votes on HB 581 Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws have been scuttled in recent weeks, due in part to opposition from city officials as well as other stakeholders. You can continue this important advocacy by finding talking points here, or, for a sample letter, email League grassroots associate Will Brooks.

Among its many troubling provisions, the bill gives billboard owners permission -- with no input or discretion by local officials -- to relocate existing billboards to any place in a city or town with a commercial or industrial zoning component, even without a condemnation action to force removal of the billboard. In cities that have worked to responsibly regulate outdoor advertising, areas with no current billboards or those with mixed-use residential and commercial zoning would potentially have to accept relocated billboards. And, even more problematically, when relocating signs, HB 581 would allow billboard owners to make the signs taller, larger, and digital, even if local ordinances would otherwise prohibit those upgrades. A similar Tennessee law created a firestorm in Chattanooga last month, where the city was forced to accept a relocated, newly digitized sign in its downtown area where no billboards had been allowed. Disconcerting images of massive digital billboards made the local newspaper, including one measuring 600 square feet -- smaller than the 672-square-foot limit in HB 581. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Registration Now Open for CityVision 2017!

Calling all muncipal officials! Registration is NOW OPEN for Connect CityVision 2017, the League's action-packed annual conference scheduled for Sept. 20-23 in Greenville. Need a reason to register now? We've got an early-bird rate that will save you $50, but you have only until July 5 to take advantage. Don't let it get away from you. Register now. This year, we're doing things a bit differently: the conference will begin on Wednesday, with sessions and social events running through Saturday morning. We made the scheduling shift to accommodate the majority of cities' and towns' council meeting schedules, and we hope it will allow even more members to attend the conference.

The CityVision annual conference balances educational sessions with ample networking and social events so that municipal officials can learn from both experts and colleagues who may be facing similar issues back at home. This year's annual conference will connect attendees to the latest trends and best practices for incorporating technology, regional partnerships and projects, pathways for economic development, and leadership skills training into how municipalities operate and provide services to their communities. Don't wait. Register today.


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Small Cell Wireless Proposal Receives Two of Four Committee Votes

Two Senate committees signed off on an industry-backed proposal this week to implement comprehensive procedures and restrictions on local government regulation of small cell wireless facilities. HB 310 Wireless Communications Infrastructure Act received favorable reports from both the Senate State & Local Government and Commerce committees after remarks by primary bill sponsor Rep. Jason Saine, who noted the League's willingness to engage in productive, extensive negotiations on the bill earlier this session. Small cell facilities typically consist of an antenna, utility pole, and ground-mounted equipment box. Throughout negotiations, the League sought to ensure that cities would retain oversight over matters of concern such as public safety, space between facilities, aesthetics and appearance, utility undergrounding policies, and historic districts. The League also negotiated other terms more favorable to cities than in the filed version of the bill.

Based on a concern expressed by Sen. Dan Bishop during one of the committee debates, the bill will likely receive one additional amendment in a future hearing to address inconsistencies with how the bill directs local governments to handle applications for small cell facilities in areas with underground utility lines. Prior to a vote by the full Senate, HB 310 must still receive favorable consideration by both the Senate Finance and Senate Rules committees. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Permit Streamlining Bill Moves to Senate

The House on Thursday sent to the Senate a proposal that seeks to standardize and provide statewide consistency across local jurisdictions for reviewing development-related plans and issuing permits. The House floor vote came after positive consideration of HB 794 NC Permitting Efficiency Act of 2017 on Wednesday by the House Finance Committee. The bill contains first-ever state-level procedural guidelines for cities and counties to follow when permitting construction-related activities such as grading, soil and erosion control, water and sewer, and driveway cuts. (Read details of the original proposal.) The measure would also allow the state's large- and mid-size cities to accept delegation of N.C. Department of Transportation construction approvals. The League will continue discussions with bill sponsors as this measure advances; read more about changes the League worked out already in last week's LeagueLINC Bulletin article. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Bill to Impact Asheville's Local Elections Advances

A House committee this week advanced legislation to force Asheville City Council's at-large municipal elections into a district format, despite arguments that any change should follow local will and not an imposition from the General Assembly. SB 285 Equal Representation for Asheville, which won approval in the House Elections and Ethics Law Committee on Monday, would require the city to draw and enact six districts by Nov. 1 for use in the 2019 elections. The Asheville Citizen-Times reported this week that such language would be at odds with Asheville City Council's discussion of placing the issue before local voters in a referendum on Nov. 7. The newspaper noted that council had already set a June 27 public hearing on the matter with plans to vote July 25 on whether to set up a referendum. Officials there say it should be decided locally and not imposed by state lawmakers. "If the people say yes, then I don't think there's a question that we would move forward on the districts," the paper quoted of Mayor Esther Manheimer.

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Bill Roundup: What's the Latest?

The General Assembly's budget passage has essentially put lawmakers in closing mode, though many bills remain in play. Publications including the N.C. Insider State Government News Service are reporting that House Speaker Tim Moore informed his chamber of a plan to adjourn by July 1, potentially meaning long weeknights of work to move legislation through. While we've reported on specific bills of interest to cities and towns elsewhere in this edition of the bulletin, below is a status report on other active proposals of interest, based on actions in the legislature this week.

It's standard Senate procedure to route bills through the Senate Rules Committee before they can make their way to the floor. Follow the progress of these and other bills on our easy-to-use bill tracker.


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Supreme Court Decision Impacts Workers' Comp System

A state Supreme Court decision in Wilkes v. City of Greenville points toward substantial changes in workers' compensation cases with new burdens on employers, though state lawmakers may be working on a fix. With the state and municipalities among affected employers, the court's decision on June 9 shifts the burden of proof to the employer to show that any medical condition not previously listed is unrelated to a workplace accident. It also changes the statutory definition of "suitable employment" so that employees can use their own testimony and that of lay witnesses to demonstrate inability to earn wages due to factors like age or education. Please contact your legislators, inform them of the ramifications of this case and encourage legislative solutions.


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Podcast: The Skatepark Solution; Apex and Morganton Featured

Ready for a new episode of Muncipal Equation? It's here. The rundown: Local governments are always looking for ways to get kids involved. Meanwhile, millions of skateboarders across the U.S. are doing their thing -- often to the irritation of business owners and law enforcement. On this episode, we look at the big things that happen when kids and government get together to develop public skateparks, a solution that has removed tension, encouraged civic involvement and celebrated freedom and creativity. It's no wonder they often end up being the most popular feature of the local parks system. Listen in for practical advice from the Tony Hawk Foundation, lessons from a police captain who did an about-face with the local skating community, progress from a city currently developing a skatepark, and unquestionable testimony from kids who've benefited from the free, 24-hour public skatepark in their town.

Municipal Equation is the League's biweekly podcast about cities and towns in changing times. Over the past year, it's covered a spread of topics including smart cities, innovation, local character, police issues, civic data projects, drones, urban planning, infrastructure, art, sister cities and more. Does your city have a great or unusual story to tell? Email host/producer Ben Brown.


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Here We Grow: Apex Tells Its Story


Downtown Apex

Apex is the latest town telling its story through Here We Grow, the League's hub of local economic development success cases. It means the Peak City is stepping up to show how its efforts, combined with scores more from cities and towns across North Carolina, are boosting the state's economy and job opportunities. What's Apex up to? Dipping its toe in to the co-working world. Why? Because there's big potential for growth in tech and entrepreneurship, and the town wanted to create an enabling environment. A proposed facility, to be called Coworking Station Apex, will occupy approximately 2,500 square feet on the second floor of a building in the heart of downtown Apex on North Salem Street. The building owners, who operate two businesses out of the first floor space, are teaming up with Coworking Station LLC to create the right environment for co-working. In turn, the town has entered into an agreement with Coworking Station LLC to provide assistance for initial renovations and infrastructure needs. The planned space will have seven office suites, six small offices, a conference room, restrooms, a kitchen and open "café" space.

There's more to know about this project, and it's at Here We Grow, where you can find several other stories from across the state -- Franklin to Edenton; West Jefferson to New Bern; Reidsville to Rockingham; Waxhaw to Warrenton. All over. Is your town on the map? It should be. Here We Grow isn't just a fun story site; it's a way to show, collectively, the statewide impact of the smart decisions and investments of municipalities. It can only grow stronger with your participation. And that part's easy. Just send an email to about@herewegrownc.org. If you're one of our member municipalities, we'll send you login credentials.