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Municipal Service District Committee Hears from Cities

Dozens of municipal officials filled a legislative committee room on Thursday to show support for municipal service districts (MSDs), a financing tool under examination by the Committee on Municipal Service Districts (LRC). The committee heard testimony from elected and appointed officials representing Emerald Isle, Hendersonville, Nags Head, Pine Knoll Shores, Raleigh, Smithfield, Whiteville, and Wilson. In their testimony, these cities and towns from across the state thanked legislators for the opportunity to discuss how MSDs operate in their community.

Meeting for the first time this interim, the committee received presentations from both the School of Government and the State Treasurer's Office regarding how MSDs are legally formed and function, and how their formation impacts debt obligations of those municipalities. A MSD is a specialized taxing district created to provide properties in the district with additional services. Most often in North Carolina, municipal boards form these districts to provide business owners enhanced downtown development services, which can range from streetscaping and façade grants to increased garbage pick-up to capital improvement projects. Counties most often use similar statutory authority to raise funds for volunteer fire departments. And, importantly, both cities and counties have authority to form service districts to raise funds for beach renourishment. N.C. coastal communities have increasingly turned to MSDs to finance large-scale beach renourishment projects. The legislature authorized this closer look at the MSD statutory authority in a budget provision last session following a Senate proposal that would have originally allowed property owners to vote on abolishing the district.

In their questions and comments Thursday, legislators focused mostly on the participation of affected property owners in the formation of MSDs as well as their participation in reducing the size of MSDs. After the discussion, committee co-chairs Sen. Trudy Wade and Rep. Ted Davis said that they understood many of the concerns voiced by local officials during the meeting, and that they would focus on recommending tweaks to existing law regarding the formation of MSDs. They planned to discuss draft legislation at a meeting tentatively scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. The League members thank both Sen. Wade and Rep. Davis for including the perspectives of cities and towns in yesterday's discussion. Contact: Erin Wynia


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House Bill 2 Draws Lawsuit

State lawmakers defended House Bill 2 this week as a number of large businesses and media outlets voiced opposition and as a lawsuit was filed challenging the new law, according to news reports. Gov. Pat McCrory met with HB2 critics on Thursday and has signaled openness to tweaks in its language, the News & Observer reported. Attorney General Roy Cooper, at a press conference on Tuesday, said he would not defend HB2 from constitutional challenges, according to the Associated Press. Days earlier, large corporations with footprints in North Carolina – including Google, Apple and American Airlines – came out against the new law, reported the Charlotte Observer.

General Assembly lawmakers passed HB2 during a March special session in response to the City of Charlotte’s recently approved ordinance that, in part, would have allowed transgender individuals to use public bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. The new law, blocking Charlotte's ordinance, pre-empts all local ordinances addressing discrimination at places of public accommodation and could affect anti-discrimination language in local government vendor contracts.

McCrory’s office last Friday issued a newsletter that sought to clarify the new law’s points. Among other things, it noted that HB2 launched a statewide anti-discrimination policy “tougher than the federal government’s.” That section condemns discrimination based on “race, religion, color, national origin or biological sex." It doesn’t specifically extend to sexual preference or gender identity, leading a group of individuals and advocacy organizations on Monday to file a lawsuit in federal court challenging HB2 as violating “the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and the U.S. Constitution.” The lawsuit seeks to bar related enforcement of HB2, reported the News & Observer. In a joint response, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore reiterated their case that the law seeks to protect women and young girls in restrooms and said they believed the court would find that lawmakers passed the bill “properly in accordance with existing state and federal law.” Some governments in distant states have banned publicly funded, non-essential travel to North Carolina in protest of HB2. Click here to read previous League coverage.


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League Releases Annual Revenue Projections

The League has released its annual memo detailing revenue projections for the coming fiscal year. Projections for all of the major state-collected municipal revenues -- including sales taxes, Powell Bill, electricity and natural gas sales taxes, and more -- are included. The revenue projections, sales tax calculator file and the League's Basis of Distribution memo can all be found on the League's website here. See below for direct hyperlinks.

Contact: Chris Nida


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More National 'Best' Lists Highlight N.C. Cities

North Carolina cities stood out this week in a new batch of national “best” rankings. Analysis website apartmentlist.com picked Charlotte as one of the top 10 cities for families, based on factors like safety, housing costs, school quality and child friendliness. San Diego, Houston and Virginia Beach were among others on the list. (In 2014, Forbes picked Raleigh as number-one.) Meanwhile, Forbes pinned Raleigh as third nationally – behind San Francisco and Silicon Valley – as a best city for young professionals. The publication cited the Oak City’s “perpetually educated workforce,” jobs opportunities in research and technology and its social scene. Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem landed in NerdWallet’s new ranking of “Best Cities for Recent Grads 2016,” factoring in jobs, the number of locals in their 20s, education levels and income. Asheville topped the list of "2016 Coziest Cities in America" from conglomerate Honeywell International. "Offering a plethora of book stores for cuddling up with a good book, beautiful mountain views and moderate temperatures and snowfall, getting cozy in Asheville is an easy thing to do," wrote the list's authors, who put Boston in second place.

And a new study from international advisory firm KPMG ranks Raleigh and Charlotte as among the most cost-friendly of large U.S. cities for business. “The southeast represents the lowest cost region in the United States and all cities in the region have business costs more than 4.5 percent below the US baseline,” the firm reports. Another new study from the Atlanta-based Garner Economics rates the Durham-Chapel Hill area as second among U.S. metro areas for highest levels of manufacturing productivity. “National productivity has flattened, but some regions are gaining,” the report said. It also highlighted the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton metro area as having one of the country’s highest concentrations of manufacturing jobs.


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New Key Hires in Garner, Harrisburg, Wake Forest

At least three municipalities have filled key posts this week. For Garner and Harrisburg, a new town manager each; for Wake Forest, its first economic development director. Garner Town Council announced Rodney Dickerson as town manager on March 29 following his months of interim service in the role. He replaces Hardin Watkins, the town’s former manager who in late 2015 was named city manager of Burlington. But Garner, pushing 30,000 in population on a continuing growth streak, isn’t a new beat for Dickerson. He joined the town in 2001 and was assistant manager by 2004. “He is a consummate professional and has helped move Garner forward in a multitude of ways,” Mayor Ronnie Williams said in a press release about Dickerson's new role. “He led the Town’s budget team for several years, has crafted important Town policies and has overseen essential operations.” Dickerson is a 1990 Duke University graduate who went on to receive a Master of Public Administration degree from N.C. State University in 2001, according to the release. The town has scheduled a reception for Dickerson on Thursday, April 7, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Garner Performing Arts Center.

In Harrisburg, Bobby Williams is coming on as town manager with an expected start date of May 2. Williams clocked more than a decade of experience with the Town of Huntersville, having served myriad roles there -- public information, community and legislative affairs, human resources, economic development, emergency services and more, according to a press release Thursday. Williams possesses a master's in public affairs from UNC-Greensboro and a bachelor's in political science and broadcast communication from Winthrop University. "We feel that Bobby Williams is an excellent choice to lead the Town of Harrisburg forward," Mayor Steve Sciascia said in the town's release. Harrisburg's population exceeds 14,000, according to census data.

Meanwhile, Wake Forest is welcoming its first director of economic development, Jason Cannon, who will push for business growth in the town of nearly 40,000 residents. According to a press release, the Town of Wake Forest assumed economic development duties from the Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce in early 2016, making Cannon the first to lead industrial recruitment and existing business support specifically for local government there. Cannon in a press release said Wake Forest is already well positioned. “Development in Wake Forest is strong and the town is poised for continued growth and development in the months and years ahead,” he said. Cannon holds a master’s degree in public administration from N.C. State University and a bachelor’s from UNC-Greensboro. Prior to his new role, he led a consulting firm that performed advocacy and government relations for businesses, governments and non-profits in the Piedmont-Triad area. He’s also a past president and CEO of Downtown Greensboro Inc. Cannon’s first day in the new role will be April 11. In other news, Wake Forest Deputy Town Manager Roe O’Donnell plans to retire effective April 1 after 23 years aboard. He announced his departure to town commissioners in late February.


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Crush of Candidates for June 7 Primaries

The filing period for congressional seats in North Carolina closed with a surge of candidacies -- one district having drawn more than 20 hopefuls. By deadline, last Friday, 76 people sought nominations in the state’s 13 congressional districts, none more popular than the redrawn District 13. Covering some or all of Davie, Rowan, Iredell and Guilford counties -- generally arcing from Greensboro to Mooresville -- the open seat attracted 22 candidates including four Republicans currently serving in the General Assembly. Overall, primaries developed in all but two districts -- 1 and 7.

The General Assembly earlier this year, responding to a court order, redrew the state’s map of congressional districts, some of which now cover substantially different territory. District 13, for instance, doesn’t touch any of the counties in its prior makeup. With the changes, a new primary election is set for June 7 barring further court intervention. And with no runoffs this time, candidates will not have to clear the usual 40 percent threshold for nominations, meaning seats with crowded fields might see winners emerge by thin margins. The ballot will also feature a Supreme Court associate justice primary. Four candidates, including incumbent Bob Edmunds, filed for the court seat. The nonpartisan primary will serve to pare the field to two candidates for the general election in November. View the full June 7 candidate list here.