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Connect NC Bond, Funding Round and Training Announced

The state Division of Water Infrastructure has announced its fall 2016 funding round and related application training for its water and wastewater funding programs, which will include a portion of the Connect NC bond program. Application training sessions will be offered statewide in August in Sylva, Boone, Salisbury, Raleigh, Ahoskie, Kinston, and Lumberton. The sessions are designed to help in the application process, and the division staff strongly encourages those towns and cities that are considering applying to send a representative to one of the sessions. More information will be available on the division’s website by July 27.

This funding round is just the first of three that will award the Connect NC funds. Of the $309.5 million bond funding total, $100 million is provided for grant funding and the remainder is provided for loans. Since the loan funds are deposited into the state revolving loan programs, these funds will be used over and over as loans are paid back and new loans are made from loan repayment revenues.

Local governments across North Carolina, along with the League’s Executive Committee, passed resolutions supporting Connect NC, citing the critical importance of clean water to the economy and that the state’s growing population is increasing the demands on infrastructure. The League is excited to see how these infrastructure dollars will be used.


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NBA Pulls All-Star Event From Charlotte Over HB2

In protest of House Bill 2, the NBA announced Thursday it was withdrawing plans to holds its 2017 All Star Weekend in Charlotte "with the hope of rescheduling for 2019." In a statement posted to its website, the NBA said it couldn't reconcile its "long-standing core values" with the North Carolina law. Passed in March, HB2 limits legal protections for the LGBT community when it comes to discrimination claims and prohibits anyone in a public school or government facility from using a restroom not aligned with that person's birth-certificate sex, a measure seen as discriminatory to transgender individuals. "While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2," the NBA stated. It added that rescheduling the event in North Carolina in 2019 is possible "provided there is an appropriate resolution to this matter."

At the time of this writing, the organization had yet to say where the 2017 event will be held instead. According to McClatchy newspapers, tourism officials prior expected it would bring a $100 million economic impact to the Charlotte area. Gov. Pat McCrory, who has described HB2 as a necessary bathroom safety and privacy measure, issued a response on Thursday that said detractors have misrepresented the law and that "selective corporate elite are imposing their political will on communities in which they do business...." The League opposed HB2 for its limit on local decision-making authority. Click here for a related statement issued in March. The legislature passed HB2 as a response to Charlotte City's Council's adoption of a local anti-discrimination ordinance shortly before. The ordinance would have required all businesses that serve the public to allow persons to choose restrooms aligned with their gender identity. HB2 does not allow such local ordinances. A number of lawsuits are pending related to HB2, with one set for an Aug. 1 hearing. The legislature made one change to HB2 in the recently adjourned short session, restoring the right to sue in state court for discrimination, which the law in its initially-approved form disallowed.

Separately, on Friday, the NCAA posted a notice on its website saying that cities interested in hosting future championships must outline how they will "protect participants and spectators from discrimination." The organization is providing a questionnaire to gather those details and has set an Aug. 12 deadline.


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Municipalities Work to Expand Broadband

Several municipalities are working to bring the state up to speed with next-generation broadband technology, the superfast Internet service that is becoming increasingly vital for community connectivity and business development. The Times-News newspaper of Hendersonville on Wednesday reported that Hendersonville, Laurel Park and Fletcher are joining forces with Asheville and other mountain communities to form a regional committee to lure high online speeds. According to the newspaper, the project seeks to connect residents and businesses in the region with affordable gigabit service. To that end, these municipalities along with UNC-Asheville have contracted with the Land of Sky Regional Council to expand the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN).

NCNGN, made up of six Triangle and Triad cities, made news last month as one of 15 participants in a national Smart Gigabit Cities Program geared to build on such services and share them with other cities. "Since the information economy is only as strong as the infrastructure it’s built on -- and the US is painfully behind the rest of the world in speed and price when it comes to affordable high-speed Internet -- the effort has a big potential upside," wrote ReadWrite contributor Lauren Marinaro in an article about the smart communities announcement.

US Ignite, the nonprofit leading the national initiative, says it's assisting participants -- which include Cleveland, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Madison, Wis., and others -- with "ideas, education and resources for funding and deployment." Wilson became the state's first gigabit city with its expanded Greenlight Community Broadband, an all-fiber-optic network offered by the municipality to better position it for economic development and community service.


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CSX Announces Big Plans in Rocky Mount, Wilmington

In a pair of "game-changing" jobs announcements on Tuesday, Gov. Pat McCrory revealed that CSX will open a new intermodel terminal in the Rocky Mount area while the Wilmington port will see rail service to CSX's intermodal terminal in Charlotte, all described as major in making North Carolina a freight leader and in charging up eastern North Carolina's economy. According to a press release from the governor's office, the rail transport company plans to eventually connect the Port of Wilmington to the Rocky Mount facility, which is being called the Carolina Connector and is expected to create 1,500 jobs across the state.

CSX officials credited intergovernmental teamwork. “In partnership with the State of North Carolina and Rocky Mount, CSX is proud to bring this transformational project to eastern North Carolina which will provide cheaper, faster and more environmentally-friendly connections for North Carolina’s businesses and ports to domestic and international markets," said CSX CEO Michael Ward. "Rocky Mount’s vision for economic development, strategic location on the CSX network, and our existing rail operations and long-standing community ties make it an ideal choice for the Carolina Connector," which is expected to open in 2020. Click here for video of the announcement.

The Wilmington-Charlotte connector is being called the Queen City Express. Gov. McCrory said it will "facilitate the efficient, cost-effective movement of goods between the global marketplace and one of the most significant economic centers in the southeastern United States." Said Ward, "This critical infrastructure project will create jobs and spur economic development in the region, positioning Eastern North Carolina as a transportation and logistics hub in the south." Click here, here and here for news coverage.


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Governor Thins Stack of Pending Bills

Roughly 20 bills were pending on the governor's desk by the time of this publication on Friday, with a few measures of municipal interest still in the mix. They include:

  • HB 483 Land-Use Regulatory Changes - This is a much abbreviated version of proposal that, in its prior form, would have been harmful to municipalities in the way of property-owner protection and local government land-use decisions. Negotiations by the League and partners resulted in scaled-back legislation that grants vested rights for multi-phase developments for a period of seven years. Click here for previous coverage.
  • SB 326 Local Gov'ts/Bldgs/Structures/Inspections - Places restrictions on the ways cities run rental registration programs, which have been used to force absentee landloards to address repeated housing violations. Read previous coverage of the bill and changes made here.
  • SB 667 Elections Omnibus Revisions - This bill calls for a legislative study of ways to potentially move municipal elections to even-numbered years by 2020. The Joint Legislative Elections Committee would carry out that study and recommend legislation.

Bills the governor has signed in the past week include HB 630 Drinking Water Protect’n/Coal Ash Cleanup Act, which includes language the League requested to make sure a public water system's solvency be taken into account when electric providers are required to provide alternative drinking water supplies to property owners near coal ash impoundments.

All in all, the governor signed at least eight bills in the past week, according to numbers from the General Assembly. Click here for links to what the governor has signed and what still remains on his desk.


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Congress Nixes Proposal to Limit Local Power Over Drones

A stop-gap measure to keep the Federal Aviation Adminstration (FAA) funded through September 2017 leaves behind a harmful plan that would have limited local regulation of drones, the National League of Cities reports. Members of the U.S. Senate had been pushing a provision friendly to the drone industry that could have made for "unprecedented, broad federal preemption over state and local authority," according to NLC, which was among parties urging lawmakers to turn down the proposal and recognize the importance of local governance.

"Much like automobiles and land use development regulations, local leaders know best how to regulate issues that affect their residents in their own backyards," the NLC and U.S. Conference of Mayors wrote in a March letter to Senate leaders. "This should be no different in the case of civilian (unmanned aviation systems, or drones) that may be operating just feet above their citizens’ homes, businesses, and public spaces." The Senate's proposal was absent from what passed this week, in the FAA funding measure that has been the subject monthslong negotiations. It comes shortly after the release of a final rule from the FAA that favored state and local government authority in drone regulation, determing that federal preemption wasn't warranted. Click here to past read League coverage.


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Morrisville Mayor Appointed to LGERS Board

Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman has been appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory to a seat on the N.C. Local Government Employees' Retirement System (LGERS) Board of Trustees, according to a press release from the town on Thursday. Mayor Stohlman's role as one of 13 board members will be to represent municipal governments and their employees throughout the state. The mayor said he was "deeply honored" by the appointment. "Making sure 900,000 members have a secure retirement and that the systems remain financially healthy is a significant responsibility that I take very seriously," he said. "I look forward to serving with State Treasurer Janet Cowell and other Trustees for the next four years."

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Podcast: The Five Levers of Local Innovation Ecosystems

Episode Three of the Municipal Equation podcast is out! The rundown: If a city or town is intentional enough, it can foster a local innovation ecosystem -- which isn't just a game reserved for major metros. Christopher Gergen, leader of national learning collaborative Forward Cities and entrepreneurship group Forward Impact, tells us how he's seen his town and others of varying sizes become thriving, colorful hubs of creativity and innovation. How? It starts with understanding five specific levers, and the role of local government in pulling them. Gergen offers big takeaways in this field-trip episode recorded at the Bullpen, Duke University’s bullish entrepreneurial space in downtown Durham, North Carolina. Click here to listen. The podcast is also available for free subscription on iTunes or for streaming on services like Google Play, Stitcher, Overcast and others.