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Members select new goals at Advocacy Goals Conference 

by Jessica Wells, NCLM Communications Specialist

Hundreds of municipal officials from across the state gathered at the Raleigh Convention Center on Dec. 11 to decide the League’s advocacy priorities for the 2015-2016 biennium. The conference is the culmination of a year-long process of suggesting, amending and debating legislative and regulatory goals where the membership selects the top goals by popular vote.

The conference was prefaced by a networking mixer at the Oxford in downtown Raleigh on Dec. 10. Roughly 100 legislators, municipal officials and guests attended the event to discuss goals and mingle before the conference.

The League has used the process since 2010 to ensure the League’s priorities are driven by its members. This year members submitted 136 goal proposals that were narrowed down to 25 legislative, five regulatory and two federal goals.

“It is important to remember here that this is about coming up with a strong set of priorities that we can take to the Legislature next year and make a strong case for when it comes to keeping our communities strong and vibrant,” League President and Burlington Mayor Ronnie Wall said.

The League’s four policy committees, made up of 170 individuals who represent 86 separate municipalities, met a combined 12 times during the summer and fall. In those meetings, they discussed the implications of the proposals, how they might contribute to municipalities’ success and improve their chances for success at the Legislature. At the end of that process, the committees recommended 55 legislative, 15 regulatory, and two federal goals to the League’s Board of Directors.

In early October, the Board narrowed that list further by choosing 41 legislative, seven regulatory and two federal goals for consideration at the Advocacy Goals Conference. The Board also submitted streamlined language of the Core Municipal Principles that the membership voted to approve at the conference.

Before voting, League staff explained each goal, and members were able to debate and amend goals.

"We are standing here at the end of this process," League President and Burlington Mayor Ronnie Wall said. "But the goals are only the beginning. Now we begin to translate them into action. Let your legislators know tomorrow, next week and next month that these are your priorities and the priorities of all North Carolina’s cities and towns."

Governor Pat McCrory and North Carolina House Speaker Pro Tem Paul "Skip" Stam joined the membership for lunch at the convention center. This was the second time McCrory attended the Advocacy Goals Conference.

He assured the membership he was committed to holding legislators to finding replacement revenue for the Privilege License Tax, which was repealed during the 2014 legislative session. The repeal will cost North Carolina cities and towns upwards of $60 million in 2015 alone. As a former Charlotte mayor, McCrory said he is understanding of the stress this repeal puts on municipalities – Charlotte is poised to lose the most of all cities from the bill at $17 million.

"When I signed that bill, I made the two sponsors put an addendum to it saying they would work with each of you to figure out how to make up that loss in the next session," McCrory said. "I’m going to try to hold them to their feet, and show them a copy of that letter, which I attached to the bill I signed."

Although Stam said he believes the Privilege License Tax was an irrational tax not based on ability to pay or benefits received, he is hopeful the Legislature can replace the revenue.

"We’re making taxes more fair and efficient for all," Stam said.

McCrory also called on members to work with legislators to reinstate the Historic Tax Credit, which was also repealed in the last session. According to him, the credit is one of the most important in terms of business recruitment.

"I’ve got to show off your living room. If your living room is not healthy, and you have abandoned buildings, they’re going to notice," McCrory said. "That’s why this tax credit is so important to towns from 5,000 to 500,000 people. These are areas that we’ve got to maintain."

Immediately prior to speaking at the conference’s lunch, McCrory was at a ribbon cutting in High Point for a new Belgian company set to hire more than 100 people to work in a historic cotton mill. He said that site wasn’t perfect for the company, but with the Historic Tax Credit incentive, it was a better fit financially than a greenfield site.

"That is not only revitalizing that building — it is going to revitalize High Point. You have a responsibility to the infrastructure around the area, too. I see cracked sidewalks, and it’s going to be tough for me to sell the area unless the city is also going to do some investment," he said. "Every time we bring a client, even if they aren’t moving to your town center, they want to see your town center. Keep working."