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Speaking Out: Moving ahead, with optimism and excitement 

by League President and Elkin Mayor Lestine Hutchens

About this time last year, it was easy to be a bit discouraged. The North Carolina legislature had gone home, and although the issue had been close, state lawmakers failed to approve legislation to restore historic preservation tax credits. For me, personally, and my town, Elkin, it was a big blow. Mill towns like Elkin saw job losses, as well as losses in property tax valuations, as a result of the decline of the textile industry in North Carolina and across the South. We saw the state tax credit as a means of jumpstarting needed local economic development projects. 

As we moved from fall to winter and into spring, I made the case about the importance of the historic tax credit to towns like Elkin in newspaper opeds that ran across the western part of the state. Those newspaper pieces were part of a broader effort involving a number of groups to again try to get the General Assembly to pass an historic preservation tax credit. As many know, eventually we were successful, and the League and cities and towns across the state can be proud of the role that they played in keeping this critical issue front and center before the public and before legislators. 

As I begin my term as president of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, I thought it was important to reflect on that hardfought, important policy victory for cities and towns and think about what it may mean for the future. It was not easy. Over the next year, North Carolina cities and towns will face other challenges, whether from policy proposals coming out of Raleigh or because of circumstances unique to each of them. 

No doubt, there will be times when we all get a bit discouraged. But I come into this year optimistic and excited. I am honored and humbled to become president of this organization. Coming out of our annual conference, CityVision 2015, we now have a path, a clear vision, created by the Strategic Visioning process, of where cities want to be 15 years hence. We also are moving toward a means of accomplishing that vision, whether that involves creating tools that will allow each city and town to tell about its successes in effective ways or helping forge partnerships and building relationships that will make our communities more economically vibrant. 

One of the reasons that I and so many of you came away from CityVision 2015 energized about the future is because we can already see these things starting to happen. This wasn’t just talk. The restoration of historic tax credits only happened because of strategic partnerships and the telling of a compelling story that the public and policymakers could not ignore. 

As we join together with the League staff to continue putting the pieces in place to achieve more of that vision, I believe this organization and cities and towns are on the cusp of great things. Over the next year, not every day will feel that way. And again, we will face challenges tomorrow that we cannot know of nor predict today. 

I am looking forward to meeting those challenges, and doing so with all of the members of the League of Municipalities. As was stated at the conclusion of the video unveiled at conference touting the economic importance of cities and towns, it is time to bring that vision home.