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Speaking Out: We Need You 

by League President and Elkin Mayor Lestine Hutchens

During last year’s Town Hall Day, Senate leader Phil Berger said something that we all know. Speaking to League members gathered on the 3rd floor auditorium of the Legislative Building, Senator Berger noted, "There are things that we are not going to agree on, but I think it’s important for us to have a dialogue."

Just before that statement, the Rockingham County senator had discussed one item where state and municipal government had found agreement – the importance of shoring up transportation revenue streams to protect both state and municipal road-building funds. It’s worth recalling the exchange with Senator Berger as another Town Hall Day approaches on June 8, as it represents something of a microcosm of what the day is about.

Over the course of the day, municipal officials from around the state are able to explore with legislators our common ground, those areas where we have and can find agreement on policies affecting our towns and cities; we can also civilly have dialogue and explain our perspective on policy areas where we have disagreement.

In 2015, the League had well over 400 people attend the various events that make up Town Hall Day, whether the meeting with Senator Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore; a panel discussion with Gov. Pat McCrory, Secretary of Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz, and former Transportation Secretary Tony Tata; the updates from League staff; or the evening reception where folks had a chance to socialize with legislators and state officials. Those numbers are important. Coming out in force for Town Hall Day sends a message that the League is speaking for municipalities big and small, and that our unified voice is strong.

As we have seen in the media coverage that has followed us on this most important lobbying day of the year, our numbers and our presence help to draw attention to the serious policy issues facing cities and towns. Last year, a major part of that media focus was on the historic rehabilitation tax credits that had expired at the end of the 2014 and were so crucial to local economic development projects. The restoration was a topic raised with Senator Berger, Speaker Moore and by Secretary Kluttz later in the day.

It was no surprise then that newspapers and TV stations, in their coverage of Town Hall Day, included the topic in their coverage. And so, the day served as yet another way to continue that focus on restoration of the tax credits, and eventually the Senate yielded to put them back in place. In other years, other policy issues important to cities and towns have received similar attention and focus.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that the League needs your participation and involvement on this Town Hall Day. Whether a broad issue like protecting local decision-making authority or a specific one like the importance of municipal services districts as vital tools of downtown development, 2016 will again be a critical year for cities and towns at the Legislative Building. Our voice is loudest when a strong majority of municipalities is present and accounted for. Let’s make that the case this Town Hall Day!