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Town Hall Day: One for the Books 

By Ben Brown, NCLM Advocacy Communication Associate

This one raised the bar.

Donning League-green ties and scarves, more than 500 municipal officials from across North Carolina converged in Raleigh on June 8 for one of the most successful Town Hall Days in the books – one that brought out Gov. Pat McCrory, House Speaker Tim Moore and other powerful guests who heard the League’s message directly from membership.

The annual day of municipal advocacy at the Legislative Building – under some of the prettiest weather all season – saw local leaders make positive connections with their House and Senate delegates in discussions over issues important to great hometowns of all sizes.

While individual cities and towns had the chance to talk about specific local concerns or projects with their representatives, the overarching theme was "what municipal government brings to the state of North Carolina, how they help the state economically and are just a vital asset to the state," said League 1st Vice President Bob Matheny, Mayor of Zebulon. "So there was a lot of great representation, and I believe they (General Assembly legislators) heard what we had to say."

Legislators, at face-to-face meetings with local leaders, heard that North Carolina’s diverse municipalities account for 79 percent of all taxable property in the state, 80 percent of all jobs, and 75 percent of all retail sales. They heard that cities and towns are the engines of our state’s growing economy, with investments by cities and towns helping to fuel that growth. Subsequently, economic development and job creation end up being the top priorities to maintain that momentum. It was important that municipal leaders came prepared with specific data points from their locales to show lawmakers how local investments matter to that shared mission. For one, Elkin directly invested and administratively supported grant applications totaling $1.5 million toward renovating a historic tobacco warehouse called The Liberty. The tax value ended up quadrupling at the site that now houses a wine shop, restaurant, book store, meeting space and banquet hall.

Town Hall Day 2016 began at the Quorum Center in downtown Raleigh with legislative-issues briefings from 1st Vice President Matheny and League staff before teams of town officials shuttled to the Legislative Building to meet with their legislators and tour the facilities where state laws are made. The afternoon kicked off with League 2nd Vice President Michael Lazara, Mayor Pro Tem of Jacksonville, introducing a packed auditorium to House Speaker Tim Moore for an update and audience questions focused on the state budget and other legislative matters. Rep. John Torbett, a chairman of the House Transportation Committee, followed and told local officials that he doesn’t see transportation solutions as a partisan game, but rather one of cooperation and communication between local and state governments. After a popular ice cream social, Town Hall Day-goers filled an auditorium at the N.C. Museum of History to hear Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina CEO Christopher Chung, introduced by League Board Member William Pitt of the Washington City Council. Chung told cities that real estate availability is the key to recruiting business, and that sufficient inventory is vital in order to compete.

Chung’s comments about business success and partnership were the perfect intro for the next, distinguished slate of panelists – Gov. Pat McCrory; Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van der Vaart; Assistant Secretary for Veterans Affairs James Prosser; Department of Commerce Chief of Staff Cecilia Holden; and Department of Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson. "Right now, North Carolina’s economic recovery is the fastest and greatest economic recovery in the United States of America, as of today, in the last three years.... And a lot of it was due to feedback from you," Gov. McCrory told the municipal audience. He added that travel and tourism dollars "are doing extremely well this year, too." The governor also thanked the League for its support of the Connect NC bond package that voters overwhelmingly approved this year. The package includes $309.5 million for improvements to local water and sewer systems – crucial for supporting not only health, but also business growth. "You’re going to start feeling the impact of those bonds," Gov. McCrory said.

The success of Town Hall Day, which concluded with a reception at the Museum of History, was due to the amazing attendance of League members and the participation of its guests. The League would like to thank the hundreds of municipal officials from across the state who traveled to Raleigh to deliver a unified message. The League would also like to thank Gov. McCrory, Speaker Moore and all other state officials who donated their time to be with League members.