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Legislative Goals and Issues, 2021-22

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Updated: August 31, 2021

After a lengthy, member-driven process to set Municipal Legislative Goals for the 2021-22 biennium, NCLM has now begun efforts toward achieving these goals​.

On this page, you will find the Municipal Legislative Goals, groupings of issues before the General Assembly and of importance to municipalities, associated bills being considered affecting them, as well as key​ points and news items that may help advance League priorities.

Be sure to utilize these resources as you work to ensure that your voice is heard during this legislative session.

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INFRASTRUCTURE​​​​​​ ​

Associated Municipal Legislative Goals 

  • Grant local governments the a​uthority to build broadband infrastructure in order to partner with private providers, and provide additional funding to help close the digital divide.

  • Create a permanent and adequate funding stream for local infrastructure needs.

  • Provide funding to keep aging water and sewer systems financially solvent today and viable for the future.​


​Broadband​

​​Key Points

  • High-speed broadband and the networks that support it are just as essential today as roads and electricity were in the first half of the 20th century.​
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, high-speed broadband has become even more crucial for schooling, work and health care access.
  • High-speed broadband attracts more capital investment into local economies.​
  • Public-private partnerships allow local governments to enter arrangements in which they lease fiber and other broadband assets to private internet service providers, who would then provide retail service to customers. State policy that better enables these partnerships is critical to closing the digital divide in North Carolina.

Legislative Bill Links: ​

SB 547 FIBER NC Act 

Has been sought by the League for multiple years and allows municipalities to build and then lease infrastructure to internet service providers (ISPs). The bill also would clearly authorize local governments to spend on broadband infrastructure any of the $3.4 billion they will receive through their American Rescue Plan allocations.​

Media Links:

​Broadband Would Close N.C.'s Digital Divide; Big Telecom is Blocking It - Jan. 2021, Fayetteville Observer

Mayor Dana Outlaw: 'Let's End the De-Facto Broadband Monopolies' - April 2021, WRAL

Cities in eastern NC push for city-run fiber internet networks after Suddenlink complaints - ​May 2021, WRAL



Infrastructure Funding

​​​Key Points

  • Cities serve as critical funders of infrastructure, but have control over only one major source of revenue to pay for that infrastructure – the property tax.
  • Infrastructure – including water and sewer lines and treatment facilities, and streets – are critical to economic development and job creation.
  • Many cities in the state are growing, creating a constant need for investment to keep pace with population growth; many cities and towns also have aging infrastructure that must be replaced.
  • Creating a more permanent funding stream for local infrastructure, such as a dedicated tax source, would allow for better planning to meet needs.​

Legislative Bill Links: 

HB 372/SB 354 Restore Funding/Conservation Purposes

Aims to make available more infrastructure funding by ensuring a recurring source of funding for state grants to fund parks, waterway and beach conservation through dedicating the proceeds of the deed stamp excise tax. The proceeds would go directly to fund the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, Land and Water Fund (formerly known as the Clean Water Management Trust Fund), Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund, and North Carolina Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund instead of the state's general fund.


HB 500 Disaster Relief and Mitigation Act of 2021

Would make significant strides in supporting flood resiliency and stormwater infrastructure, by appropriating significant funds to different programs to address flooding and infrastructure resiliency. Additionally, the bill would make the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) a permanent state entity, tasking NCORR with creating “Flood Resilience Blueprints" for major watersheds impacted by flooding, and supporting the establishment and furtherance of local government stormwater maintenance programs.


SB 602 Flood Resiliency and Prevention Act 

Provides over $25 million in funds for the implementation of a statewide flood mitigation, resiliency, and prevention plan and stream debris removal.​


Media Links: ​

​​Mayors and county commissioners request funding from legislature to prevent flooding​ - March 2021, WECT

N.C. Highway Maintenance Is Behind and Won't Catch Up Any Time Soon​ - May 2021, Indy Week


Viable Utilities​

​​​Key Points

  • According to a state study, North Carolina will need at least $17 billion to meet water and wastewater infrastructure needs over the next two decades.

  • Several dozen towns in the state have financially distressed water or sewer operations, threating the towns' overall financial viability.
  • These stresses to water and sewer operations have coincided with population and job losses in rural areas, leading to an erosion of taxpayer and ratepayer bases.​

Legislative Bill Links:

HB 806 Study Water and Sewer Infrastructure

​Would consider the topic of aging water systems, which have received much legislative attention over the past few legislative sessions. For example, legislators just last year funded a new state grant program, the Viable Utility Reserve, to assist these systems.​

Media Links:​

Rural cities and towns struggle to pay for water systems during the pandemic​ - Aug. 2020, Hickory Daily Record​

Strained Rural Water Utilities Buckle Under Pandemic Pressure​ - Sept. 2020, Stateline

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PUBLIC SAFETY

Associated Legislative Municipal Goals:

  • Improve state-wide funding and support for LEO training focused on use of force, mental health and de-escalation skills.

  • Increase public safety grant funding and expand allowable uses.​


Improved Training​

​​​Key Points​ 

  • Highly-publicized incidents of police use of force in 2020 have underscored the need for enhanced and expanded law enforcement training.
  • Improved training is needed to build trust and legitimacy in the community while serving the public in a professional and equitable manner.​
  • Numerous studies show that additional and effective training focused on conflict de-escalation can significantly reduce police use of force.​​​

Legislative Bill Links:

Many bills have been filed that would provide training, mental health, and other support for law enforcement officers. Those bills can be seen here:

Media  Links:

More Data, Mental Health Aid in NC Senate Police Reform Bill​ - April 2021, Associated Press

North Carolina House approves bipartisan police reform bills​ - May 2021, WXII 



Grant Funding

​​​Key Points​ 

  • Improving policing will require additional public safety grant funding and more flexibility in its uses.​
  • More effective and equitable policing can be achieved by additional funding of community policing programs, as well as putting more dollars toward alternative programs that seek to address mental health calls and other issues through non-uniformed personnel.
  • Additional funding is also needed to meet public safety communication needs.

 

Legislative Bill Links:

HB 13 State Search and Rescue Funding

Provides $2.3 million in State Search and Rescue Program funds are used to supplement local government funds to purchase equipment, maintain equipment, and provide other items necessary to ensure statewide search and rescue services.


HB 775 Fund Law Enforcement/Detention/Corrections 

Appropriates $10 million to Governor's Crime Commission in nonrecurring funds to provide competitive grants law enforcement agencies that have at least a ten percent (10%) vacancy rate in sworn law enforcement officer positions.


HB 786 Enhance Local Response/Mental Health Crisis 

Creates a pilot program that will provide grants to local law enforcement agencies in order to enhance responses to mental or behavioral health crises.


SB 565 Supporting Law Enforcement 

Appropriates funds for a variety of grants to law enforcement agencies for initiatives supporting community policing, awards to law enforcement officers exhibiting exemplary service, and to temporarily provide funding for detective or other investigative law enforcement positions.


SB 566 Investing in Law Enforcement  

Provides funds to the NC Justice Academy to assist in law enforcement officer training, to expand the Academy's ability to offer online courses offer online courses for law enforcement agencies, and  to further develop, maintain, and staff the NC Law Enforcement Accreditation Program.


SB 652 Expand Fire Grant Fund  

Provides $5 million in additional funding to the NC Volunteer Fire Department Fund for targeted relief to fire departments located in economically disadvantaged areas.


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HOUSING

Associated Municipal Legislative Goals

  • Revitalize vacant and abandoned properties with enhanced legal tools and funding.

  • Increase state and federal funding for affordable housing.


Affordable Housing

Key Points 

  • The availability of affordable housing is no longer an issue facing only larger cities. A growing number of smaller cities and towns have recognized a lack of affordable housing as major problem facing residents and as an impediment to workforce recruitment. 
  • Ongoing revenue sources to meet affordable housing needs is extremely limited; the two primary state programs to meet those needs – the N.C. Housing Trust Fund and the Workforce Housing Loan Program – have received less than $30 million annually in recent years. 
  • More than one-in-four North Carolina households are considered “cost-burdened" when it comes to paying for housing, meaning they pay at least 30 percent of their income in housing costs. 
  • With funding and additional legal tools, such as those allowing for properties to be more easily condemned and to address multiple heirs, these properties could serve in addressing local housing needs.​

Legislative Bill Links:

HB 367/SB 363 Uniform Partition of Heirs Act

This bill would offer a legal tool to assist heirs property owners in selling their residential properties, putting into law another method of selling the properties, even if the express permission of all owners is lacking. ​

Media Links:

Planning for Affordable Housing in North Carolina - April 2021, Capital Tonight​


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LOCAL REVENUES

Associated Municipal Advocacy Goals: 

  • Secure federal and state aid directly to municipalities to offset all lost revenues due to the Covid-19 pandemic.​

  • Reduce pressure on property tax payers by expanding locally-controlled options for revenue generation.


Pandemic Economic Effects

Key Points:

  • Municipalities saw large drops in sales and occupancy taxes and utility revenues last spring; the current surge in the virus is likely to produce more economic disruption and further erosion in revenues.

  • Earlier federal assistance to state and local governments was neither direct nor flexible, preventing revenue holes from being filled.

  • NC municipalities received only a fraction of the federal CARES Act state and local dollars allocated to North Carolina in March.

Legislative Bill Links:

SB 172 Additional COVID-19 Response & Relief

Sets up the structure for the state to distribute funds from the federal American Rescue Plan to all nonentitlement cities that are not receiving funds directly from the federal government.

Media Links:

Gov. Cooper unveils recommendations for NC's American Rescue Plan funds - May 2021, ABC 11
 

Revenue Options

Key Points

  • Property taxes remain the primary revenue stream over which municipal governments exercise control.

  • Cities have little or no authority to raise significant revenue in other ways.​ 

  • ​A lack of diverse, local tax options can affect economic growth, as well as cause large swings in revenue based on economic changes.

Legislative Bill Links:

Many local bills have been filed that would expand local options for revenue:


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ECONOMIC & COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT​

Associated Municipal Legislative Goals:

  • Expand incentives and funding for local economic development.

 

Key Points

  • Funding is simply inadequate in many cities and towns to encourage job growth.
  • A lack of state funding is seen in grants or incentives for major job creation projects as well as programs to boost small business growth.
  • Among the needs are restoring cuts or additional funding for film tax credits, major industrial site development and downtown development.  

Legislative Bill Links:

HB 66 Expand Eligibility for Utility Account 

Expands eligibility for the Industrial Development Fund Utility Account - a local government grant program that helps create jobs in distressed counties, setting grant priority and changing definition of a distressed county.


HB 810 Reenact Film Credit 

Reenacts the credit for qualifying expenses of a production company.


SB 268 Film Grant Fund Appropriation 

Appropriates $34 million each year of the 2021-2023 fiscal biennium to the Film and Entertainment Grant Fund.


SB 482 Site Development Revolving Assistance Fund 

Creates a new loan fund to help local governments with site assistance for site development projects, appropriating $100 million to the fund.


Media Links:

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EMPLOYMENT POLICIES

Associated Municipal Legislative Goals: 

  • Ensure state funding for any new, state-mandated benefits for municipal employees.​​

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​Key Points

  • In recent years, legislators have considered additional post-retirement benefits for certain classes of municipal employees.
  • Often, proposed legislation would act as an unfunded mandate on municipalities, as it fails to include a state-funding source. ​
  • Proposals, many focused on firefighter benefits, fail to consider that municipalities already enjoy the authority to provide these benefits individually without legislative action.

Legislative Bill Links: 

SB 472 Expand Occup. Cancer Benefits/Firefighters

Adds some cancers in firefighters to the existing state line of duty death benefit and creates a state funded trust held by the Industrial Commission to give up to $25,000 to firefighters for medical related expenses related to certain cancers.


HB 535 Firefighters Fighting Cancer Act of 2021  

Would provide supplemental insurance benefits to all firefighters with cancer. All firefighters in the state diagnoses with cancer would receive a $25,000 lump sum benefit to use for any purpose and $12,000 to spend on out of pocket medical costs upon a diagnosis of an eligible cancer; the supplemental insurance would also provide a disability benefit. Provides a $17 million non-recurring appropriation. 


Media Links:

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CORE MUNICIPAL PRINCIPLES

NCLM's Core Municipal Principles, adopted by the Board of Directors and membership, are principles that serve as a guide in efforts to oppose legislative proposals that would act to undermine our cities and towns. 


The Core Municipal Principles are the following:

  • Preserve Municipal Authority   

  • Protect Local Revenue Streams   

  • Minimize State and Federal Mandates ​

  • Promote Open Government and Ethical Conduct  

  • Limit Imposition of Liability  

  • Support Responsible Growth and Economic Development Policies 

  • Support Fact-based, Equitable, C​ost-effective, Flexible, Achievable Regulatory Solutions 

Learn more about the Core Municipal Principles here​

Bills and potential legislation damaging municipal authority and otherwise running counter to these principles will be listed below, with relevant information. ​

Legislation to Watch

HB 7 Protect City Employees from Retaliation

This bill would require all towns and cities to pass ordinances that create antiretaliation policies and making it more difficult for city employers to hire and fire staff and would lead to litigation and increased costs.

The League's one-pager on this issue ​can be found here.​


HB 119 Property Tax Relief for COVID Affected Bus.

This bill would mandate that local property taxes be deferred for qualifying business that have suffered economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also calls for immediate tax re-evaluations for some properties which saw changed uses due to the pandemic.

The League's one-pager on this issue ​can be found here.


HB 401/SB 349 Increasing Housing Opportunities

This bill would, among other things, eliminate single-family only zoning across the state and severely restrict the use of conditional zoning by municipalities, providing one-size-fits-all approach to zoning.


HB 496 Property Owners' Rights/Trees Ordinances

This bill would rescind all local tree ordinances not created through a local act of the legislature and require that any future ordinances be approved only by local legislative act.


HB 583 LGERS Retirees 2% Bonus

This bill would give LGERS retirees a one-time 2% bonus, which is estimated to cost the LGERS system around $34.8 million. If not funded by the General Assembly, this would mean that local governments' contribution rate for general employees would rise by an estimated 0.48% of pay for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.


HB 831 Cities/Prohibited Service Agreements

This bill would prohibit agreements between cities and private property owners that require annexation prior to the city extending water and sewer service to that property.


HB 846 25-Year Retirement for First Responders

This bill would allow first responders to retire and receive full retirement benefits from the Local Government Employees Retirement System (LGERS) after 25 years of service, significantly adding to the unfunded liability of LGERS at the expense of the employer. 


SB 100 Police Funding Protection Act

This bill would reduce state funding for local governments, on a matching percentage basis, whenever municipalities reduce their police budgets by 1 percent or more. 

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HB 712 Preservation of Workforce Housing

This bill would limit the use of conditional zoning if a project contains affordable housing. For large-scale developments, it ties the hands of local officials in terms of working with developers and neighbors in designing affordable housing that is harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood.

This bill would allow schools on any tract of land anywhere in the state and adds private schools to an existing law that requires cities to pay for any transportation improvements needed when schools are built, which keeps local governments from being able to say that a school shouldn't go in a particular spot.

Thill bill includes provisions that would award attorney's fees to prevailing parties if a local government appealed a decision in a land use case and lost, prevent inclusion of several common items in conditional zoning actions, and require municipal water systems to provide service to property owners in their extra-territorial jurisdiction upon request.

Both bills here include provisions that would prohibit local regulation of short-term rentals, making it so local officials would no longer have a way to address community concerns about noise, parking, and other effects from short-term rentals in their neighborhoods.

This bill would proscribe a strict process for granting development approvals, in which a local government would have a 30-day window in which to review any development applications or building plans submitted for its approval. In that window of time, local officials would have to identify—in writing—all deficiencies in the application, the legal basis for the deficiency, and suggestions for corrective action.




NCLM Position

    • State officials dictating local budgets undermines the authority of local voters and taxpayers. Local budgets are decided by locally-elected officials responsive to local taxpayers. If those local voters do not like those spending decisions, they can vote those local officials out at the ballot box.

    • A handful of local governments have shifted a small percentage of resources to focus more on mental health responses and alleviate police from duties not traditionally considered law enforcement, but these efforts have not “defunded" police or resulted in threats to public safety. In fact, they have been undertaken to more effectively serve the public in ways that enhance safety.

    • The legislation does not even provide for spikes in police budgets due to spending on equipment, police cars and the like. The result, over time, would likely be the opposite of its sponsors' intent – any police budget increases will be minimal to avoid potential budget decreases in the following year. ​

    • Politically polarized rhetoric around this issue does little to address and may actually harm local approaches to racial equity, overstretched police departments increasingly asked to answer mental health calls and the need for enhanced training. ​


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