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League Bulletin

February 9, 2018

In meetings with two Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioners Wednesday, League Executive Director Paul Meyer highlighted the lack of broadband access in North Carolina communities and pressed for assistance. Specifically, Meyer shared stories of the challenges faced by local officials in many parts of North Carolina in attracting broadband providers, who often cannot make the math work for investing private dollars to build the necessary infrastructure. He asked FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Jessica Rosenworcel — two of the five FCC commissioners — to take these challenges into account when making decisions regarding broadband deployment. He stressed the importance of not having the FCC preempt local decision-making, and urged the commissioners to allow public-private partnerships between local governments and the private sector as the best way to build out broadband infrastructure across the country. Meyer’s visits took place as part of an infrastructure push by the National League of Cities​ to encourage partnerships between local and federal policy-makers, including members of Congress and agencies such as the FCC. League President and Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lazzara carried those messages as part of a contingent​ that visited eight congressional offices from North Carolina and Maryland.

Legislators are back in Raleigh in their ongoing series of brief sessions, but this could be the last until the regular short-session begins in May. Lawmakers this week focused primarily on school class size with additional focus on the makeup of the state elections board. The Insider State Government News Service reported on Friday that lawmakers will remain in Raleigh "a few more days" as House members wait to vote on the class-size bill. The House was scheduled for a no-vote session on Friday, and the Senate took up matters including class-size and water quality safety (the latter as related to the GenX controversy). The Senate took up a formal adjournment resolution, voting to wait until May for its next full session. The House must also approve this resolution​, which could come early next week.

In other standout news from Jones Street this week, Rep. Henry (Mickey) Michaux Jr.​ of Durham announced he would not seek re-election to the legislature, ending a storied tenure in the House spanning 40 years, or 19.5 terms. The News & Observer and Durham Herald Sun reported​ that Representative Michaux, when he first joined the House, was only the third African-American ever elected to the legislature. "Life has been good to me. Life has given me the honor of serving in this body and serving the state of North Carolina," the newspapers quoted of Representative Michaux.


The N.C. Senate gave its approval Friday to a measure that addressed certain aspects of the GenX water contamination concern in the Lower Cape Fear River. Since June, the legislature has returned to Raleigh intermittently for full legislative sessions. During a series of “full session” days this week, the Senate picked up where the House left off on the GenX issue in January. (Read the League’s report on House debates here). The House proposal passed that chamber in January with unanimous approval, while many Senate Democrats objected​ this week to how chamber leaders rewrote the bill.

GenX is a chemical substance used in the manufacture of Teflon, and it has been found in water wells both downstream and upstream from the Chemours plant in Cumberland County, including public water supplies in the Wilmington area. Responding to the concerns about contamination has resulted in hours of legislative committee debates, numerous public meetings in the Lower Cape Fear region, and plentiful media coverage. The Senate proposal approved Friday differed from the House’s take, though it still directed further study of the potential contamination effects of GenX by state agencies. And, like the House bill, the Senate proposal appropriated additional sums to support this study, though the Senate added restrictions on those expenditures that the House did not. Due to changes with the bill, it now moves back to the House for further consideration. Contact: Erin Wynia​

N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Secretary Jim Trogdon outlined a proposal Monday for a new borrowing tool to pay for local transportation projects. In testimony before an interim House transportation committee, Secretary Trogdon presented a legislative proposal named “Build NC.” Modeled after the federal GARVEE bond program, Build NC bonds would allow the state to borrow money for local transportation priorities and repay those bonds using future state transportation dollars. Build NC bond proceeds would fund transportation projects prioritized at the regional and division levels of the state’s transportation funding system​. These projects are suggested by local officials, who also have the most input in deciding which of these projects to prioritize. Members of the House committee appeared open to the Build NC bonds concept.

If recommended by the committee and then authorized by the General Assembly during the short session scheduled to begin in May, Build NC bonds would augment steps already taken over the past year by the legislature and NCDOT to increase the number of local projects funded. Those steps include accelerating project delivery, which Secretary Trogdon said had increased the number of locally requested projects that were funded from 17 percent to 22 percent, as well as additional local transportation funds appropriated by the legislature last year. Contact: Erin Wynia​

A top official with libertarian think-tank the Reason Foundation urged House members Monday to consider a vehicle-miles-traveled tax as the primary way to ensure stable transportation funding into the future. Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at the think tank, said his organization generally promoted libertarian principles that included preserving individual liberties. He acknowledged to an interim transportation funding committee that past worries about a vehicle-miles-traveled tax -- which would involve measuring the miles covered by a particular vehicle -- focused on the liberties and privacy rights of drivers, and whether the government had a right to know their movements. He said that in the past, his organization generally opposed a vehicle-miles-traveled tax on those philosophical grounds.

However, Moore said that position had changed. He told lawmakers that technology had progressed to the point that many of those privacy concerns had been addressed, and that a vehicle-miles-traveled tax represented the fairest way to pay for ongoing transportation costs. In his presentation​, Moore reiterated the crisis that North Carolina and other states will find themselves in within the next decade if they do not find an alternative to the gas tax. State officials widely expect the gas tax revenue source to rapidly decline in coming years. As a start, Moore encouraged legislators to create a pilot program to test miles-traveled technology and to work out other lingering issues before implementing the tax statewide. Committee members appeared receptive to the idea when questioning Moore. They would have to recommend legislation before the idea would advance further into the legislative process. Contact: Erin Wynia

More than a dozen national organizations focused on state and local governments -- including the National League of Cities, International City/County Management Association and the National Association of Counties -- released a collective statement on Thursday welcoming President Trump's emphasis on infrastructure improvments, while adding a proposal for effectiveness. The complete statement follows:

“We welcome President Trump’s and Congress’ focus on infrastructure. A strong federal-state-local partnership will be critical to delivering a bipartisan infrastructure package that invests in every community. States and local governments know firsthand the needs of our communities and invest in infrastructure accordingly. This includes roads and bridges, airports, waterways and ports, transit, passenger rail, water and sewer systems, public facilities, energy, broadband and telecommunications networks.
“Along with other priorities, we look forward to working together to secure the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. We welcome a renewed focus on streamlining the federal review process to help deliver urgently needed projects to build the America of the future. Additionally, we must find the correct balance between federal, state and local investments and private sector partnerships. We stand ready to work with our federal partners to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure to meet the diverse, complex needs of our residents and ensure American competitiveness.”

In related news is a conversation about whether and how the infrastructure package might incorporate "smart" technologies that are gaining importance for cities, public spaces and service delivery. A primer on smart cities is found in Episode 18 of the League's Municipal Equation podcast​.

The governor's office this week announced a $12 million program to help local governments in rural North Carolina compete for business. "Through the Rural ReadySites Development Program, rural areas will be able to apply for funding to build or improve public infrastructure for sites that have strong potential to attract employers, create jobs and support the local, regional and state economy," said a news release Wednesday about the program, to be housed in the state Department of Commerce. It's slated for a springtime launch with applications due April 13. Eligible local governments are within Tier 1 or 2 counties, and the qualifying site must be publicy owned or controlled. The site must also be 50 contiguous acres at a minimum, and the funds can only help construct public infrastructure, "with priority given to water, sewer and industrial access improvements," the release says. Local governments interested in the program should contact Mark Poole at for applications.

The growing, global talk about "smart cities" has generated an enormous industry ready to work with municipalities and offer tech solutions to make government, planning, services and growth more efficient and on target via advanced data gathering and analysis. It's a huge inspiration for big public-sector dreams, and we're already seeing great things. But the rise of smart-cities is also giving rise to conversations about ethics, inclusion, consent, and how "smart" these solutions really are in their effects on everyday people. If we go about it a wise way, however, maybe we can stem some of these concerns, suggests our guest this week on Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast about cities and towns in the face of change. Daniel Latorre, a placemaking expert who has studied the intersection of civics and technology for many years, wants to shift the focus from smart cities to "wise cities" -- a different approach to public innovation and problem solving that decentralizes technology in favor of human beings, neighborhoods and personal interaction. He identifies the shortcomings he sees in tech-centric planning, and then gives us a takeaway checkbox of questions to ask when embarking on such projects to ensure that the affected people are kept at the center of focus. There's a lot to consider on this episode. Listen now. You can find it, and past episodes, at If you want Municipal Equation to come to you, simply subscribe on iTunes or Google Play. You can also stream this and all past episodes of Municipal Equation on most or all podcast smartphone apps, like TuneIn, Stitcher or Overcast. Have an idea for an episode? Contact host/producer Ben Brown.

The North Carolina Retirement Systems in 2017 outformed its benchmark with gains of 13.5 percent, according to a news release​ from State Treasurer Dale Folwell. It explained that pension fund assets were valued at $98.3 billion, as compared to the $89.1 billion at the end of 2016. "We are very pleased to see these gains at a time when the pension fund as a whole had less exposure to risk," Treasurer Folwell said in the release, which also noted that public equity, which makes up almost 40 percent of the total fund, gained 24.4 percent. The North Carolina Retirement Systems, which provides benefits and savings to state and local public-sector workers, represents the 10th largest public pension fund in the U.S.

A policy change announced this week for the 2020 Census could greatly benefit North Carolina and military communites like Jacksonville and Fayetteville. The U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday said​ it would count overseas-deployed members of the military as living at their base address in the U.S., instead of their home state of record, providing for more accurate headcounts in states like North Carolina that have large military populations. "Getting an accurate count of how many people live in North Carolina means all the residents of our state are better served," Gov. Roy Cooper said in a press release​ praising the decision. "The deployed military and the communities that they call home deserve to be counted, especially as they serve our country." Better Census data improve a community's access to supportive funds and services tied to those numbers. The governor's office noted that the Jacksonville and Fayetteville areas received "artificially low" headcounts in 2010 per the number of service-men and -women deployed to places like Iraq and Haiti. "Since federal funding and services are tied to Census counts, those communities were regarded as having lower populations for a decade," the office explained. "Thanks to this change, the actual number of short-term deployed military will be counted."

​The North Carolina Rate Bureau, which represents property insurers that write policies in North Carolina, has requested a statewide rate increase averaging nearly 19 percent (but varying by territory) on dwelling insurance policies. The Rate Bureau filed the request with the N.C. Department of Insurance (DOI) on Wednesday. DOI said the request asks for an Oct. 1 effective date and an increase of 40.5 percent for extended coverage (wind) policies but a decrease of 20.8 percent for fire policies. "Dwelling insurance policies are not homeowners insurance policies," DOI notes. "Dwelling policies are offered to non-owner-occupied residences of no more than four units, including rental properties, investment properties and other properties that are not occupied full-time by the property owner." DOI says it will will review the request and determine if any rate adjustments are needed. A public hearing may follow if DOI and the Rate Bureau disagree. A link to the full rate case is available in a DOI news release.

A creation of the League and the UNC Environmental Finance Center, the NC Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard -- an interactive online resource​ -- has been updated with January 2018 rates for nearly 500 utilities, along with fiscal year 2017 financial performance indicators and the most recent available Census data for communities. "The dashboard provides your utility staff and governing body with information to assist with understanding, benchmarking, and assessing your utility’s rates, financial health, affordability, and other metrics that are considered during the annual rates review," says a release about the update.