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League Bulletin

February 15, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: Bill-filing at the legislature picked up in pace slightly, with 81 filed between the House and Senate, including some of local-government interest described later in this Bulletin. 
WHAT IT MEANS: Legislators weren't expecting a heavy week anyway, as committees are still firing up -- some were vetting bills over recent days while others just met for discussion -- and the chamber-floor action was mostly procedural. One thing that understandably impacted the pace was attention to the passing of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones of the state's Third Congressional District. His funeral was Thursday, and the flags at half-staff outside the Legislative Building were as such in his honor. The League extends its sincerest condolences to his family and will remember Rep. Jones for his service.​
ON TAP: Various appropriations committees are scheduled to meet in the coming week, ahead of public state budget discussions. But the big-ticket event is the 2019 Town & State Dinner, a League-hosted program bringing municipal leaders and legislators together for relationship-building and celebration of teamwork. This Feb. 20 gathering at the Raleigh Convention Center, with speakers including General Assembly leaders, is sold out; no on-site registration will be available. We'd like to thank everyone who pre-registered.
THE SKINNY: City and town officials from across North Carolina are looking forward to sitting with their legislators for dinner and conversation Wednesday at the Raleigh Convention Center. We're excited to see everyone in what is sure to be a memorable event as the General Assembly moves further into its long-session.

Legislators filed bills this week that address several of the top priorities of cities and towns across the state, including topics such as economic development, housing, and additional municipal revenue options. Read more descriptions of these proposals and others the League is following in its online bill tracker.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Senate Democrats introduced this week the first of what was likely to be several proposals made this session to attract more economic activity from the film industry to North Carolina. Their proposal, SB 57 Reenact Film Credit, would re-establish, for the next four years, a state film industry tax credit. The plan would allow a refundable credit of 25 percent of qualifying expenses if the taxpayer was a production company with qualifying expenses of at least $250,000. Among other details, the proposal limited the credit amount for a feature film to $20 million. 
HOUSING: For the third week in a row, a legislator introduced a local bill designed to increase affordable housing in a specific local jurisdiction. This week, House members representing Winston-Salem introduced a measure that authorized the City of Winston-Salem to convey city-owned real property for the purpose of creating additional affordable housing, excluding property the city acquired by eminent domain. Builders often cite the high cost of land, particularly in large cities, as a barrier to the creation of affordable housing. This measure addressed that concern.
MUNICIPAL REVENUE OPTIONS: House members from Stanly County introduced a bill this week to allow the City of Albemarle to levy a quarter-cent municipal-only sales tax, if approved by voter referendum. The measure directed the proceeds of the tax to be used for road construction and maintenance. This bill continued the trend of legislators filing local bill proposals that would increase the revenue-raising options for cities, which currently control only one significant revenue source, the municipal property tax rate. In a related action, members of the House State and Local Government Committee advanced a local bill Wednesday that would allow Brunswick County municipalities to charge a prepared meals tax, which could be spent on beach renourishment or other public infrastructure and facilities.
ELECTRIC SCOOTERS: House members introduced a measure this week that an interim legislative committee​ recommended to address electric scooters. Among other points, the bill defined the term “electric standup scooter” by such features as wheel size, handlebars, and maximum speed. It also made conforming changes in state law to incorporate that definition, in part, to exclude scooters from the definition of “moped” and its insurance requirements. Although the filed bill addressed other rules governing municipal regulation of scooter use, the League has worked with legislators and industry representatives on a compromise that would only address the items listed above. That compromise language is what is ultimately expected to be considered by legislators this session.
UTILITY RELOCATION COSTS: Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown introduced a measure supported by the League that would raise current population thresholds that determine costs a municipality must pay to relocate its water and sewer lines during a state transportation project. This situation arises when a city must move its water and sewer lines that are located in right-of-way that the N.C. Department of Transportation needs for road widenings and other transportation improvement projects. To assist municipal water utilities with these costs, which can be substantial, SB 68 Relocation of Water/Sewer Line Costs​ proposed to increase the threshold from 50,000 people to 100,000 for those cities that must pay half of the utility relocation costs, leaving only cities with a population of over 100,000 paying all of the utility relocation costs for these state projects.

A legislative committee tasked in part with vetting proposals for local government received a primer Wednesday from League Executive Director Paul Meyer on the efforts, goals and responsibilities of today's cities and towns -- notably their investments, partnerships and resourceful thinking toward the creation of jobs and prosperous living. "That's what we do," Meyer told the House State and Local Government Committee, chaired by Reps. Kevin Corbin of Franklin and Harry Warren of Salisbury. The group invited Meyer along with N.C. Association of County Commissioners Executive Director Kevin Leonard for briefings as North Carolina's primary organizations representing local government.

Meyer pointed out that North Carolina's municipalities vary in size and style, from the hundreds of small-population rural communities to dense urban areas. And while local-level issues and priorities vary just as much, what each has in common is that its municipal government is the closet to the people and is in the best position to craft local solutions. Challenges, as referenced in the legislative goals​ that cities and towns have adopted, include the maintenance or development of necessary, economy-developing infrastructure amid limited budget support, with the property tax rate being the only locally controlled source. While more diverse sources would alleviate strain, municipalities are seeing impressive results from homegrown initiatives, Meyer told the committee, from downtown revitalizations to efforts that support or directly lead to the recruitment of employers -- especially vital for the many communities having to reinvent themselves after mill closures and other industrial losses. 

Cities and towns today represent 80 percent of all jobs in the state, Meyer added. Further, 75 percent of all retail sales in North Carolina occur within cities and towns, though only 36 percent of all local sales tax revenue returns to them. North Carolina's cities and towns would like to thank the State and Local Government Committee for the opportunity to provide this and other context and look forward to continuing service as a resource in policymaking and economic development. 

The League's focus on better broadband for the improvement of communities across the state found attention from the Insider State Government News Service​ this week. A story in its (subscriber-only) daily newsletter Thursday morning described the current shortcomings of internet service availability in North Carolina and discussed the League's push for legislation that would allow local governments to build broadband infrastructure that private internet service providers (ISPs) could use by lease -- a kind of public-private partnership that could close the digital divide in the state. Currently, the local governments are largely ineligible under state law for state and federal grants that could help them to build out broadband infrastructure and lease it to private ISPs. Broader authority is also needed by local governments to allow these partnerships to flourish. The League's Scott Mooneyham is quoted in the story, noting that legislation is needed so it's "clear as well that municipalities can receive grants to build this type of infrastructure." The case for public-private partnerships in bringing broadband speeds to any community is laid out in a 2018 League report called "Leaping the Digital Divide," found along with supporting resources at
In related news, the Trump administration has released a rural broadband strategy. As reported by Route Fifty​, it acknowledges the inaccuracy of the Federal Communications Commission's national map​ of broadband availability. Additionally, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has announced plans to partner with eight states, including North Carolina, for better mapping. “In order to ensure that all Americans have access to broadband, we need a more precise picture of the current services and infrastructure that are available,” David Redl, assistant secretary for communications and information and NTIA Administrator, said in the announcement.

The Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee gave its approval to legislation​ this week that would make some changes to the state’s ABC system but stop well short of privatization. The provision most concerning to local governments would require mergers of local ABC systems in which there were two or more within a county by June 30, 2021. But that provision would not necessarily mean any store closures, and the prospects for its advancement remained uncertain. Other provisions in the bill would give local systems the option to open on Sundays, allow free tastings of liquor at ABC stores and allows local ABC boards to charge delivery fees to mixed beverage permittees to cover delivery costs. The committee’s approval of the bill followed a General Assembly staff presentation examining the ABC system. Contact Demetrius Deloatch​

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles will join the CEOs of Apple, Visa, IBM, Home Depot, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other top leaders on a new, 25-member federal board focused on readying the nation's workforce for "the challenges of the 21st century," according to a press release​. "We want all Americans to have the skills and opportunities to secure good paying jobs and successfully navigate technological disruptions and the rapidly changing nature of work," said Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, who announced what's called the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board jointly with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Wednesday. The board's recommendations are expected to help with strategy to make sure students and workers can access job-development opportunities so they can "compete and win in the global economy." We'd like to congratulate Mayor Lyles on the appointment. 

Please share with the stormwater contact​ in your municipality that registration is now open for free training sessions for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, Phase II MS4 permittees, of which there are more than 110 municipalities. League affiliate group the Storm Water Association for North Carolina has partnered with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to host these trainings in order to get vital permit compliance information to MS4s.
The trainings are expected to run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. as follows:

• March 14, Jacksonville, Jacksonville Youth Center
• March 26, Cary, Herb Young Community Center
• April 4, Charlotte, Mecklenburg County Land Use & Environmental Services Agency
• April 5, Hickory, Western Piedmont Council of Governments
• April 11, Kernersville, Forsyth County Public Library, Paddison Memorial Branch
More details are available on the N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources' Stormwater Program MS4 permitting webpage. If you have questions, contact Jeanette Powell​, DEQ’s MS4 Program Coordinator, at (919) 707-3620.

We've covered "opportunity zones" in past Bulletins, but for anyone needing a breakdown of what they are and how they apply to our communities, the National League of Cities has launched a resource page. It reminds that the opportunity zone program came about under the 2017 federal tax law changes to give investors tax incentives for investing in distressed parts of the country. In North Carolina, the U.S. Treasury last year certified 252 areas as opportunity zones. Nationally, there are more than 8,700, according to NLC, whose resource page explains how it all works and how local leaders can prepare.