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League Bulletin

February 19, 2016

After being called into special session this week, the state House and Senate were poised today to approve new congressional districts and move the primary date for congressional races to June 7. The legislation comes in response to a federal court ruling that found two North Carolina congressional districts to be unconstitutional. It remains unclear whether the changes will satisfy the courts, and whether the latest schedule will stand. The state is continuing to challenge the ruling, and has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the lower court order, which could have the effect of making the legislation moot.

The changes could have an effect on the handful of municipalities that hold their elections in even-numbered years, even though primaries will continue to be schedule for those races, state races and the U.S. Senate race on March 15. Because of the election shuffling, legislators appear as if they will eliminate all primary runoffs this year, giving the contests to the top vote-getter regardless of whether that person achieves 40 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, the special session had the effect of grinding to a halt most other legislative business, with study committees looking at a number of issues -- including several of municipal interest -- holding off meetings due to the special session. Read more about the map-making and primary changes here and here. Also, this background from the UNC School of Government on the scheduling of municipal elections may be helpful in light of the pending primary changes.

The state Supreme Court this week appeared skeptical of arguments that the state Map Act is akin to local land-use ordinances that prohibit incompatible development. Attorneys for the state made that argument as North Carolina's high court considers whether the Map Act has allowed the illegal taking of private property. The law permits road corridors to be designated for years without construction while development restrictions are placed on the private property owners in those corridors. 

The N.C. Court of Appeals in 2015 ruled that the state Department of Transportation's creation of a protected corridor in Winston-Salem had effectively taken private property without compensation. It's that case which is now the subject of state Supreme Court review. Although most of the criticism of the law's application has been directed at the state Department of Transportation, local governments also are included under its provisions.

During the Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday, Justice Paul Newby, in responding to the argument that local zoning ordinances act in a similar fashion, said local governments -- unlike DOT -- are not ultimately going to acquire the property. A ruling in the case is expected later this year. Last year, legislators considered several pieces of legislation that would either repeal or tweak the 1987 law, but did not enact any significant changes. Read earlier League coverage about those bills here, and find media coverage from Tuesday's hearing here.

The League is encouraging elected municipal officials to apply to be a part of this year's Advanced Leadership Corps. ALC is an intensive week-long residential program that helps municipal and county officials who are committed to effectively governing their communities. This program will also help you better understand personal leadership styles and gain insight into how to work with others in your community, region, and state.  It is the flagship education and training program of the Local Elected Leaders Academy (LELA) – a partnership between the NC League of Municipalities, NC Association of County Commissioners, and the UNC School of Government.  You can find more details about the program here.

As the League begins to develop and execute a strategic plan to assist all North Carolina cities and towns in their quest to act on the six operating principles of Vision 2030, established by League member cities and towns during the fall of 2015, leadership skills at the local level are in high demand.  The Advanced Leadership Corps prepares local leaders to transform the state’s cities, towns, and counties to form more robust, productive, and economically competitive communities, and its network of graduates will play a significant role in addressing regional and statewide issues into the future.

The cities of Wilson and Sanford, and towns of Brevard and Columbia are among the recipients of grants and loans awarded this week by the N.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority. Gov. Pat McCrory announced that nine grants and loans had been awarded totaling $3.7 million. The awards in the four municipalities will either support water and wastewater infrastructure or building renovations, with all tied to business development. Read more about the awards here.
The state and local government pension funds saw a return of 1.8 percent during the fourth quarter of 2015, according to the Department of State Treasurer. For the 12 months ending in December, which were particularly volatile, overall investment gains were 0.3 percent. State Treasurer Janet Cowell said she expects more volatility in the investment markets over the next few years, but that diversified investing should maintain North Carolina pension funds as among the most sound in the country. Read the Treasurer's new release here and see the report here.

A Forbes magazine examination of aging based on metropolitan areas suggests that the populaces of many North Carolina cities are relatively young compared to cities around the country. At the same time, some of the most significant growth among the people over 65 is occurring here. In the Raleigh metropolitan area, for example, the authors found that just 10.6 percent of residents were over 65, making it the fifth least senior-dominated place among the country's 53 largest metropolitan areas. But North Carolina's capital city also experienced some of the highest gains in the growth of seniors, a trend that is shared by other cities in the state. Read the full article from Forbes here.