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League Bulletin

February 22, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: As the General Assembly pushed further into the long-session, and as bill filing ticked up -- 118 new bills since last week -- municipal and legislative leaders grouped to break bread and discuss what they can accomplish together at the truly fruitful 2019 Town & State Dinner put on by the League this past Wednesday in Raleigh.
WHAT IT MEANS: There's a long way to go at the legislature, with the budget-writing process still ahead in addition to the handling of myriad House or Senate proposals, but the harmonious tone set by our local and state leaders on Wednesday was powerful for contextual understanding of community-level needs and outcomes in lawmaking. Hundreds of officials from across North Carolina attended, and you'll find more about it in this Bulletin. 
ON TAP: Gov. Roy Cooper is scheduled to deliver on Monday his State of the State address, outlining priorities and expectations on spending as a kind of milemarker in the state budget-writing process. The governor's recommended budget is expected in the near future, while the House and Senate will also produce budget drafts that all must be conformed to a final version. Among developments in that area, General Assembly staff experts project​ a $150 million surplus in the current fiscal year and 5.3 percent growth in sales tax revenue. Additionally, internet sales taxes, as part of the landmark Wayfair court decision​, could bring in $130 million or more annually for the state, according to the staff report. Meanwhile, bill-vetting is also ratcheting up.
THE SKINNY: ​The 2019 long-session, while still in its early stage, is building momentum, and it's important that North Carolina's cities and towns and their representatives in the General Assembly keep the positive communication flowing for the best and most-informed outcomes. We're thankful that the 2019 Town & State Dinner gave that a great boost. 

The 2019 Town & State Dinner, with a full day of programming capped by an intimate dinner between municipal and legislative officials this past Wednesday in Raleigh, went down in the books as an unforgettable success. Still in the early days of the legislative long-session, close to 500 officials representing either cities and towns or House and Senate districts across the state gathered at the Raleigh Convention Center to discuss teamwork for the months ahead and beyond. The point of this League-organized event, which filled to capacity, was to strengthen or establish new relationships between these levels of government with the understanding that we accomplish more together than apart. "We all have a common goal of creating a better North Carolina, one that makes each of our towns and cities better palces to live for our citizens," League President Michael Lazzara, the mayor pro tem of Jacksonville, told the gathering. 

After tightly attended daytime learning sessions on hot topics like affordable housing and adequate broadband access, city and state officials kicked off a networking reception before the main event, emceed by President Lazzara with special guest speakers including Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden, Sen. Valerie Foushee of Chapel Hill, House Speaker Pro Tem Sarah Stevens of Mt. Airy, and Rep. Gale Adcock of Cary. The underlying theme was unity for a growing and changing state, while President Lazzara highlighted the fact that cities' and towns' legislative goals -- on infrastructure needs, economic growth, fiscal health and more -- reflect diversity in the state's 540-plus municipalities and 170 legislative districts. 
"I would like to thank the N.C. League of Municipalities for inviting me to speak last night at their annual Town & State Dinner," Senator Berger posted to his Facebook page on Thursday. "Cities and towns play a vital role in providing core services to millions of North Carolinians and I appreciate the great work that our local elected officials do every day." 
Both Berger and Stevens touted legislative efforts that have improved the state's economy, while also acknolwedging areas of the state that have lagged behind in the aftermath of manufacturing-job losses and other challenges, and that state and local officials must continue addressing those needs. Foushee discussed the close work of municipal and state officials that benefits all citizens, while Adcock noted her experience on the Cary Town Council and how that informed her understanding of municipal government needs.
The event was once again warmly embraced by League members. Mayor Don Hardy of Kinston, on Twitter, stated: ​"It was a great turnout. A strong show of support from our local government officials and NC delegation!! #NCSTRONG!!!" 
The League would like to thank all legislators and municipal officials who made the 2019 Town & State Dinner such a meaningful occasion.

Attendees of the 2019 Town & State Dinner on Wednesday in Raleigh viewed a brief, League-produced video highlighting local-level initiative for economic development and a hunger to work with other levels of government and the private sector to deliver the wins our communities need for quality growth. Featuring Eden, Sanford, Fuquay-Varina and Kannapolis, that video, "We're One North Carolina," is available for viewing here​.

The need for adequate broadband access in communities across North Carolina found spotlights this week from media outlets including the Fayetteville Observer and the News & Observer of Raleigh, with opinion pieces published in both papers noting the potential for modern connectivity to bring new economic possibilities to rural communities. "There's no way anyone can run a data-intense business on the slow-crawling DSL service that's often the only option in small towns," the Fayetteville Observer Editorial Board points out. The piece also quoted Rep. David Lewis, who chairs the House Rules Committee, from his constituent newsletter, that broadband was his top priority for the 2019 long-session. "In order to get fiber out to people across the state, governments (federal, state, county, local) should be able to invest in fiber infrastructure, and in turn, lease them to the service providers who sell access to the consumer. We have to do something so that the people of this state can be connected to our ever-evolving world," he said. 
A piece the N&O published by Katie Kienbaum of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) highlighted the League's recent Let's Connect tour (done in partnership with ILSR and NC Hearts Gigabit) on the need for better connectivity. "North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the nation, but it lags behind its peers in one key metric — broadband," the piece begins before arguing that improvement would come with contributions from the private sector, rural cooperatives and local and state governments. 
Meanwhile, the N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office this week published the 26 applications for the $10 million in the Great Grant broadband infrastructure program​ to enhance broadband access. The grant applicatiosn come from a variety of internet service providers (local governments are ineligible). Among the 19 counties in which projects are eligible, there are as many as three applications for projects, with some proposing to reach groups of residents and businesses with speeds well in excess of the federal definition of broadband (26 mbps download/3 mbps upload), while others would only meet that benchmark or fall below it.  
The League has assembled numerous informative resources about the broadband gap at​

Proposals that would allow a voter referendum on increased local revenue options highlighted bill filings for cities and towns this week. Each proposal would diversify the revenue sources for the affected municipality. Currently, the only significant revenue source that North Carolina cities and towns control is the property tax rate. The League expects similar local bills to be filed in the coming weeks, but interested cities and towns should make these requests of their local legislators as soon as possible in order to meet deadlines. Senate local-bill requests are due no later than next Wednesday, Feb. 27. House local bill requests are due the following Wednesday, March 6.​
Read descriptions of all the bills tracked by the League in this online bill tracker.
LOCAL REVENUE OPTIONS BILLS: Separate bills filed this week would allow Mooresville and Roanoke Rapids to implement a municipal-only sales tax, subject to voter referendum. In Mooresville’s case, the proceeds would pay for road construction and maintenance. And for Roanoke Rapids, the proceeds would repay debt associated with the Roanoke Rapids Theater, and the tax increase would be repealed upon full repayment of that debt.
ABC MODERNIZATION: Twin bills​ filed in both the House and Senate this week seek to implement recommendations from an interim legislative study committee that examined the ABC system (read the League’s report on that study here). Most importantly for municipalities, the bill requires counties with more than one ABC board to merge, resulting in one board per county. The bill provides details regarding the procedure to follow for this consolidation, but leaves intact the current system of revenue-sharing with local governments. Also, among other changes to modernize the distribution and sale of “spiritous liquor,” the bill authorizes cities to allow ABC stores in their jurisdiction to open on Sundays.

Four months after signing a memorandum of understanding, the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition this week entered into a formal affiliate agreement. The agreement was signed by Metro Mayors Coalition Chair and Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and League Executive Director Paul Meyer on Wednesday during a meeting of the NCLM Board of Directors.

Vaughan said during that meeting that the agreement showed “that our municipal family in our state is strengthening our bonds.” Both she and NCLM President Michael Lazzara noted that the agreement furthers the ability of municipal government in North Carolina to speak with one voice. The League and the Coalition previously had an affiliate relationship, from 2001 until 2013, in which the League provided in-house services. While existing as separate entities, the Coalition's membership fully overlaps with that of the League. The agreement follows several months of discussions between the two organizations, with both recognizing the value of working together. 

A number of economic development announcements landed this week. "State Awards Grants to Rural Communities to Attract 153 New Jobs and More Than $69 Million in Private Investment" headlined one news release from the N.C. Department of Commerce on Thursday. The state's Rural Infrastructure Authority greenlit 11 grant requests for local governments with a total of $4.1 million and commitments to create 460 jobs, 153 of which were newly announced. “Smart investments in infrastructure are essential to strengthening rural North Carolina communities,” Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland said.
In other announcements: gene-therapy company AveXis is bringing 200 jobs to the Durham area; Aetna announced 300 jobs for High Point; and healthcare product maker BestCo plans to create 141 new jobs and a big expansion to its Mooresville facility. Close bonds with the communities and their abilities to deliver on private-sector needs were credited in the announcements. “Companies choose to invest in communities where they’ll be able to succeed, and BestCo decided to expand in Mooresville because it knows this community,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. 

Gov. Roy Cooper has announced the appointment of local government officials to the North Carolina Emergency Response Commission, according to the Insider State Government News Service. They include Elizabeth City Police Chief Eddie M. Buffaloe and Mayor Jerry VeHaun of Woodfin. The commission​ is an 18-member state board tasked with protecting our communities through emergency planning and informing them about chemical hazards, among other duties. ​​