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League Bulletin

March 1, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: A newsy week, for sure. For one, the General Assembly was fuller-steam, with a marked uptick in session activity and bill-filing -- 150 this week -- and an airing of Gov. Roy Cooper's priorities in his biennial State of the State speech delivered before the House and Senate. In other news, new elections were announced to fill vacancies in Congressional Districts 3 (following Rep. Walter Jones' passing) and 9 (per the conclusion of a nationally watched election fraud case). Also of note: a Wake County Superior Court Judge threw out two of the state's constitutional amendments -- voter ID and a state income-tax rate cap. An appeal is likely. 

WHAT IT MEANS: Focusing on the legislature, the long-session is really starting to spread its wings and we'll highlight in this Bulletin some of the latest proposals we're following for cities and towns. We'll also look at Gov. Cooper's speech -- notably his focus on broadband. 
ON TAP: Bill deadlines. The important one to know right now: March 6, the cutoff for House members to get local bills to the General Assembly's drafting department. (The Senate deadline was this past week.) If you have requests for local bills, get them to your House member now. 
THE SKINNY: Introductory business at the General Assembly is essentially behind us now and we'll soon hear more about the sessions' biggest-ticket item: a new budget. Otherwise, every bill we see of interest to cities and towns is loaded into our easy-to-follow Bill Tracker​

The inadequacies of broadband availability in so many North Carolina communities remained in the spotlight this week in a TV news segment featuring League President and Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lazzara, a small business owner who, along with many, has encountered growth obstacles under badly limited connection speeds. Jacksonville "is just one area that has experienced major connection problems," said WITN news anchor Sharon Johnson before the segment that also included a Navy reservist, Jason Dart, who struggles to perform his internet-dependent work. "The whole world is in 2019 and we're back here -- I don't know, it feels like 1997," he said of the connection speed at his home. It's also unable to keep up with his son's homework needs, speaking to how essential broadband speeds are today. 
"Broadband is like electricity. It's like water. Everybody needs broadband access," Lazzara told WITN, whose reporting noted that Lazzara (along with League Executive Director Paul Meyer) brought the concern to Capitol Hill in February. Current market approaches to internet delivery leave residents in less-populous areas (and even in a few urban areas) with less than desirable service. The full segment also emphasized broadband's importance to common medical and financial needs. "Everything is connected. You can't do normal life, generally speaking, in America anymore without being able to get on broadband," said Dart. Closing the broadband gap is a League priority discussed in the 2018 report, "Leaping the Digital Divide," which recommends policy solutions. That and other resources are available at
The topic also came forward this week in Gov. Roy Cooper's State of the State​ address to the legislature and public. He called internet inaccessibility "a monster of an issue facing rural communities." "Too many North Carolinians lack internet connection they need to apply for jobs, do homework or run a small business. Among households without broadband, about 95 percent are in rural areas -- a digital divide with very real consequences," said the governor. He joined in the call for public-private partnership models that can work to extend fast service where needed. 

As the main providers of basic infrastructure and public safety services that attract jobs and sustains communities, cities and towns always prioritize and support efforts to boost dollars for these purposes. This week, legislators stepped up by introducing multiple bills to expand funding availability for water, wastewater, and transportation systems, as well as for public safety equipment. Each of these bills addressed various funding goals prioritized by the League membership, and city leaders appreciate legislative bill sponsors’ willingness to push for these measures. City officials also appreciate Gov. Roy Cooper’s strong support of state investments in local infrastructure priorities such as transportation and broadband, which he reiterated in his State of the State address​ Monday.
One of the legislative initiatives introduced this week, SB 158 Expand Eligibility for Utility Account, would extend eligibility to more counties for the Utility Account program, a component of the Jobs Development & Investment Grant (JDIG) economic incentive program. Funds in the Utility Account are awarded as grants to local governments in qualifying rural areas for infrastructure projects such as water and sewer, broadband, and transportation. Another bill, requested by the N.C. Department of Transportation, included a new program that, when funded, would direct state dollars to fund improvements at large publicly-owned commercial airports. And a final measure, HB 159 State Search and Rescue Funding, proposed additional funds to supplement local governments’ purchase and maintenance of public safety equipment. 

The League is hosting a webinar April 5 at 10 a.m. to discuss a recently approved increase to the employer contribution rate for the Local Government Employees’ Retirement System (LGERS). Registration is open. The LGERS Board approved the increase, effective for fiscal year 2019-20, to address a significant system funding shortfall expected in future years. The webinar will be an opportunity for staff of the Retirement Systems Division of the Treasurer’s Office to share information about the change and answer any questions League members may have.

The N.C. Utilities Commission held a hearing this week to learn from Duke Energy Carolinas why it didn’t comply with a commission order to produce a plan for innovative rates based on advance metering infrastructure (AMI) – a continuation of an issue the League raised in the utility’s 2017 rate case when it intervened on behalf of its members. It is the League’s hope that Duke Energy Carolinas will offer rates under which municipal customers can save money by making better decisions about energy usage.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and colleagues on Tuesday unveiled a biparitsan, $13.6 billion disaster relief package with help for areas still working to recover from Hurricane Florence. President Trump is backing the proposal, according to a press release. The bullet points cite relief for farmers and rural communities hit by Florence and other natural disasters; help for veterans' health facilities and military construction projects that Florence impacted; emergency money for important watershed and wastewater infrastructure; and support for highways and transit projects that natural disasters set back. "As North Carolina continues to recover from Hurricane Florence, this bipartisan legislation is a positive step to ensure our great state receives the resources it needs to help communities affected by the storm,” Senator Tillis said. 
Gov. Roy Cooper's office also recently announced new help in the recovery, specifically for local governments. That's via the recently instated N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which launched a pair of programs for local governments struggling financially since Florence. "Grants and loans are available to towns, cities and counties so they can continue to meet the needs of their residents while recovering from storm damage," the governor said in a press release with full details. Altogether, more than $7 million has already been approved for individual towns.

The Town of Hudson is notching up on regional economic development with the homegrown advancement of arts and entrepreneurship. That story, which the town's government submitted to Here We Grow, unfolds at the HUB Station, a campus the town prepared to provide supportive, affordable space for area artists and businesspeople to work, sell, connect and grow. "We are anxious to see it grow as it becomes a vital part of the Hudson community and a destination point for all of Caldwell and surrounding counties,” said Hudson Town Manager Rebecca Bentley. Read all about it at Here We Grow, North Carolina's most standout collection of local economic development stories, brought to you by the League in partnership with WRALTechWire
North Carolina’s economic strength is rooted in the diversity of its cities and towns — a diversity that’s the direct result of allowing local residents to pursue their own unique visions. We encourage you to join in this effort to promote the municipal investments that are crucial to growing our state’s economy, and to educate the public about their importance. No one knows these stories better than the people in the cities and towns where they are happening. Help spread the word about the successes you’re seeing — from mill towns utilizing old resources in new ways, to big cities whose bright ideas are turning them into innovation hubs. By telling these stories, you can ensure that cities and towns have the freedom to act and invest in the ways that make the most sense for their residents.
Join Here We Grow today. Send an email to​ to request login credentials, free to League-member cities and towns. 

The 2019 N.C. Main Street Conference, billed as "the state's premier gathering for downtown revitalization and development," is set for March 12-14 in Salisbury. The theme this year is "Time. Talent. Money." and will explore how those elements interact in downtown improvement. "The 2019 conference will offer attendees tools to help transform their downtown districts while allowing public-private partnerships to flourish, ways to help local businesses grow, and how to develop a comprehensive downtown program," says a press release​. The event is put on by the N.C. Department of Commerce and its Main Street & Rural Planning Center, whose leaders expressed excitement in bringing it to Salisbury this year. Said Main Street Center Director Liz Parham, “Salisbury is the epitome of what a Main Street community is; a strong public-private partnership that develops innovative economic development strategies and initiatives, through the implementation of the Main Street Four-Point Approach." Registration and other information is at​.​