Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

League Bulletin

March 8, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: The governor released his budget proposal, and legislators filed another 100 bills.
WHAT IT MEANS: Municipal advocacy goals are addressed. In short, Gov. Roy Cooper's key proposals touch community investment, revitalization programs, a significant bond package (including $800 million for water and sewer systems), and more. Meanwhile, new proposals in the Legislative Building include twin bills in the House and Senate that would mandate municipalities provide a new retirement benefit to firefighters, without a state funding source. The League sent out action-alerts this week to provide valuable context to this problematic proposal. You'll find that in this Bulletin. 
ON TAP: More deadlines for legislation. Senators have until Wednesday (March 13) to submit public bill- or resolution-drafting requests to General Assembly staff. House members have until April 3 for bills with finance or spending elements and until March 27 for all others. The deadline has passed for lawmakers to submit new local-bill requests (though lawmakers themselves have a little more time to file already-drafted local bills). 
THE SKINNY: Below, you'll find to-the-point highlights and breakdowns of what matters to cities and towns from both the governor's spending plan and legislative matters, notably the proposed mandate. You can also follow every bill we're keeping an eye on with our easy-to-use tracking service​

The League this week sent out two action alerts in response to identical proposals in the House and Senate that call for an unfunded additional retirement benefit for firefighters. While the League has always supported and championed local responders, we urge you to contact your legislators and ask they oppose the measure based on problems identified below. Specifically, these bills would mandate that municipalities provide and pay for the proposed benefit for firefighters, called a “special separation allowance,” without a state funding source. That means municipal taxpayers would be forced to pay the entire cost of this new retirement benefit.
League members adopted a policy goal​ in November to oppose this benefit unless funding is provided. We are asking you once again to contact your legislators in the House and Senate to make the points that follow. Let them know that these bills -- SB 179 and HB 278 -- create an unfunded mandate for cities and towns at a time when they face tremendous financial pressures to maintain the current retirement system. 

The legislation comes just weeks after the board that governs the Local Government Employees Retirement system, to which firefighters belong, made the difficult decision to require municipalities to increase the amount they pay into the retirement system by 1.2 percent of payroll in each of the next three years. That equals more than $75 million in additional costs in each of those three years, with anticipated total additional costs to come to $300 million annually within five years.

Adding a new retirement benefit for firefighters would cost cities and towns approximately $9 million per year initially. With that in mind, we ask that you make the following points to legislators:

• SB 179 and HB 278 create an unfunded mandate on local government employers and, without a state funding source, will pose a significant burden on municipal taxpayers.
• The “special separation allowance” created by this legislation is in addition to firefighters’ pension benefits.
• The General Assembly staff estimates the cost to provide this benefit to current eligible local government employees at roughly $300 million. The yearly cost would quickly reach $9 million a year, and then continue to grow.
• This proposal is coming at a time when local governments are having to substantially increase their contributions to the local government retirement system to keep it solvent, with additional annual contributions expected to reach $300 million within five years.
• Municipalities’ funding of the current retirement system has allowed it to remain one of the best-funded in the country, allowing all classes of employees to be secure in their retirement.

Cities and towns already have the authority in law to offer this benefit if they choose to. What this bill does is mandate that all cities and towns provide this benefit with no funding to pay for it. Please contact your legislators this week to urge them to oppose SB 179 and HB 278 Parity for First Responders, and ask that they consider that municipalities are doing all they can to keep the current retirement system whole.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday released his recommended 2019-21 state budget -- titled, "Investments for a Determined North Carolina" -- supporting numerous advocacy goals​ that cities and towns collectively set ahead of the legislative long-session. The 214-page document overall expresses the governor's own priorities in healthcare, economic development, teacher pay, education-to-workforce opportunities, broadband access, resilience and more. 
Among the key proposals addressing municipal goals in the governor's budget:
• Creation of the Rural Investments Strengthening Economies (RISE) Program and additional investments in rural communities, including direct funding for economic development projects in municipalities, grants for rural communities, and $2 million specifically for staff training and educational resources in local governments in economically distressed counties;
• The proposed $3.9 billion Invest NC Bond on the November 2020 ballot, $800 million of which would be directed toward grants and loans for water and wastewater systems;
• Increased funding for the Powell Bill program, resulting in a total appropriation of $150 million in each year of the biennium;
• Removal of the sunset on the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit;
• Increased funding for grant and loan programs that municipalities regularly utilize, including the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and Clean Water Management Trust Fund; and
• Boosted state dollars for housing, including additional funds targeted to rural areas and for persons with disabilities.
Details on these proposals, along with many others impacting cities and towns around the state, are found in a PDF prepared by League Staff breaking it all down by topic ("General Government;" "Transportation; "Justice and Public Safety" and so on). 
As for process, the governor's budget is a recommendation. The House and Senate also develop budgets that may differ on priorities or levels of spending on individual programs. Before a budget can become law, the legislative chambers must work toward a single plan they can send the governor for signing. The governor may greenlight what the legislature sends him, or veto it. The House and Senate no longer have veto-proof majorities for fast overrides of vetoed measures -- a different dynamic from recent years. 

A new issue of Southern City magazine, a League quarterly publication, is out with 45 pages of rich coverage and features that matter to the state's 540-plus cities and towns. On the cover of this issue is Salisbury City Council Member (and former mayor) Karen Alexander, who discusses her background, local priorities, how Salisbury has changed over the years, and how philanthropy isn't always monetary. Rep. Gale Adcock of Cary, a former city council member, is also featured in a Q&A that brings out her community health-focused outlook on government and economic development along with a reflection on why she moved from municipal office to the state legislature. The 2020 Census, open data programs, creative community policing and advocacy goals are among other topics explored in the new Southern City, available for online reading at​.

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​​.