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League Bulletin

March 11, 2016

Nearly 100 representatives of League-member cities and towns heard discussions about leadership, budgeting and transportation during the National League of Cities' Congressional City Conference held this week in Washington. Featured speakers at the event included Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson and Republican strategist and political analyst Ana Navarro. Former Charlotte Mayor and current U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro also addressed attendees.

League members and staff -- including First Vice President Bob Matheny, Second Vice President Michael Lazzara, Executive Director Paul Meyer and Associate Director of Public and Government Affairs Rose Vaughn Williams -- met with U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis and their staffs during the week. During those meetings, the League officers raised several crucial federal issues pending before Congress. Preserving the tax exempt status of municipal bonds, creating sales tax parity for online purchases and addressing the decline in CBDG grant funding were among the topics. Councilman Lazzara also raised a critical issue for military communities -- U.S. Census counting of deployed members of the military. The League would like to thank all League members who attended and advocated on behalf of cities and towns, as well as Sens. Burr and Tillis and members of their staffs. Contact: Rose Vaughn Williams      

This week, the National League of Cities (NLC) released Policing in the 21st Century, a guide to assist cities in strengthen trust between law enforcement and communities. The guide is aimed helping local elected officials make decisions regarding the implementation of community policing and resulted from recommendations by the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The task force was formed in late 2014 and included police officials and community leaders from around the country.

The N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police (NCACP) recommended to a legislative study committee this week that issues surrounding body-worn police cameras receive additional study. The committee, meeting for the second time, received presentations from various law enforcement representatives, including the NCACP, a League affiliate.

In his presentation, Fred Baggett, legislative counsel for the NCACP, highlighted the benefits of body-worn cameras as well as concerns regarding public records, privacy issues, and data retention. In recommending additional study, the chiefs said that  HB 811 Law Enforcement Body-Worn Camera/Study, which passed the House last session, could be used as a vehicle for that study. Baggett also noted that the NCACP is in the process of developing a model body-worn camera policy, but that the decision of whether to implement the technology should remain a local decision, quoting the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing final report.

Many other presenters highlighted the need for clarification regarding how to handle public records requests for videos from body-worn cameras. There is uncertainty if this video would fall under an exemption of the state public records laws for records related to personnel matters or criminal investigation, which has caused inconsistency across law enforcement agencies on how they interpret the law and respond to such requests. 

The UNC School of Government presented options for possible regulation, noting that legislators could go as far as mandating that law enforcement agencies use body-worn cameras or simply incentivize the use. South Carolina is the only state that has mandated use by all law enforcement officers, while many states have instead required only that certain policies be in place if a law enforcement agency chooses to implement a body-worn camera program. This subcommittee plans to meet one additional time before deciding whether to propose legislation for the upcoming session. Read more here. Contact: Sarah Collins

The League presented polling data to legislators Monday that showed overwhelmingly strong support for government investments in infrastructure. In a League poll conducted last fall by McLaughlin & Associates, a sample of 600 likely voters in North Carolina rated roads and sidewalks among their top three priorities for local government, with 92 percent saying that investing in a city or town's infrastructure would improve the local economy and create jobs. NCLM Legislative Counsel Erin Wynia shared these poll results as part of a larger presentation focused on cities' 25-year transportation vision for the state.

The League's presentation highlighted the aims of planning for the state's future transportation needs, goals shared by both municipal and state leaders. Wynia pointed out that, just like the state, municipalities need a larger array of funding sources to meet the demand for transportation services. Without legislative action to give cities and towns alternate revenue sources to pay for services residents expect, nearly all of the local share of transportation funding would come from property taxes and debt, she said.

A statewide survey of local transportation experts informed the League's 25-year vision. With feedback from across the state, including both urban, suburban, and rural areas, four common components of this future vision emerged:

  • Economic development: Investments in the state's transportation system are tied to economic development strategies.
  • Demographics: The state's transportation network evolved to accommodate demographic shifts.
  • Move people: The state's transportation network moves people into regional job centers as well as within those job centers.
  • Move goods: The state's transportation network moves goods into and out of regional job centers.

To implement these goals, League members recommended to legislators the following five strategies: integrate transportation improvements with local economic development strategies; diversify funding sources; maintain and upgrade existing facilities; build out the state's alternate transportation system; and account for regional variations in transportation needs. Contact: Erin Wynia

Lawmakers on Monday advanced a hybrid proposal to replace the state's current three-tier system of measuring economic distress, one that would take into account various economic measurements while also establishing an oversight board to target state resources. The plan would substitute an index rating system for the current tier system, taking into account rate of unemployment, median household income, average wage, and level of high school/educational attainment. The proposal would also establish a state-level oversight board led by the N.C. Department of Commerce that would develop policies for targeting state resources to economic development activities.

Because several policy choices remain, the proposal advanced Monday will likely change as it works its way through a series of interim committee votes by both the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee (PED) and the Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Committee (EDGE). For example, while the proposal would measure distress factors at the county level, legislators involved in previous discussions indicated a desire to account for economic distress at a sub-county level. In addition, legislators may choose to weigh in on how the Department of Commerce would use the index system. The current draft would let the department make those decisions, presumably guided by the proposed oversight board. The next opportunity for legislative discussion of this proposal will likely come next Monday afternoon, when PED holds its next meeting. After that committee approves a draft, EDGE will take it up next. Ultimately, the two committees will likely make a recommendation for the full General Assembly's consideration in the upcoming short session. Contact: Erin Wynia

Legislators continued this week to weigh the merits of a special session after warning the City of Charlotte three weeks ago that a vote to incorporate "sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression" into its non-discrimination ordinance would result in swift legislative action to reverse the local vote. The Charlotte ordinance becomes effective April 1, prior to the start of the legislative session. While stating support in each chamber for a special session, leaders in both chambers this week appointed legislators to working groups that would draft legislation for consideration. The appointments were accompanied by Senate and House announcements. The N.C. Constitution provides two methods for convening a special session: the governor may call legislators back to Raleigh, or the legislative chambers may do so on their own initiative with three-fifths of each chamber requesting the session in writing. Contact: Erin Wynia

This week, the League filed an amicus curiae brief with the North Carolina Supreme Court in support of the City of Asheville in its lawsuit attempting to block transfer of the city-owned water system. The brief argues that the N.C. Court of Appeals -- which reversed a lower court order and upheld the 2013 law transferring the Asheville water system to a regional authority -- erred when it failed to rule that the law amounted to an unconstitutional local act and an illegal taking. "There is simply no rational explanation for the disparate treatment of Asheville's system as compared to all other publicly owned water systems," the brief states.

The League filed this amicus curiae brief, as well as a previous one before the Court of Appeals, because the case could have future and significant ramifications for all municipalities. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case in Morganton on May 17. Read further League coverage about the case here.

The Revenue Laws Study Committee of the General Assembly met this week, and one of the items on their agenda was the recent expansion of the sales tax base. That expansion to repair, maintenance, and installation services -- which took effect March 1 -- has caused some confusion in its implementation. As detailed in this presentation from legislative staff, one of the issues is that similar services may be taxed differently depending upon whether the business providing them has been classified as a "retailer." Legislators did not take any action to address these inconsistencies, but they could at the committee's meeting next month. Among the options presented were eliminating the classification of "retailers" in order to apply the same sales tax to services regardless of the provider, or more specifically identifying in statute which transactions are taxable.

The expansion of the sales tax base was to help fund the reallocation of sales tax revenue that was in last year's budget and will go into effect starting in the next fiscal year. The reallocation amount is set in statute at nearly $85 million, so whether the additional sales tax revenue from base expansion is more or less than expected, the same amount of money will be distributed to the 79 counties (and the cities therein). Contact: Chris Nida

This week, the N.C. 911 Board announced its 2017 grant cycle, releasing the application for the competitive grants it offers to 911 centers, or public safety answering points (PSAPs). The types of grants available include those for PSAP consolidation projects, enhancement or relocation, and regional initiatives. The application deadline is Monday, June 6, 2016.
Join with the League and Duke Energy on Monday, March 21 from 10:30 am to 12 pm for a webinar to discuss issues surrounding municipal street lighting (registration here). The webinar will focus on the modernization of street lighting, including LED lighting. It is a continuation of discussions that began after the League, in 2013, intervened in the Duke Energy Carolinas rate case before the North Carolina Utilities Commission. The webinar will be an opportunity for Duke Energy to help customers understand the latest developments in the modernization technology, allow Duke Energy to better understand its municipal customers' future needs, and to provide insight into Duke Energy's lighting platform for the future. Please register by March 16. Contact: Sarah Collins.