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League Bulletin

March 16, 2018

More than 100 local government officials from across North Carolina joined League leadership​ and counterparts from across the U.S. on Capitol Hill this week for the National League of Cities' Congressional City Conference. The event, featuring advocacy workshops and topical sessions, connected municipal leaders directly with federal law- and policy-makers -- including Sen. Richard Burr, Rep. Mark Meadows, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, Rep. Ted Budd​ and many others -- for roundtable discussions important to cities and towns of all sizes. This year came with a big push on infrastructure, public safety, community resilience and, notably, broadband access. "Broadband is not a luxury, it's a necessary utility," League President and Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lazzara tweeted from the Washington, D.C. conference. "Private-public partners are essential to give access to all." 
An opening general session featured NLC President and Little Rock, Ark., Mayor Mark Stodola and a keynote from former Face the Nation moderator and CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. Additional speakers included U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Special Assistant to the President for Infrastructure D.J. Gribbin. The League thanks its federal partners for their engagement on local-level issues. Municipal officials in attendance received a wealth of insights to bring home to their communities.

The comment period for recommending areas of North Carolina for "opportunity zone" designation (background here​) has received an extension to March 27. The program is meant to give tax incentives to qualified investors to reinvest unrealized capital gains into low-income areas. North Carolina has a little more than 1,000 qualifying low-income census tracts, and the N.C. Department of Commerce is currently reviewing data to make a list of recommended tracts to the U.S. Department of the Treasury for the "opportunity zone" designation. The state is authorized to designate roughly 250 census tracts. The program was born of the recent federal tax legislation. A state website​​ provides more information about the program and how to comment. Interested parties can also contact Business Link North Carolina at (800) 228-8443.

Local officials will now bear the responsibility of initiating large-scale road projects to be funded by tolls, per a new policy approved by the N.C. Board of Transportation (BOT) last month. The League provided input to state transportation officials as they developed the policy. Going forward under these new procedures, a local metropolitan or rural planning organization must be the first to suggest that a project be paid for through tolls. Among other requirements, a project must also score well enough under the state’s data-driven transportation project selection process to move forward. The new policy emphasizes public engagement from the beginning of the process as well.
To assist local transportation planning organizations in evaluating a project’s suitability for toll financing, the N.C. Turnpike Authority plans in the next year to produce a handbook that will walk local officials through the process. The handbook will also standardize the criteria under which all potential toll projects are evaluated, to ensure fair treatment statewide. An example criterion the BOT specified for the handbook was that the proposed toll project must be a controlled-access highway or long-span bridge. Contact: Erin Wynia​
A new report examining the oft-discussed "urban-rural divide" fleshes out the strong economic connections between urban and rural areas with ramifications for the economy more broadly. ​"By examining four key areas — broadband access, educational attainment, high-value business growth and prosperity growth — the report offers policymakers glimpses into policy and program opportunities to bridge the urban-rural divide," says a synposis of Bridging the Urban-Rural Economic Divide​, released this week by the National League of Cities (NLC). "It's time for the narrative to change from urban vs. rural to a shared economic future," the organization says.

NLC in the report's preparation collaborated with the League, with that collaboration highlighted in pages defining the issue and focusing on breakout topics like broadband. The "divide" is a highly nuanced conversation, the League notes. “The use of ‘urban vs. rural’ as shorthand for economic prosperity falls apart on some level," NCLM states in the report. "There are rural areas that enjoy prosperity, whether it’s built on tourism or an anchor institution such as a university. And there are urban areas that are struggling to provide jobs and services to residents, such as cities built on legacy manufacturing industries that have long since shuttered.”​​ The full 36-page document is available in a downloadable PDF​.

The best in public-private partnerships, innovation, downtown events, adaptive reuse, historic rehabilitation and more won recognition this week at the N.C. Main Street and Small Town Main Street Awards Ceremony held in Clayton. "These award-winning projects have made a significant difference to their communities, bringing new jobs, new activities, businesses, and new investment to their Main Street and Small Town Main Street communities," said Liz Parham, director of N.C. Main Street and Rural Planning Center at the Department of Commerce. The group presented 19 awards in categories recognizing organizations, promotion, and design. The Main Street program helps small towns rev up their central business districts with a focus on historic preservation and unique character. A press release​ details this year's winners.