Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

League Bulletin

March 22, 2019

​WHAT HAPPENED: In a word: lots. We'll begin with the big news of HB 431's filing. It's called the FIBER NC Act, and it takes up a major goal​ of cities and towns to bring broadband access to more communities across the state, in this case through public-private partnerships. Other good news comes with the filing of HB 399​, which would continue a state tax credit that's proven crucial in local historic development projects, another goal of municipalities. This Bulletin will break down these important bills and more.  
WHAT IT MEANS: It's time for your advocacy. The League this week issued statements or alerts to members, legislators and media explaining the context and weight of these bills, praising their introduction and urging support. Again, we'll flesh out the details in this Bulletin. 
ON TAP: As the bill-vetting and advocacy for cities and towns continue, we've opened up the next can't-miss piece of League involvement -- registration for CityVision 2019​ in Hickory. Set for May 14-16, the annual conferenc​e will draw municipal officials from across the state seeking the latest ways to address challenges in their hometowns head-on. 
THE SKINNY: There's a lot happening. We've already seen a number bills this session that address the goals of cities and towns, but the 124 new bills filed this week overall, paired with a Legislative Building more alive with committee meetings, visitor groups and hallway shuffling, tell us we're finally at flight altitude in the 2019 long-session. 

Addressing a key goal of cities and towns, a bill has landed in the General Assembly to authorize local governments to build broadband infrastructure and lease it to private operators, an arrangement that would give unserved or underserved communities a path toward reliable, fast internet. HB 431 is called the FIBER NC (Foster Infrastructure for Broadband Expansion and Resource in North Carolina) Act​, and its extended title explains it would "increase adequate broadband services to attract investment in local economies, provide for educational and career opportunities, modernize farming technologies, and provide for improved healthcare." 
The League and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners (NCACC), whose respective memberships both picked broadband expansion as an advocacy goal this legislative session, on Thursday issued applause over the bill's filing. The FIBER NC Act is sponsored by Reps. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell; Kevin Corbin, R-Macon; David Lewis, R-Harnett; and John Szoka, R-Cumberland. “We cannot thank these legislators enough for making this a priority and embracing the use of public-private partnerships to close the digital divide,” said Kevin Austin, NCACC president-elect and Yadkin County commissioner. NCLM President and Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lazzara also noted how crucial high-speed internet is to the success of local economies. “Our towns must have great internet service to retain existing businesses and recruit new businesses. Without it, they are being condemned to second-rate economic status,” Lazzara said. Both Austin and Lazzara point out that the FIBER NC Act would free up more public and private partners to enter into broadband-related arrangements that made the most sense for each.  
The FIBER NC Act would create clear authority for counties and municipalities to build and lease broadband infrastructure. It would also remove restrictive leasing language and allow for long-term leases of this infrastructure, institute a process for soliciting leasing bids from private internet service providers, and apply the existing public-private partnership statute to broadband P3 projects. The bill also requires a series of best practices that local governments must follow prior to making these investments and entering into a lease agreement, a provision designed to protect local taxpayers.
The legislation does not allow local governments to operate internet networks as retail service providers.
The League has helped lead a public campaign toward better broadband connections since early 2018, when it released a thorough report​ supporting this kind of policy change. That and other helpful resources are at

Shining light on the educational, health and economic advancements that would come with better broadband access in North Carolina, League President and Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lazzara this week penned an editorial for WRAL TechWire explaining the need for policy change. Titled, "Let's Close the Digital Divide," the piece at plainly lays the case that fast and reliable internet is no longer a luxury and is now a public need. Right now, kids are using WiFi-served restaurant booths and parking lots for online homework needs, and the healthcare industry is increasingly integrating online tools and ways to connect with patients, Lazzara explained. "But closing the digital divide is not just about bringing standard service everywhere. It also is about ensuring that business districts in all of our cities and towns have the Internet speeds and reliability needed to keep their economies competitive," he said. Read the full piece​ at WRAL TechWire (which has partnered with the League and its Here We Grow initiative for closer looks at the economic successes and needs of North Carolina's municipalities). ​

Noting the importance of historic revitalization efforts to local economies, the League on Wednesday praised legislative efforts to continue a state tax credit that has proven crucial in historic development projects across the state. HB 399 Disaster Area Building Rehabilitation Tax Credit Bonus would extend the tax credit, currently scheduled to expire on Jan. 1, 2020, through 2029 and would increase the cap for individual projects. The legislation also calls for an additional bonus 5 percent credit for projects in disaster areas, a provision that follows three major hurricanes passing through the state in a three-year period.
Filed Wednesday, HB 399 is sponsored by Reps. Stephen Ross of Burlington, John Bell of Goldsboro, Harry Warren of Salisbury and Jay Adams of Hickory. In response to the bill filing, League Vice President and Washington Councilmember William Pitt made the following statement:
“The member cities and towns of the North Carolina League of Municipalities have seen up close how the state Historic Preservation Tax Credit and the economic development projects that its has sparked have helped to redefine local economies. This has been especially true in the cities and towns that suffered manufacturing job losses during the 1980s and 90s. Many of those same towns have now suffered during recent natural disasters. We are pleased that Representatives Ross, Bell, Warren and Adams recognize the importance of this economic development tool. We urge all members of the state House and Senate to join in supporting this legislation.” 
State historic preservation tax credits in North Carolina have been utilized in at least 90 of 100 counties. The state Department of Commerce concluded that an earlier version of the state HPTC created 2,190 jobs each year, while a UNC-Chapel Hill study credited the previous credit with creating 23,100 new, full-time jobs between 1998 and 2007.
The bill's filing received ample media attention, including articles in the Raleigh News & Observer​ and at WUNC​

​Get excited for CityVision 2019! The League's premier event of the year has two full days of engaging keynote speakers and concurrent sessions that will give you the tools you need to face challenges in your hometowns head on. This year, CityVision will offer roundtable discussions following each general session to address shared challenges, connect with regional partners, and engage in facilitated discussions to gain practical information that you can use immediately. Register now​ so you can engage with League members from all over North Carolina! Please note: even if you registered for the canceled CityVision 2018, you must re-register for CityVision 2019; all 2018 registrations were fully refunded.

Keep up on the legislation we're following for cities and towns via our easy-to-use online Bill Tracker, where you can find bills categorized by monitoring level or by issue. Among bills added to the tracker this week is SB 313 Performance Guarantee to Streamline Affordable Housing​. Among other things, it would rewrite current law authorizing local governments to require land developers and builders to provide financial guarantees to ensure completion of development-related improvements (such as roads, curb and gutter, and water/wastewater lines). This bill explicitly states that the amount of the guarantee may be determined by the local government. For another, HB 396 Municipal Local Option Sales Tax is a statewide bill that would meet a revenue goal that cities and towns set for this biennium. Additionally, twin bills -- HB 387 and SB 310​ Electric Co-Op Rural Broadband Services -- surfaced in the House and Senate to allow subsidiaries of the state’s electric cooperative corporations to provide broadband services to one or more premises. These changes include, among other items, allowing easements held by electric cooperatives to be used for the purpose of supplying telecommunications and broadband, in addition to supplying electricity. Follow along with these and other bills at​

​Ninety-six drinking water and wastewater projects across the state have received infusions announced this week by the governor's office. Various funding sources, including the legislature, support the $127 million in grants and loans awarded to the many communities, identified in a list from the State Water Infrastructure Authority. "With the stresses of aging infrastructure and recent proof that storms can devastate water infrastructure, we must provide utilities with funding to strengthen water and sewer systems,” said Secretary Michael Regan of the Department of Environmental Quality. Local governments can apply for future funds, with instructions for doing so provided with the press release about the latest round of awards. The release also discusses Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed bond initiative that in part would put $800 million into local water and sewer projects. 
The state also announced this week $16.5 million for 11 cities and towns still on the recovery from Hurricane Florence. "This brings to $24.5 million the total provided through state-funded grant and loan programs launched to assist local governments that are struggling financially due to storm impacts," the governor's office said in a release with more details​