Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

League Bulletin

March 27, 2020

WHAT HAPPENED: North Carolina recorded its first deaths attributed to COVID-19, the number of recorded infections grew dramatically, and many local governments implemented shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders to minimize public spread. Gov. Roy Cooper held a conference call with more than 2,000 local government officials to brief them on work done and underway. On Thursday, the White House granted North Carolina a federal disaster declaration.

WHAT IT MEANS: This is uncharted territory, at least in memory, for really any level of government here. To help, as answers become known, the League has been publishing FAQs and other timely info based on many of the questions and discussions -- open meetings procedure, human resources and employment matters, compliance with executive orders, and so on -- that public officials have had over the past few weeks. That's at​, which also includes resource links and blog posts about the happenings.

ON TAP: Governor Cooper is expected to give a press conference at 4 p.m. today (Friday) with additional announcements related to the coronavirus response. 

THE SKINNY: Things are changing constantly. This bulletin reflects the facts as of its production time late Friday morning. Please keep your attention to reputable and reliable social media sources, news outlets and governmental announcements for updates, notably regarding the governor's press conference. 

​In addition to several live and on-demand educational sessions related to how COVID-19 is affecting cities and towns, the League will hold its annual business meeting virtually on May 28. An electronic nominating and elections process is in the works, and details will be released to the entire membership soon. Stay tuned! 

As a special House committee began meeting this week to discuss state strategies to address the COVID 19 crisis, the League continued work on making the needs of cities and counties known to state policymakers. The House economic-support working group on Wednesday discussed the potential for tax relief for businesses, as well payment deferments for individuals and businesses on such items as vehicle registrations. NCLM Chief Legislative Counsel Erin Wynia is scheduled to present remotely to the continuity-of-state-operations working group this coming Tuesday and will discuss the effects of virus spread and its economic consequences on cities and towns. Tune in at 2 pm Tuesday by clicking on the audio button for 1228 LB, available here
Reiterating themes in letters sent last week to Gov. Roy Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the presentation will focus on how local economies and small businesses are suffering, and the effects of business losses on local sales tax and utility revenue streams. NCLM is emphasizing that maintaining local government cash flows is essential to address the crisis, as public safety spending is the largest part of most municipal general fund operating budgets. The League will also be calling on legislators to provide meeting flexibility for municipal governing bodies and operational flexibility for utilities. Earlier this week, the letters to legislative leaders were forwarded to all legislators. NCLM continues to work with the governor’s office on response, and plans other efforts to inform legislators about local concerns and enhance communication with North Carolina’s congressional delegation.


Updating municipal officials across the state in a group call Tuesday, state officials including Gov. Roy Cooper underlined the growing severity of COVID-19 as they discussed actions underway to slow the spread, improve the chain of essential supplies, and secure aid for local government budgets. "I'm not sure that we've ever seen anything like what we are experiencing right now," Governor Cooper told mayors, city council members, managers and more. "It affects every part of our state." 

Governor Cooper is expected to give a press conference at 4 p.m. today (Friday) to discuss additional measures for coronavirus protection. Please pay attention to news channels and press releases from state agencies for any changes to the details discussed below.

Governor Cooper on Tuesday's call acknowledged the looming budgetary and operational problems local governments are already thinking about as the virus eats resources and prompts unprecedented realignments. He said he's "pushing for the strongest package possible" to keep the state and its local governments as whole and ready as possible. He highlighted a $200 billion special funding request the state has made to the federal government. 

At the time of the call -- 2:30 p.m. on March 24 -- the state had documented just shy of 400 positive COVID-19 cases in 49 counties. That number has since grown and officials had anticipated cases in virtually every North Carolina county by the weekend. "This virus is a killer," the governor emphasized. Eighty percent of the people who contract the coronavirus are expected to recover in their homes without hospitalization, but a full 20 percent of the infected population will need hospital access, and 5 percent of that group will require critical care, public health experts on the call said. The high-risk group includes seniors, people with compromised immune systems and with other pre-existing conditions like lung disease, among others. That said, it's vital that people are conscious of the stress falling on hospitals and make choices to prevent overwhelming caseloads. State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said partners are "ramping up medical capacity to meet the demand," but that it's vital that communities take social-distancing and smart business measures seriously to prevent an overload of otherwise preventable cases.

Current supply-chain issues are amounting to shortages of medical gear, like masks and ventilators. The governor's cabinet has been working with the private sector and federal government to address the issue, which is global at this point. State health officials are also analyzing all global efforts and techniques around the world that seem effective in slowing the COVID-19 spread. As of this writing, in North Carolina, executive orders have closed businesses that have congregational or human-contact elements, from movie theaters to nail salons. Congregations of 50 people or more are banned. Church services are included, the governor pointed out, adding he had a call with 800 faith leaders from around the state to bring them all to the same page and remind them that they're still serving their communities regardless. "We know that this virus is prevalent in that it can be transmitted so easily, so we are taking the appropriate steps to try and suppress the virus," Governor Cooper said. Stay home as much as possible, he said repeatedly. 

Said Dr. Cohen, "Most people can call their doctor, get monitored from home and recover." 

All 100 counties now have public assistance access under the federal disaster declaration the White House granted North Carolina on Thursday, allowing local governments, state agencies and certain non-profits to be reimbursed for coronavirus response expenses. “This is good news for cities, towns and counties that are incurring expenses as their public health providers, first responders and emergency managers work to protect communities from COVID-19,” said Gov. Roy Cooper in a press release. “We know this response will be costly and this federal assistance will help cover them.” The press release​ has further details. 

A federal package nearly 900 pages long has passed through Congress with provisions for local governments. HR748 – Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, is historic legislation -- headed to the president for signing -- aimed at improving abilities to weather the coronavirus impacts in a vareity of ways. Title V – Coronavirus Relief Funds; specifically in Section 5001 (on page 598 of the bill) highlights local government with a $150 billion allotment. The U.S. Treasury must allocate all of the funds to the state within thirty days of passage of the bill. Every state is guaranteed at least $1.25 billion. 

According to the bill, 45 percent of the total allotment is reserved for municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more. If a locality has more than 500,000, it has the ability to apply directly for its share.  A locality with a lesser population must rely on the state to disseminate the money. There were however a host of provisions that would allocate money to factors that would aid local governments. A federal summary​ breaks down points like unemployment assistance. 

This is a news story in progress. Monitor reliable outlets for updates. 

​All North Carolina communities are facing tough times today. For the state’s rural towns, the challenges – largely due to national and global trends of manufacturing job loss and urbanization – were substantial even before the COVID 19 crisis. This week, articles and a video focusing on those challenges appeared on the WRAL-TV website as a part of a partnership with the League, with these stories providing case studies of specific challenges and responses. This story, published on the WRAL homepage on Sunday, looked at how the City of Rockingham is working to redefine its local economy after textile mills in the area began closing decades ago. Another article, published today, looks at how Williamston and surrounding Martin County sought to address its water needs only to lose a major industrial user in a replay of what occurred in many communities two or three decades ago. The accompanying video looks at how these issues are playing out in rural communities across our state, and how a statewide approach is needed to address them. Please share these stories on social media platforms as the League continues to work to bring more attention to the issues around water and sewer viability and the economic challenges facing many rural towns.

With open-meetings law, even in bad weather, North Carolina cities and towns know what they're doing. But given the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 impact on operations head-to-toe, new questions are coming to mind. With that, State Attorney General Josh Stein has produced a new guidance document on what law allows under these special circumstances. Here's an excerpt: 

"Can local governments carry out their necessary meetings via electronic means during these exigent circumstances? 

"Yes, because electronic meetings are allowed under N.C.G.S. §143.318.13, and the requirements of notice, access and minutes can be met through electronic means. Due to the unprecedented circumstances we are all faced with, and the fact that local governing bodies conducting meetings remotely is not expressly prohibited by statute, I conclude that local governments can carry out necessary meetings electronically and remain in compliance with Open Meetings Laws." ​Read the full document.

Headlines over the past couple of days have highlighted local actions like stay-home or shelter-in-place orders rendered by municipal or county governments to enforce limitations on in-person interaction. As local governments work to identify or define "essential workers" for ordinance purposes, the National League of Cities has authored some general but community-level information based on federal guidelines. For instance, NLC points out, the federal Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, published a memo​ with points to help state and local officials "protect their communities while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security." The CISA memo identifies workers that support “medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement, and public works,” though there may be others as well, it says. Says NLC, "CISA’s is a guidance list and a place to start for local communities. As response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic are locally executed, state-managed, and federally supported, this list is advisory in nature. It is not a federal directive or standard in and of itself. " Read the full post