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League Bulletin

March 29, 2018

Broadband access is a challenge faced by local governments of all sizes across North Carolina, and the League is bringing you resources to learn more about how to lead a community broadband initiative. First, read the League’s new broadband report. Then, register to attend a League-sponsored forum that will discuss how to bring broadband networks to your community and make it more economically resilient. The April 20 event in Raleigh features an elite group of state and national speakers that includes NCLM broadband report co-author Joanne Hovis, president of CTC Technology and Energy and a recognized expert on communications policy at the federal, state, and local levels. Gov. Roy Cooper will open the daylong conference, former Gov. James B. Hunt will serve as the keynote speaker, and Rep. Craig Horn will discuss the importance of internet access in our schools. Attendees will benefit from hearing a playbook of actionable steps they can take back home to advance local broadband projects.

"Leaping the Digital Divide," the League's in-depth report on the importance of better broadband access across North Carolina, continued to garner attention this week. Media coverage of the report, which offers specific solutions for closing the state's gaps in access to adequate internet speeds, included an editorial this week in the News & Observer that called its points "compelling" and its solutions "feasible." The 40-page publication encourages public-private partnerships to bring broadband to areas without options for service and improve it for the underserved, carrying huge ramifications for economic development, health, access to information, and quality of life. The League unveiled "Leaping the Digital Divide" during a press conference at the N.C. Legislative Building​ on March 21. Coverage by the Insider State Government News Service at the time earned a reprint in national publications like Government Technology​ this week. Supportive editorials from the week of the unveiling have expanded to additional newspapers. The topic will be in focus again of the April 3 episode of Municipal Equation (preview​), the League's biweekly podcast about cities and towns in the face of change. 

In related news, the federal omnibus spending bill signed into law last week included $600 million in new funding for rural broadband infrastructure. Earlier in the month, a National League of Cities (NLC) policy committee leader testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee about the importance of broadband investment in communities. Mayor Gary Resnick of Wilton Manors, Fla., chair of NLC's Information Technology and Communications Federal Advocacy Committee, told senators that cities are positioned to help close the digital divide across America with enabling policy. "Congress must preserve local authority and allow us to do what we do best: solve problems for our residents," Mayor Resnick said. His full testimony is available on the Senate Commerce Committee's website.
In other news, a "Community Broadband Playbook" released this week by the state's information technology agency offers templates, examples, ideas and other resources for communities to tailor their own broadband strategy. "The environment of demand for broadband is a moving target. Developing a playbook that grows and adapts alongside the need for higher speeds and bandwidth is essential for supporting local leaders," Jeff Sural, director of the state's Broadband Infrastructure Office, said in a press release. You can find full information on the playbook and its applications at​

The interim legislative committee examining the financial and management practices of public enterprise systems heard on Monday about challenges and success stories across the state, including those presented by League Associate Executive Director Rose Williams. Appearing before the committee, in a segment that also featured presentations by the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and the N.C. Rural Water Association (associated documents), Williams shared with the committee details about the League’s efforts to assist cities and towns that face water system challenges. She also stressed the substantial societal changes that have led to many of these challenges, including population shifts, demographic changes, and evolving operational demands placed on water and wastewater systems. Williams additionally explained the factors that can influence the success of efforts to regionalize water and wastewater service. Under the right circumstances, regionalization can lead to efficiencies and can lower rates for the system’s customers. However, those positive outcomes depend upon the merging systems’ finances, the state of repair of their infrastructure, the ability of customers in both systems to pay their bills, and environmental regulations (such as the state’s interbasin transfer laws).

While not preparing legislative recommendations for the short session, the committee continued its education on water and wastewater systems by hearing presentations from staff of the Department of the State Treasurer, which oversees local government financial practices. The committee also heard from representatives of private water systems, who advocated for passage of bills that the General Assembly introduced and considered last year. This committee may continue its work in the weeks leading up to the short session that begins in May, and after the session ends. Previously, committee Co-Chair Rep. Chuck McGrady had indicated that the committee aimed to make recommendations for consideration in the 2019 legislative session. Contact: Erin Wynia​

An interim House committee on Wednesday considered a multitude of proposals that may affect building inspections, including potentially problematic concepts regarding local financial accounting practices. While the committee did not present actual statutory language, it reviewed suggestions submitted by the N.C. Department of Insurance (DOI), the N.C. Home Builders Association (NCHBA), and committee chair Rep. Mark Brody, who is a general contractor and home builder. In public comments on the proposals that would affect local finance practices, NCLM Legislative Counsel Erin Wynia told legislators that while the League was seeing these ideas for the first time at the committee meeting, the proposals could conflict with basic accounting standards to which local governments must already adhere. Her public comments added to those of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, which expressed similar concerns. Both local government organizations suggested that, as part of examining these ideas further, committee members consult with the local government finance experts at the Local Government Commission, who were not present at the committee meeting.

The group of suggested changes to local government finance practices states:

-Increase annual accounting reports to include all departmental receipts, disbursements, and fund transfers and educational awareness of statutory requirements.

-Require fees generated by inspection departments to be placed in a fund separate from the general fund.

-Specify the activities for which inspection fees may be charged and further clarify the limitation on local governmental use of those inspection fees.

-Allow fees to be waived for economic development purposes and disaster relief efforts but require reimbursement from the jurisdiction’s general fund for the inspection related costs associated with the project.

​The League encourages your feedback on these items; please contact Erin Wynia with your thoughts and concerns. At the same meeting, the committee also considered other proposals related to local building inspections operations, including a funding request by DOI for additional technical assistance positions in that department. The NCHBA suggestions focused on tweaks to existing statutory language, one of which appeared to raise concerns from DOI. In that case, the NCHBA proposed to expand the scope of inspections that an engineer or architect is allowed to perform. The League will continue to seek feedback on these proposals and provide input to the committee as it considers recommended changes to state law. The committee will submit its recommendations to the N.C. General Assembly in the form of a bill introduced in the upcoming legislative short session, which begins May 16. Contact: Erin Wynia​

The governor's office has created a home on the web for its Hometown Strong initiative.​ explains the mission and principles of the program, which got off the ground in February with a focus on local economies, infrastructure and other essentials specifically in rural North Carolina. The governor's office has been in communication with the League since the effort launched. "Hometown Strong is an unprecedented initiative that restructures state government’s approach to addressing the needs of North Carolina’s rural communities," the website explains. "Hometown Strong creates a partnership between state agencies and local leaders to champion rural communities. The effort will leverage state and local resources, identify ongoing projects and community needs, and implement focused plans to boost the economy, improve infrastructure and strengthen North Carolina’s hometowns." Facilitators say they will identify initial county partners this spring and expand from there. Visit the website​ for more information.

The federal omnibus spending bill signed into law last Friday reauthorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Brownfields Program, which enables parties including municipal governments to clean up contaminated sites for reuse. The National League of Cities (NLC), which organized support, pointed out that it also came with a number of key changes to aid the cleanup and redevelopment of "large, complex brownfields sites." The omnibus bill reauthorizes the Brownfields Program through 2023. It also authorizes multipurpose grants up to $1 million, increases remediation grant funding to $500,000 (though the EPA may approve $650,000 per site with a waiver), and allows local governments to be eligible for brownfield assessment or remediation grants for those proprties acquired before Jan. 11, 2002. NLC applauded the White House and Congress for the bill's passage. "This legislation is a major victory for our communities, providing local officials not only with much-needed funding, but also the flexibility to tailor their brownfield redevelopment to meet the individual needs of their cities, counties and regions," NLC said. There are more than 400,000 brownfield sites across the U.S. currently. The EPA says more than 59,000 brownfields have been revitalized since the program's 2002 beginnings.