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League Bulletin

March 29, 2019

​WHAT HAPPENED: If last week represented driving speed at the General Assembly, this week accelerated further. Between the House and Senate came 177 new bills. Also in progress is their development of state budget drafts on a recently agreed-upon spending target -- $24 billion, not inclusive of debt service. The Associated Press points out that the $24 billion figure is 3.5 percent higher than the current budget but less than Gov. Roy Cooper's recommended $25.2 billion budget (coming to $24.5 billion with debt service removed). 
WHAT IT MEANS: With bills, we continue to see the advocacy goals of cities and towns reflected, like with local revenue options and public safety resources, while other proposals this week have problematic bases, concerning topics like local tree ordinances​ and a private cause-of-action allowed for people who claim their municipality or its police agency isn't complying with state immigration law. Read on in this Bulletin for more examples. 
ON TAP: April 2 is the Senate's final filing deadline for public bills and resolutions. It's April 16 in the House for bills not dealing with appropriations or finance, and April 23 for those that do. (The House honors without deadline any bills on redistricting, ratification of constitutional amendments, adjournment resolutions and bills introduced on the report of the chambers' Appropriations, Finance or Rules committees.) According to the Insider State Government News Service, citing House Speaker Tim Moore, the House's version of the budget is expected by the end of April, an earlier-than-usual timeframe. 
THE SKINNY: It's the long session, open for variety when it comes to legislative proposals and competing interests. Our online bill tracker and the summaries provided in this Bulletin are your tools for understanding their application to cities and towns. 

A House bill that would allow local governments to build and lease out broadband infrastructure now has 71 sponsors in total -- a bipartisan roster representing more than half the chamber's membership. Addressing a key goal of North Carolina's cities and towns, HB 431 The FIBER NC (Foster Infrastructure for Broadband Expansion and Resource in North Carolina) Act ​was filed March 21 under primary sponsors Reps. Josh Dobson​, R-McDowell; Kevin Corbin, R-Macon; David Lewis, R-Harnett; and John Szoka, R-Cumberland. Communities across the state are grateful for the support as they look for ways to leap or fill the digital divide -- illustrated by gaps in adequate internet access that hamper residential interests, business growth, educational and career opportunities, farm tech integration, modern healthcare delivery and more. The proposal has received substantial media attention, including a piece in the McDowell News on the applause the bill has received from local leaders.
Please thank your local legislators for their support of the bill, which specifically would allow for public-private partnerships via local government's construction of broadband infrastructure and its leasing to private operators. 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. For background, find helpful resources on broadband and the digital divide at​

​Three bills filed this week at the behest of the homebuilding industry would take away local decision-making authority regarding development and put more burdens on local taxpayers. SB 355 Land-Use Regulatory Changes would make wide-ranging changes to land-use regulatory statutes including incentivizing litigation at local taxpayer expense and weakening protections for neighboring property owners of new developments. SB 367 Clarify Property Owners’ Rights would place severe restrictions on local tree ordinances, prohibiting such ordinances without the express approval of the General Assembly and requiring such ordinances to allow the removal trees when construction takes place so long as they are replaced with saplings. HB 492 Simplify Builder Inventory Exclusion​ would extend a property tax exclusion for builders whose homes have gone unsold from three to five years, forcing local taxpayers to further subsidize homebuilders and their home inventory. 
​It is not immediately clear how much support within the General Assembly each piece of legislation would generate. In 2014, a similar bill to SB 367 eliminating local tree ordinances generated tremendous public pushback, including from local government planners and other officials and the legislation was shelved. We will keep members informed regarding the movement of these bills. 

A bill filed on Thursday continues discussions of firefighter health and proposed local government obligations, beyond a League-opposed unfunded post-retirement benefits proposal​ discussed in a recent Bulletin. HB 520 Firefighters Fighting Cancer Act would create a new legal presumption for workers' compensation purposes that if a paid, part-time, or volunteer firefighter within a local government fire department is diagnosed with one of nine listed cancers, the disease was caused by the firefighter’s occupation. Unless rebutted by the unit of local government, this determination entitles the firefighter to worker’s compensation coverage to pay for lost time. 
To qualify for this presumption, the firefighter must submit to a physical examination upon entering service with the local government unit as a firefighter, and that examination must not reveal evidence of any of the listed cancers. The firefighter must also complete at least five years of service as a firefighter with that unit of local government to qualify for the presumption. The proposal also lays out the standard of proof for the local government to meet in rebutting this presumption. 

With lawmakers hitting a new single-week high for bill filing, several address municipal advocacy goals. Representatives of North Carolina's cities and towns met in late 2018 to set their list of shared legislative goals in areas like public infrastructure, fiscal health, and municipal authority. On Wednesday, HB 497 landed to propose that Hickory receive a quarter-cent local-option sales tax (only after local voter approval) to raise proceeds for public safety, economic development, and public facilities, lining up with a goal of providing municipalities additional, locally controlled revenue. Another proposal, HB 528, surfaced Thursday to provide the towns of Indian Trail and Stallings new occupancy tax authority (again, only with local voter approval) in special districts to support the area's tourism economy. HB 458 Henderson Meals Tax, filed Wednesday, would authorize that city to levy a prepared food and beverage tax by local resolution following public notice and a public hearing. We've reported on other local revenue proposals in recent bulletins. Also recently highlighted was HB 159 State Search and Rescue Funding, which this week found a companion bill in the Senate. SB 396​, like HB 159, would appropriate $2.3 million in recurring funds for each of the next two fiscal years to support search and rescue activities undertaken in partnership with local governments. That gets at a statewide municipal goal of additional resources in public safety efforts.


​The League has released its annual Revenue Projections Memo detailing next year’s forecasts for all of the major state-collected municipal revenues -- including sales taxes, electricity and natural gas sales taxes, Powell Bill, and more. This year’s memo is supplemented by an interactive online format of all the data and graphs discussed in the memo. Both of these items, as well as our Basis of Tax Distribution memo and the annual Sales Tax Calculator file, can all be found on the League's website. Questions can be directed to Chris Nida or Caitlin Saunders​.

​Two longtime and beloved League employees are marking their respective retirements. General Counsel Kim Hibbard, who joined the organization in 1989, makes it official at the end of March and will be dearly missed not just for her central roles in countless legal accomplishments for cities and towns, but for her humanity in the role as well. "I would like to convey how much I’ve enjoyed my time at the League and my thanks to the many municipal officials I’ve had the opportunity to work with," said Hibbard, who will be succeeded by current Associate General Counsel John Phelps. Phelps, who has been with the League since 1995, praised Hibbard as a "talented professional with the highest ethical standards."
League Property & Casualty Claims Manager Willie Wilson, who has served 15 years with the League, is also departing this month. Wilson successfully managed the claims department during numerous unforgettable natural disasters to help local governments restore -- in more recent instances handling hundreds upon hundreds of simultaneous post-hurricane claims. Said League Executive Director Paul Meyer, "We thank Willie for his service, commitment to members, and his wealth of knowledge of working with members in the public risk pooling and claims profession." Join us in congratulating and thanking Hibbard and Wilson for their long and dedicated careers assisting municipalities all across the state. 

An accredited Main Street Community is getting $200,000 for downtown revitalization. The City of Elizabeth City will put the funds into preservation of a historic building and the creation of a new events space, according to a press release from the N.C. Department of Commerce. The money comes from the Main Street Solutions Fund, "a vital funding program here at the Department of Commerce, leveraging local investments to bring these types of projects to life," said Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland. According to the release, accredited Main Street and Small Town Main Street communities have lured $2.98 billion in investments public and private and a net gain of 24,883 jobs since the program's 1980 establishment. More information about such funding opportunities is at​.