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League Bulletin

April 8, 2016

A legislative committee examining municipal service district (MSD) authority has finalized a proposed bill for the upcoming short session, scheduled to begin April 25. The proposal, which the Committee on Municipal Service Districts (LRC) produced on Wednesday, lands less than a week after the committee's first meeting. As yet unpublished, the proposed bill would update existing processes for establishing, enlarging and abolishing districts. A MSD is a specialized taxing district created to provide properties in the district with additional services. Most often in North Carolina, municipal boards form them to provide business owners enhanced downtown development services. Many coastal communities use them to finance beach renourishment projects.

Unlike last week, when the co-chairs afforded local governments opportunity to present information to the committee, this second meeting did not feature any presentations. Instead, committee members asked numerous questions about MSDs to better familiarize themselves with the tool. Their questions touched on the relationship between MSD revenues and repayment of debt, how cities expand existing MSD boundaries and how cities account for spending MSD revenues.

The League appreciates the openness of committee co-chairs Sen. Trudy Wade and Rep. Ted Davis to receiving information from cities and towns about how MSDs operate in their jurisdictions. Further, the League thanks both co-chairs for pledging to work with the League on clarifications of the existing MSD law when this topic comes up in the short session. For now, the proposed bill must receive one more vote by the Legislative Research Commission before becoming eligible for introduction in the short session. That committee typically meets just as the session begins. Contact: Erin Wynia

A proposal to remove a statewide funding cap on light rail projects highlighted legislative transportation proposals submitted this week. An interim House committee studying transportation issues took final votes Monday on recommended legislation to be introduced in the short session, which will begin April 25. Of importance to cities, the committee advanced a light rail cap proposal, which would lift the current $500,000 cap on state money allowed for such projects. The cap, inserted into the 2015 budget at the last minute, would cancel the Durham-Chapel Hill light rail project if it remained law. That project, proposed to be funded by a mix of local, state and federal dollars, received a large environmental approval earlier this year and is currently in a design phase. The cap represented the first time the legislature altered the data-driven state transportation process implemented in 2013. The League supports the data-driven process for deciding which transportation projects to fund. Other proposals recommended by the House committee include one to allocate funds to pave gravel roads equally among all state highway divisions. Contact: Erin Wynia

As the beginning of the 2016 short session of the General Assembly inches closer, the findings of several studies conducted in the interim are being reported to the legislature. The topics of these interim studies were directed by legislation in 2015, and the following issued reports may be of interest to municipalities:
  • Electronic Recycling A study of the state's recycling requirements for discarded computer equipment and televisions.
  • Beach Erosion: A study and proposed strategy for preventing, mitigating and remediating the effects of beach erosion.
  • Stormwater/Coastal Stormwater: A study to evaluate impact of stormwater on water quality in coastal counties and a summary of statewide stormwater statutes, rules and guidance.
  • Groundwater Standards: A study of water standards and health screening levels for hexavalent chromium and vanadium.
  • Flood Elevations: A study of how flood elevations and building heights for structures are established and measured in the coastal region.

Additionally, reports will likely soon be released regarding local government authority over solid waste management; alternatives for uniform procurement and pricing of 911 eligible expenses; the exemption of linear utility projects from certain environmental regulations; the effectiveness of in-water devices for mitigating water quality impairments; and ways to provide regulatory relief from the impacts of state's Riparian Buffer Protection Program.

PayPal said this week it was canceling plans for a 400-employee operations center in Charlotte in light of House Bill 2. Signed into law last month, HB2 among other things pre-empts all local ordinances addressing discrimination at places of public accommodation and establishes a statewide anti-discrimination policy that critics say does not extend to the LGBT community. PayPal CEO Dan Schulman explained his position in a statement posted to the company’s website on Tuesday and later told the New York Times he may reconsider the $3.6 million plan for Charlotte if the law is repealed. Lawmakers passed HB2 during a special session on March 23 in response to a recently approved City of Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance that, in part, would have allowed transgender individuals to use public restrooms aligned with their gender identity. HB2 blocked that ordinance, with legislative proponents calling it a measure of privacy and public safety. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore held that ground in a joint response to PayPal’s decision. Click here for more media coverage.

We’re in the “wild, wild west of green bonds,” a crowd of local government officials heard during a talk Thursday in Raleigh on sustainable initiatives. Speakers from the financial sector, at a conference called “Sparking Sustainability and Innovation” as arranged by the N.C. Department of State Treasurer, explained that green bonds generally are meant to finance or refinance projects or activities expected to bear positive, measurable outcomes for the environment. Moody’s Investor Service says it has boosted its research and analysis on green bonds due to mushrooming, global interest in eco-friendly efforts in energy, waste management, water conservation and similar areas. The agency expects more than $50 billion in issuance this year, as compared to a record $42.5 billion in 2015. “This is a strong, growing opportunity for folks,” said Joel Levy of TIAA, one of Thursday’s speakers. The City of Asheville in 2015 became the first municipality in the state to issue green bonds, financing water-resources enhancements, according to the city.

After spending months discussing numerous ideas for a replacement system to the state's current tier-based method of evaluating economic distress, a legislative committee instead advanced a proposal on Thursday that would move the discussion to the fall. Acknowledging the task's complexity, members of the Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee (EDGE) recommended legislation to create a workgroup of 11 individuals to review economic research and best practices in other states. The workgroup would recommend revisions to the state's current process for evaluating a community's level of economic distress. The EDGE proposal would also task the workgroup with identifying new economic development programs to further job-creation as well as a plan for measuring the success of all economic development programs. The draft legislation would direct that at least two of the appointments be held by persons with expertise in local government. A professor at the UNC Kenan-Flagler School of Business would facilitate the workgroup.

That concept represents a departure from a previous proposal that EDGE and another interim legislative committee considered over the past few months. It focused on directing the N.C. Department of Commerce (Commerce) to lead the effort in coming up with a new state economic development plan and system for measuring economic distress. As the League reported a few weeks ago, EDGE members did not feel comfortable with that direction. A separate committee that also examined the issue may vote at its Monday meeting to forward that Commerce-focused proposal. Any recommended legislation from that committee and the EDGE proposal would be eligible for introduction in the upcoming legislative short-session scheduled to begin April 25. Contact: Erin Wynia

Raleigh is among the world’s top-10 cities for a developed “future-ready economy,” according new ranking from computer company Dell. It released a list this week of the 50 foremost cities around the globe that, according to a news release, are “embracing technology to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing and globalized future.” Raleigh was ranked eighth, just ahead of Stockholm, Sweden. Charlotte also made the list, coming in 21st, one better than Chicago. San Jose, Calif., topped the rankings. Other top-50 cities included London (4), Houston (19), Tokyo (32), Los Angeles (35) and Milan (39). Dell, based in Texas, said these cities “enable people and organizations to access new tools and new ideas that deliver better connectivity, better economic performance – and a greater ability to attract talent.” Click here to view the full list with background info. Another set of rankings released this week found Durham as one of the few U.S. cities where women out-earn men. In the City of Medicine, women’s median earnings are nearly 102 percent of men’s, far more than the national rate of less than 80 percent, according to a new analysis by research website NerdWallet. Its analysis eyed 529 cities and found Durham to be one of only 17 of its kind. Click here for the complete study with methodology.

Cities and towns known for innovation and entrepreneurship have five key traits in common, a gathering of local government officials heard in Raleigh on Thursday. Christopher Gergen, CEO of Forward Impact, an initiative focused on next-generation entrepreneurs, boiled it down to excellence in:

  • Talent: Home-growing and retaining innovative brains in any city or town requires business-minded education at the K-12 level. "This is not something that should happen once you get to college and beyond," said Gergen. But college is a great place to flex that knowledge, he said.
  • Recruitment: "What's the story, what's the narrative you're trying to tell to try to recruit talent in your community?"
  • Enabling: Communities that want to draw entrepreneurs must have connections to workspace, capital and mentorship. "Who in your community is providing that kind of enabling support?"
  • Data: Good data about, and tracking of, new enterprises and flow of capital is vital. It "affords the ability to then think politically and think from a policy perspective" when setting local business goals and understanding progress.
  • Storytelling: The best entrepreneurial communities are highlighting their achievements via news media and social media. "Because so often, these stories are missed."

Gergen's comments aired at the "Sparking Sustainability and Innovation" conference arranged by the N.C. Department of State Treasurer and attended by several League members.  

The North Carolina Chamber debuted the results of an economic development study on Thursday that featured ideas for incentivizing the private sector to complete a build-out of high-speed Internet service across the state. Broadband received more attention than any other subject in the report, which followed stakeholder meetings across the state that included city and town leaders, legislators, local economic developers and representatives of the business community. A consultant for the Chamber, economic analyst Ted Abernathy, told members of the Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee (EDGE) on Thursday that the study represented business leaders' top priorities for government-led economic development strategies. The report identified a suite of broadband incentives as an area in which the Chamber would recommend legislation in the 2017 legislative long-session. The report also featured job-creation strategies important to municipal leaders, including transportation investments; water and sewer investments; incentives for industrial spec sites and building renovations or demolitions; tourism development in rural areas; and development of local leaders. Contact: Erin Wynia

The League convened members this week for the first of many workgroup meetings to discuss municipal issues related to public safety. In addition to brainstorming solutions, this group will provide feedback to ensure the League has a united municipal position on public safety policy issues that are discussed at the legislature. Representation from League affiliate the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police attended the meeting and will continue to be represented in these discussions.

A website launched on Monday by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a new tool for accessing public data on cities and towns nationwide. DataUSA, which MIT developed with professional services firm Deloitte, readies easy-to-digest stats for virtually any locality in the U.S. by way of a search engine that calls up numbers and graphics for economic, health, demographic, education and housing data, along with an overview of each town. “Households in Granite Quarry, NC have a median income of $45,268,” say search results for that Rowan County town. “This makes Granite Quarry, NC the 13,751st richest census designated place in the United States.” The site’s creators suggest it can be of use to policymakers when shaping plans in areas like workforce development, and that business executives may use it to better understand customers and talent pools. Users may download specific, local datasets for embedding on websites or use in other applications, according to an explainer.