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 As yet unpublished, the proposed bill would update existing processes for establishing, enlarging and abolishing districts.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
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.
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
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:
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
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.