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League Bulletin

April 17, 2020

WHAT HAPPENED: We issued an action-alert (re-run below in this Bulletin) to contact your members of Congress to encourage their support of federal legislation that would help cities and towns address revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic’s effects. Gov. Roy Cooper gave an address on how the state might transition out of current restrictions while maintaining public safety and health. Working groups of legislators at the N.C. General Assembly continued meeting specifically about the coronavirus, looking at topics including state law and remote meetings for local governments as well as vehicle tax collection and inspection deadlines (detailed below in this Bulletin).  

WHAT IT MEANS: Now is the time to ask U.S. Sens. Burr and Tillis, as well as your U.S. House members, to approve federal aid for local coffers.  

ON TAP: A new state legislative session. In less than two weeks, the full General Assembly will fire back up, though with a few different procedures. The coronavirus means extra precautions, including limiting who can enter the Legislative Building. Coverage from WRAL News and the News & Observer lay out some of the big-picture points and expectations.  

THE SKINNY: Stay healthy and informed as you join state and federal leaders in responding to the crisis. Read on for more updates. And don’t forget to send in those Census responses. 

The workload for local leaders hardly ever subsides, and there are few situations where that is more true than now. And as your responsibilities increase, so do ours. Individually, the priority is your hometown. But together, as a whole—as a League—we're tackling the larger, looming crises.

To that aim, we're being heard and making an impact, evidenced by news coverage of cities and towns over the past week or so. On the policy front, we are in front of lawmakers, expressing the urgency of the situation to Congress and working with Gov. Roy Cooper, state budget officials, and state lawmakers (as noted in this Bulletin). This week, the League also connected cities and towns with U.S. Reps. Ted Budd, Patrick McHenry and G.K. Butterfield in virtual roundtables about the coronavirus.

We're of course taking seriously the revenue picture, with context laid out in the League's annual Revenue Projects Memo. This document is bracing members for impact as they prepare budgets and do all they can to support their local economies.

Lastly, we're not letting anything fall to the wayside. Non-coronavirus issues still percolate, from the safeguarding of key municipal authorities to the need for reliable broadband across the state.​

Leaders of a House COVID-19 working group expressed a desire Tuesday to address COVID remote meeting concerns city officials have raised. At the meeting, the group’s bipartisan legislative chairs directed staff to work with local government advocates like the League and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners on bill language that would clarify the authority of local boards to meet remotely during this current state of emergency. The League requested this clarification in the law several weeks ago, and thanks Continuity of State Operations Working Group co-chairs Reps. John Bell, David Lewis, and Darren Jackson for supporting updates to the law. Please call your legislative delegation and urge them to support the ability for local boards to meet remotely during this state of emergency.  

Also in Tuesday’s meeting, members of this working group endorsed another policy change that has the potential to affect receipt of vehicle property taxes. Specifically, the working group members expressed support for allowing the extension of vehicle inspection deadlines (listed here on page 1), as well as for waiving fees and fines associated with those deadlines. Local revenues could potentially be negatively impacted if such measures were taken, due to the fact that, currently, vehicle owners pay their property taxes only after the inspections. A delay in inspections could cause a delay in vehicle property tax payments, if not otherwise addressed. When you speak to your legislators, emphasize the need to keep vehicle property tax payments in place even if the inspection requirement is delayed. 

The General Assembly will likely take up these items and other emergency measures as part of a COVID-19 focused session beginning April 28. Legislative leaders this week gave some detail regarding that session, saying that they expected committees to meet remotely on April 29, with votes taking place in person on April 30. During any of these meetings and voting sessions, leaders said that the only people allowed to attend in person would be legislators, staff, and press members. All other members of the public would be able to monitor the discussions through remote audio streams.​​

Note: The League sent out the Action Alert that follows on Wednesday. Now is the time to contact your members of Congress to encourage them to support legislation that helps cities and towns address revenue shortfalls resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, as the next round of federal legislation may offer the best opportunity to meet these needs.

Now is the time to contact your U.S. House members and U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to urge them to approve additional legislation that supports cities and towns as they address the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

Let them know that the previously-approved CARES Act will not address the economic effects and associated revenue losses that cities and towns will suffer as a result of the pandemic. This is due to restrictions that limit funding to direct COVID-related expenses and only allow for direct funding to the largest local governments in the country. Tell them that those restrictions need to be lifted and that an additional round of state and local funding should be included in any Interim Emergency Relief Bill.

As you contact them, please make the following points:

  • Small businesses are the lifeblood of towns and cities, and they need continuing help to remain viable. Municipalities and their residents depend on these businesses, but they in turn depend on city services.
  • The slowdown in economic activity is certain to affect local government cash flows, revenues and budgets. Sales tax revenue makes up 28 percent of a median municipalities' general fund operating budget in North Carolina, and many municipalities expect that revenue stream to drop by 20 to 30 percent during this period of reduced economic activity.
  • On average, 31 percent of general fund municipal budgets in North Carolina go toward public safety. Police, firefighters and other public safety staff are critical in addressing the COVID-19 crisis, and municipalities forced to cut staff will be damaging that response.
  • Cities and towns in North Carolina also are facing revenue shortfalls and cash flow issues associated with water, sewer and electricity utility operations, as no-disconnect orders have been issued to protect customers and their health. And they are seeing substantial drops in hotel occupancy tax collections.
  • The federal CARES Act is primarily limited to addressing direct COVID-related response expenses, and for many cities and towns will provide little relief for revenue shortfalls suffered by local governments. As these local governments will be forced to balance their budgets, staff and service cuts will only mean the extension of economic pain and the damaging effects of an economic downturn.
Please take action now as Congress is considering a new round of COVID-19 relief legislation.

Urge North Carolina members of the U.S. House and Senate to support cities and towns by taking commonsense steps to protect city services and those residents and businesses who depend on them.

CityVision 2020 has been revamped into a virtual conference, complete with both live and on-demand educational sessions, and the League’s annual business meeting—save the date for May 28. Agenda and session details are coming soon, but the business meeting will feature a similar lineup as year’s past and will include electronic voting results and a swearing in of the 2020-2021 Board of Directors.

The 2020 Nominating Committee has released a memo to the membership, which outlines the electronic nomination and voting process for this year’s unpredictable circumstances. Members seeking a board seat, should submit the Candidate Interest Form by 5 p.m. on April 30.

Don’t wait to submit your nomination—we are posting candidate profiles online as they are received. Those and other election information cancan be seen on the “Election Central” website,

League Director of Political Communication and Coordination Scott Mooneyham is heard this week on a popular podcast discussing broadband needs through a pandemic lens. The podcast, called Community Broadband Bits, is produced by the Institute for Local Self Reliance and is hosted by its director, Christopher Mitchell, a broadband-issues expert.

“Christopher and Scott discuss how the spread of the novel coronavirus has changed life in the state's communities and how local governments are responding to new needs while continuing to provide essential services. Scott shares stories from towns that are now struggling with broadband access, despite their proximity to major metros, creating public safety concerns," the show blurb reads.

Listen to the 22-minute episode, titled “NC Needs Local Internet Choice to Tackle Pandemic."

They also discuss “Disconnected​," the recent WRAL documentary on broadband needs.

At this point, the official U.S. Census Bureau mailers have been received, and communities are self reporting. While the national response rate is just shy of 50 percent, it’s less than 46 percent in North Carolina. Keep up to date on North Carolina's progress​, follow the rankings​, and continue your local efforts to increase the count.