The Senate Commerce Committee approved SB 25 Zoning/Design & Aesthetic Controls yesterday without amending the filed version of the development interest-backed bill. The bill, which now moves to the Senate floor for a vote that is expected next week, restricts the ability of municipalities to enact aesthetic-based standards for building design elements. Speaking just before a representative of the N.C. Homebuilders Association during yesterday's debate, League Director of Government Affairs Rose Vaughn Williams addressed the committee, noting that municipalities use such standards to ensure that the property values of surrounding property owners remain protected from incompatible development. Sen. Tamara Barringer elaborated on that point, describing a situation in her district where a homebuyer's property values sunk when the developer lowered the quality of the surrounding homes in that neighborhood (read more about Sen. Barringer's comments in this News & Observer article, "NC Senate panel votes to limit cities on home designs"). The League thanks Sen. Barringer for publicly opposing this bill in its current form.
In her remarks, Williams also referred to a compromise package of amendments offered by the League, but not taken up by the committee. Those amendments would address the main concerns previously expressed by development interests, but would grant limited authority to municipalities in certain situations. League members and staff have promoted these amendments for the past two months; to receive a copy to use in your conversations with legislators, please contact Erin Wynia.
Please call House members this weekend and urge them not to support HB 875 Restrict Municipal Eminent Domain. While the League appreciates the work of primary bill sponsors Reps. Jonathan Jordan, Chuck McGrady, and Howard Hunter, III in addressing the League's initial concerns and limiting the original scope of the bill, it would still require county commission approval of all municipal condemnation actions outside a municipality's corporate limits (with limited exceptions). The bill essentially gives county commissioners a veto over municipal officials' decisions, a policy the League opposes. House members began discussion of the bill in the House Local Government Committee yesterday, then postponed further discussion and a vote until the committee meets again Monday afternoon.
Municipalities are one class of publicly-accountable condemnors, a group of entities which also includes county commissions and the State and federal governments. Condemnation power is also given to private entities such as electric, gas, and water utilities, and railroads. All of these condemnors hold the authority to condemn private property in exchange for just compensation, a significant power granted to them because of the overriding public need to have reliable, low-cost basic infrastructure. HB 875 singles out municipalities for the possibility of county commission veto of infrastructure projects because it would not impose this oversight on any other type of condemnor.
When discussing this proposal with House members, please explain to them the circumstances in which municipalities initiate condemnation proceedings, including extension of water and sewer lines to economic development sites or residential developments whose wells have run dry. Provision of these basic public services is a primary purpose of municipal government, and this bill would slow or stop municipalities from performing this basic function while simultaneously driving up costs for taxpayers. Contact: Erin Wynia
A bill that promises a number of North Carolina towns and cities some relief from utility relocation costs has passed one House committee. The House Committee on Transportation gave its OK to HB 771 DOT/Utility Relocation Costs on Wednesday, and the legislation is now before the House Appropriations Committee. The bill advances a key policy goal approved by League members for this legislative session. It would require the state to pay for all or some of the relocation cost of municipal water and sewer lines for municipalities with a population under 50,000 when state road construction forces those relocations. Currently, the state pays those costs only for towns with a population of 5,500 or less.
The bill would set up a tiered system where municipalities with a population under 10,000 would pay none of the costs and those between 10,000 and less than 50,000 would pay either 25 or 50 percent of the costs. Read previous League coverage here. The League thanks the many members who contacted legislators on behalf of this legislation, Rep. Phil Shepard of Jacksonville for working with League staff and members on the bill, and Rep. Rena Turner of Olin for persuasively relaying to her colleagues the plight of the City of Statesville as it dealt with the financial repercussions of a utility relocation. Contact: Erin Wynia
In the week after it was filed, HB 903 County Tax Flexibility/Municipal Revenue Options received plenty of attention. The bill, which would give North Carolina cities the option to levy a quarter-cent city-only sales tax by resolution, was the subject of this article that appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. Although the outcome of the legislation is far from certain, the bill's filing will continue to keep the idea, tracking a long-standing League goal, before legislators as tax and budget talks continue throughout the session. The League would like to continue to thank Rep. Jason Saine of Lincolnton for keeping critical municipal revenue issues before the legislature. If you have an opportunity to show your support for Representative Saine and encourage your legislators to support this endeavor, please do so.
HB 713 Body & Dash Cam Recording/Public Access, classifying that video from police body and car dashboard cameras are "records of criminal investigations," passed the House yesterday. Laws governing "records of criminal investigation" allow the release of such video at the discretion of the law enforcement agency and exempts such videos from personnel information protection laws.
Rep. John Faircloth explained that it was his intent that this bill be paired with a study bill to be sponsored by Rep. Carl Ford that will take into account a variety of other issues related to police body and dash cameras. Contact Sarah Collins
HB 616 Local Governmental Employees’ Retire. COLA, which would provide Local Government Employees Retirement System (LGERS) retirees with a 1 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA), received a favorable report from the House Pensions and Retirement Committee on Tuesday and was re-referred to House Appropriations
This legislation comes after the Local Government Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees voted in January to provide a fiscally responsible COLA to retirees by relying solely on existing funds available through the system's recent investment gains. Specifically, the Board approved the League and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners supported COLA of 0.625 percent.
The higher COLA called for in this legislation would increase each participating local government's contribution rate for general employees. That rate had been previously set at 6.67 percent, but would rise to approximately 6.77 percent under the bill. Contact: Sarah Collins
A Senate committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would clarify local government authority for offering incentives to encourage historic preservation. SB 472 Local Incentives for Historic Rehabilitation passed the Senate Committee on State and Local Government and is now before the Senate Finance Committee. League Director of Government Rose Vaughn Williams spoke to the committee, thanking sponsors Sen. Andrew Brock of Mocksville and Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews but also making clear that cities and towns do not see local authority as a substitute for a state historic tax credit.
Senator Brock, in response to questioning by other committee members, said the bill is not necessarily an alternative to state historic tax credits. Read media coverage here. League staff is continuing efforts on several fronts to support passage of HB 152 New Historic Preservation Tax Credit, a bill which would achieve a League policy goal of restoring a state historic preservation tax credit. Contact: Scott Mooneyham
With the help of the League, SB 547 Interconnection of Public Water Systems was amended Tuesday to include provisions to encourage water systems to look toward future interconnection.
As originally filed, the bill would have allowed the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to mandate local water systems to interconnect with nearby systems as a condition for system construction or alteration, without taking into account issues such as:
The new version, which received a favorable report from the Senate State and Local Government committee, would allow DENR to serve a role in identifying and facilitating eventual voluntary interconnections of public water systems through information gathering. The League thanks Senator Hartsell for offering an alternative that takes a voluntary approach to encouraging future planning instead of mandating interconnections. Contact Sarah Collins
The League opposed the provisions and supported instead retaining the current definition of built-upon area codified in S.L. 2014-210 which resulted from extensive study by the Environmental Review Commission. The League thanks Rep. Chuck McGrady and Rep. Becky Carney for bringing attention to the fact that although the gravel affected by the bill can sometimes be considered pervious, if driven upon, water will run off all washed stone in just a short amount of time. Contact: Sarah Collins
HB 730 County Provide 911 Dispatch Services is scheduled to be heard by the House Local Government Committee on Monday. The bill would make clear that counties cannot charge municipalities for 911 service when municipal taxpayers already pay county property taxes to help fund that service. Please contact members of the committee to express your support for HB 730. This legislation would address a top legislative priority adopted by League members in December to prevent municipalities from being additionally charged for county services which are funded through county property taxes. Contact: Sarah Collins