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League Bulletin

April 24, 2020

​WHAT HAPPENED: The governor extended the statewide stay-home order through May 8 and unveiled measures for easing restrictions. State House members worked on COVID-effect issues including vehicle tax delays and law over remote meetings of local boards. Challenges continued at the federal level to secure some relief for local governments that will be so hard-hit.

WHAT IT MEANS: As COVID-19 cases continue to mount, and as all sectors brace for a difficult economic slog, eyes are turning to the N.C. General Assembly and its upcoming session. We have articles in this Bulletin about some of the focuses of interest to local governments.

ON TAP: The General Assembly is scheduled to gavel in at noon Tuesday, April 28, and while the vibe will be a bit unprecedented, with remote meetings and limited access to the Legislative Building, the process will be the same – filed bills will go through committees and must pass in both full chambers to become law.

THE SKINNY: COVID-19 is the focus of virtually every eye. The first couple weeks of the legislative session will be specific to that. Yes, other issues await attention, but it’s likely to be mid-summer before the legislature can so shift. For more coronavirus-related info specific to cities and towns, we continue to offer

Delayed vehicle tax payments and clarified authority for local boards to meet remotely advanced in a bill draft debated at the state legislature yesterday. The measures came as members of a House COVID-19 working group amended and then moved forward with an omnibus proposal that included dozens of statutory changes to relieve barriers that have surfaced during the COVID-19 crisis. The proposed vehicle tax delays (Section 5) would likely mean more than $200 million in deferred property tax payments to cities, which under this bill could last as long as six months. The League had pushed legislators not to delay these tax payments, citing the budgetary and cash flow pressures that would result for local governments. On the other hand, the League had requested the remote meeting clarifications (Section 27), and the language in the current bill draft stemmed from negotiations between the League, press and open government advocates, and other local government associations.

This House bill draft and approved amendments also contained numerous other provisions that may assist cities in their response to the crisis:
  • Allowing the release of certain personal communicable disease information by health officials to law enforcement officials (Section 16)
  • Providing a waiver process to enable landfills to accept yard waste (Section 16.3)
  • Removal of certain eligibility barriers for local government and law enforcement retirees who return to work during this crisis (Section 21)
  • Changes to the daily deposit requirement to allow weekly deposits only during statewide declared emergencies (Section 24)
  • Reinstatement of special obligation bond authority, a borrowing tool for large capital projects such as water, solid waste, and beach renourishment (Section 25)
  • Delay of the effective date of the new Chapter 160D, which reorganizes the state’s land use and planning statutes, by eight months to August 1, 2021 (Section 26)
  • Extension of a requirement for all local governments who have not already submitted a report that details which of their ordinances have criminal penalties to March 1, 2021 (Section 29)

​Congress this week approved another $480 billion for COVID-19 assistance, but included no money for state and local governments to backfill revenue holes. The deal, reached earlier this week, came after the U.S. House had proposed $130 billion for state and local governments to help address revenue shortfalls created by steep declines in economic activity and sales tax collections as a result of the virus. The U.S. Senate opposed the provision, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggesting that state bankruptcies might be a preferable route to federal help, a remark that led to bipartisan pushback in Congress.

The legislation was approved after NCLM and its members mounted an aggressive advocacy effort encouraging Congress to address local shortfalls that included letters outlining local needs, a series of virtual meetings with members of Congress and one-on-one calls. In response to efforts here, across the country and in Washington by the National League of Cities, U.S. House leaders and President Trump  indicated that they would insist on state and local assistance in the next round of federal legislation, likely to come in the summer.

Meanwhile, the U.S Treasury Department issued guidance on the earlier federal CARES Act appropriation to state and local governments that largely confirmed restrictions that the funding only go toward direct COVID-related expenses. That guidance does suggest that payroll for public safety expenses addressing COVID-19 responses could be reimbursed, but also notes that it cannot be used for any already budgeted expenses. That guidance came as state Senate leader Phil Berger indicated that legislative leaders have been in discussions with Gov. Roy Cooper regarding appropriation of that funding and that he believes there will be consensus “on at least a portion of that money.” 

​Legislative champions of HB 431 FIBER NC Act renewed their calls this week for legislative action on broadband infrastructure. In separate public comments, bill primary sponsors Reps. Josh Dobson and John Szoka both urged their colleagues to allow local governments to partner with private internet service providers so that more areas of the state have adequate broadband infrastructure.

Speaking at an online broadband event yesterday, Dobson said he would push to advance the FIBER NC Act when the legislature meets this summer. Speaking of how the current COVID-19 pandemic had shone more of a spotlight on the state’s inadequate broadband infrastructure, he said, “This crisis has been a catalyst to the challenges we face in this state with respect to internet access.” He continued, “It’s not fair that parts of our state do not have access to high-speed internet.”

Dobson likened broadband infrastructure to other critical infrastructure provided by local governments, such as transportation and water systems. Further, he said he agreed with comments made earlier in the week by his colleague and bill co-sponsor Szoka, who told members of a House committee Tuesday, “Broadband is more infrastructure than just a luxury service.” Szoka added, “I think there really is a role for government. I think this crisis has really shown that in spades.” Read more about Szoka’s comments in this Carolina Public Press article (“Pandemic puts NC broadband disparities in sharp relief for legislators”) that reports on the broadband discussion held by House members Tuesday. The report mentions the current roadblocks in state law that prevent local governments from playing a role in expanding broadband access. Read more in its report, “Leaping the Digital Divide.”

​North Carolina's stay-at-home order has been extended through May 8 under a new executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday. It also extends for the same period the closure of restaurants for dine-in purposes along with bars and the closure of other businesses that involve close person-to-person contact. But easing the COVID-19 restrictions is on the table. Measures, however, will have to be met first.

“North Carolina cannot stay at home indefinitely,” Governor Cooper said. “We have to get more people back to work. Right now, the decision to stay at home is based on the public health data and White House guidance. North Carolina needs more time to slow the spread of this virus before we can safely begin lifting restrictions. I know that this pandemic has made life difficult for many people in our state and I am focused on keeping our communities safe while planning to slowly lift restrictions to help cushion the blow to our economy.”

press release from the governor’s office describes a tiered plan for lifting restrictions, includes a copy of the latest executive order and has links to informational slides.

​While the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) was already in a lean financial position, agency head Eric Boyette told state legislative leaders this week that COVID-19 has been “devastating.” The transportation secretary outlined concerns in a letter addressed to them with details on what DOT is doing, including halting a big chunk of project work. “While I earlier had shared with you a projected revenue loss of $200 million, our in-house March 31st revised revenue forecast leads us to anticipate a greater than $300 million shortfall in fiscal year 2020, all in the current final quarter and resulting from the pandemic,” Boyette wrote. “However, that number could increase and most likely will as North Carolina continues life-saving efforts to decrease the spread of the coronavirus.”

Generally speaking, people aren’t driving or buying cars right now, meaning revenues are down. But the coronavirus isn’t the only disaster the agency has had to deal with – think storm recovery work. Additionally, DOT by law must keep a level of money on hand to pay bond obligations. That’s a hard-to-manage squeeze that threatens new contracts or modifications to those existing, Boyette said. Already, he continued, DOT has had to take “drastic” measures including suspending construction projects that aren’t funded by federal grants and bonds. Preliminary engineering work on most projects has been suspended as well. Boyette provides bulleted lists of impacts in his letter.

Without help from the state and federal government, DOT will be “severely hampered” in its mission, he told legislative leaders. “In addition, the consequences to the various industries supporting our network will have immense cascading economic consequences, including numerous job losses.”

He closes saying infrastructure spending has been a proven way of sustaining and rebuilding the economy after crises.

Read the full letter.


​As you may already know, the League’s CityVision 2020 annual conference has been cancelled in response to the state’s Coronavirus response. Instead, we will hold the event virtually in two parts - the first part includes the annual business meeting on May 28th where the new Board of Directors will be announced. The nomination period for the Board ends in less than a week on April 30. Don't wait to submit your nomination; election and nomination information is available online at

​Separate from its 2020 Census collection work, the U.S. Census Bureau is now conducting two new surveys – the Household Pulse Survey and the Small Business Pulse Survey. The Household Pulse Survey, according to Census officials, is “designed to deploy quickly and efficiently, collecting data on a range of ways in which people’s lives have been impacted by the pandemic. Data will be disseminated in near real-time to inform federal and state response and recovery planning.” This survey should not be confused with the big, decennial headcount going on right now.

Additionally, the Census Bureau has launched a COVID-19 resource hub to help with planning and decision-making related to the pandemic.

​The following message comes from the N.C. Department of Transportation:

Transit providers have seen a drastic decrease in ridership and revenue as a result of social distancing, while incurring unplanned costs for health and safety due to COVID-19. On March 27th, the CARES Act was signed into law and provides $25 billion for transit. North Carolina is expected to receive a total of $322,395,741 for transit systems in North Carolina.

The CARES Act provides flexibility to transit systems to recoup expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic retroactive to January 20, 2020 and the funds do not expire until expended. The provided funds are 100 percent federal and can be used for planning, capital and operations. This includes paying for administrative leave to personnel due to reduction in service or quarantine. However, unemployment benefits are not eligible expenses.

NCDOT encourages municipalities and counties to consider these federal funds when making decisions about staffing that could impact the essential services transit provides. If you have any questions, please reach out to the Integrated Mobily Division or visit the Transit COVID-19 Response page at