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League Bulletin

May 15, 2020

​WHAT HAPPENED: Work continued to address revenue shortfalls local governments are experiencing under the COVID-19 crisis and drops in economic activity. Congress began considering a new round of relief legislation that currently includes $375 billion for local governments. Phase 1 of restrictions-easing on the public and business began across North Carolina as public health officials monitor the data and trends. 

WHAT IT MEANS: On the revenue front, the League, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition issued a joint statement urging Congress to address the shortfalls with both new direct and flexible funding and by making earlier CARES Act appropriations more flexible. Your help in reaching out to state legislators and your congressional representatives remains a crucial part of ensuring local needs are addressed. See the below article for information you should share.  

ON TAP: The N.C. General Assembly is set to convene for regular business starting Monday, but regular is a relative word. COVID-19 safety measures will affect the legislature's interactions, with House members continuing their course of meeting remotely. An article in this bulletin will prep you for what else is different this time around. 

THE SKINNY: Even though we're caught in a sort of limbo against our usual way of interacting, you can and should still advocate for important issues, chiefly the revenue shortfalls in local government budgets that, if not addressed, will complicate North Carolina's efforts to restore a healthy economy. Read on for more on that. 

As Congress this week began considering a new round of COVID relief legislation that currently includes $375 billion for local governments, NCLM staff and members ratcheted up efforts to see state and federal officials address municipalities’ revenue shortfalls. A joint news release from NCLM, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and Metropolitan Mayors Coalition urged Congress to address revenue shortfalls caused by the drop in economic activity associated with COVID-19 with both new direct and flexible funding and by making earlier CARES Act appropriations more flexible. In Brunswick County, Shallotte Mayor and NCLM Board of Directors Member Walt Eccard, with the help of the League, organized a letter-writing effort from mayors within Brunswick County to U.S. Rep. David Rouzer and U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr making the case for cities and towns facing the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

NCLM is embarking on similar efforts all across the state, including outreach to local media as seen in the Brunswick County/Wilmington area, so expect to see the results of those efforts in coming days and weeks. The League continues to work with the National League of Cities in a public-facing campaign, Cities Are Essential, with social media and media outreach as major components. With state legislators set to return to Raleigh next week, we continue to work on the additional allocations of federal CARES Act dollars, even though legislative leaders have indicated that those decisions may not come for a while and that they are also watching developments in Washington.

Meanwhile, your help in reaching out to state legislators and your congressional representatives remains a crucial part of ensuring local needs are addressed. You can help do so by referring this one page summary explaining why the needs of cities and towns being met today are crucial to economic recovery tomorrow. You can also see what is at stake in this spreadsheet of how federal aid under the U.S. House bill would be distributed, although it is important to keep in mind that the numbers represent a starting point with negotiations with the U.S. Senate.

As the N.C. General Assembly looks to resume business as usual next week, advocates face numerous complications with respect to their typical in-person interactions, all related to COVID-19 safety measures. While the legislative complex will be open to the public, members of the public will have their temperatures taken prior to entry, legislative leaders announced. Leaders also outlined other limitations on the typical ways that advocates conduct their business, including encouraging social distancing practicing, discouraging lingering inside the buildings and meeting rooms, limiting attendance in committee rooms to 50 percent, and utilizing the complex’s largest meeting rooms only.

As a result, during the session advocates and other members of the public will likely follow most legislative business via online audio and video feeds. For example, the House will continue its recent practice of conducting its committee meetings remotely, with legislators participating via online meeting software. However, in contrast, the Senate scheduled its committee meetings next week to take place in person.

In further indication that the legislature intended to resume to its non-COVID business, this week marked deadlines to file all bills except local bills, which must be filed by Tuesday. Of the 163 bills filed this week, an unusual pattern emerged. Members of the Republican majority in both chambers only filed a combined 24 percent of the bills, excluding bills filed due to the bill sponsors’ positions as chairs of interim committees or appropriations committees. Further indicating that legislators may conduct business differently this session than in the past, only the House’s chief budget writers filed bills this week that could be used later as the large state budget bill. This development likely signaled that the Senate might not be engaging in overall budget negotiations this session.

Please refer to the League’s bill tracking list for the full complement of bills filed this session that are of most interest to cities and towns. Bills added to the list this week addressed priority topics for cities such as broadband authority for local governments, housing and utility assistance, and the merging of recent land use and planning legislation with the new Chapter 160D statutes. Another bill of note was SB 739 Personal Delivery Device/PDD/Delivery Robots, which would authorize the use of robots for package delivery. More specifically, this proposal would prevent local governments from regulating these motorized devices, while at the same time, it would impose state-level regulation on operating delivery robots on streets and sidewalks.

​Major funding shortfalls at the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) will lead to cuts that will impact city and town budgets in the next fiscal year, according to information shared this week with the League by agency leaders. In a meeting with NCDOT Chief Operating Officer Bobby Lewis on Thursday, League staff received updates on the extent of the agency's fiscal constraints. Lewis said a preliminary estimate was that the agency would lose $670 million due to the COVID-19 crisis, a number that compounded the agency's preexisting financial woes.

As a result, Lewis said, the agency would likely propose across-the-board cuts to its budget ranging from 15 to 25 percent cuts to all areas of its operations, including Powell Bill funds. Further, the agency already stopped most road projects and all routine maintenance activities. City officials may want to consider the extent to which they would pick up the state's maintenance responsibilities in the coming fiscal year, including the following activities on NCDOT right-of-way in town limits:

  • Pavement patching
  • Traffic signal maintenance
  • Mowing and landscaping
  • Sign repairs
  • Storm repairs

Nearly a week into the first phase of easing COVID-19 restrictions on the public and business, the governor's team says North Carolina "remains stable." That's according to data and trends they're monitoring, but they say they need more time observing the key indicators before a second phase is safe to call. "Our COVID-19 decisions are guided by the data and the science,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. He added: "North Carolinians should continue to stay home if they can and take precautions to keep themselves safe.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, called the stability being observed in the trendlines "a real positive for our state. While we remain on a good path for the 14-day trends we need to see to move to Phase 2, our progress as a state is still dependent on our individual actions. We need to continue to protect our loved ones and our neighbors. If you leave home, practice three Ws – wear, wait and wash.”

A press release lays out the key metrics they're looking at. For instance, North Carolina’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases is slightly increasing. The state has also doubled the daily testing rate from roughly 2,500-3,000 to more than 6,000. Officials also say that supply chains have continued to improve with the exception of gowns. The press release also notes that the state now has an online list of testing locations

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. The first part of CityVision Virtual Summit will take place on May 28, where NCLM will host the business meeting, announce election results, and provide our annual organizational update and a legislative update. Governor Cooper has been invited and has tentatively accepted. Registration details, including a full agenda and session details are coming soon. But for now, save the date for May 28, from 10 a.m. to noon. The second part of the Virtual Summit will be held June 16-18 and feature multiple days of live and on-demand sessions. Final details will be sent out as soon as possible. Registration information coming soon!

​As of earlier this week, North Carolina’s response rate to the 2020 Census was just shy of 55 percent. But that’s still behind the national average of nearly 59 percent, and local officials are encouraged to keep the discussion going with their communities about the importance of the census – for one, how it affects eligibility for federal funding. Different from past census counts, participation in the 2020 headcount is made easy online. Check out the Census Bureau’s simple guide for how to respond online. “You’re just one click away,” the bureau says. Keep up to date on North Carolina's progress here, follow the rankings here, and continue your local efforts to increase the count. 

The state announced this week that a federal disaster declaration is in hand for 18 counties hurt by severe weather and flooding in February. “These strong storms caused damage in North Carolina and this disaster declaration will help local communities that are recovering and make repairs,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. Damage tallies neared $16 million. A press release​ says: “State, local and tribal governments in Alexander, Ashe, Cherokee, Cleveland, Graham, Madison, Mitchell, Pender, Perquimans, Polk, Randolph, Rutherford, Stanly, Stokes, Swain, Wayne, Yadkin, and Yancey counties along with certain non-profits are eligible for reimbursement through FEMA’s Public Assistance program for emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities. The declaration also provides Hazard Mitigation assistance in the affected areas.”