WHAT HAPPENED: The General Assembly began the 2018 session having already made what looked like unprecedented, early progress on budget negotiations. Meanwhile, news coverage focused on a huge teachers rally on Wednesday.WHAT IT MEANS: This could end up being one of the shortest short sessions in recent memory, with legislators concluding their business well before the July 1 start of the fiscal year.ON TAP: There was movement on the broadband front with a bill filled by House leaders calling for a study that could bring about focus on needed access issues.THE SKINNY: With legislative leaders appearing serious about limiting the time that they will be in Raleigh this year, don’t look for a lot of major legislation outside of the budget bill.
State lawmakers this week convened in Raleigh to kick off the 2018 "short session" with a flurry of bill filings. The League's Bill Tracker allows you to follow along on proposals we're monitoring. A highlight included a bill focused on broadband infrastructure (see separate article in this Bulletin), while most bills filed this week followed recommendations from interim study commissions or were local legislation. HB 947, for example, would allow the Town of Mooresville to levy a quarter-cent municipal-only sales tax for street improvements, subject to a voter referendum. HB 958 would allow the Town of Tobaccoville to use Powell Bill Funds (usually reserved for transportation) for planning, construction and maintenance of parks and recreation facilities. The League is monitoring bills such as Rep. Mark Brody's HB 948 Building Code Regulatory Reform. As filed on Wednesday, the bill would, among other things, require local governments to accept inspection reports from non-local-government entities without the ability to ensure the inspection was satisfactorily completed. It would also create new reporting requirements, including a twice yearly report on how local building inspection fees were spent. Additionally it would allow local governments to enter into mutual aid agreements for enforcing the State Building Code. That bill was referred to the House Regulatory Reform Committee. Twin bills filed in the House and Senate on Thursday under the title "Water Safety Act" continued the focus on emerging water contaminant issues brought to the forefront by the GenX news out of southeastern North Carolina. Proposals of note for local government public water supplies include what would be a requirement to extend public water supply service to households whose drinking water wells have been determined to be contaminated with poly-fluoroalkyl substances like GenX, and gap funding to ensure local water systems do not have to pay for the costs of water service extension up front. The Associated Press has a full story. The League is monitoring the bills' progress.More than 60 bills were filed this week. The short session, following up on the previous year's "long session," generally allows for action on state budget adjustments and priority legislation, ideally within a period of a couple months.
House leaders proposed a comprehensive broadband infrastructure study Thursday as part of a broader bill addressing the practice of telemedicine. Primarily, legislators focused the study on formulating a plan to ensure that all North Carolina residents have sufficiently advanced internet connectivity to receive health care services via telemedicine. Additional considerations for the study would include recommendations for the best manner in which to incentivize investment in broadband infrastructure and reduce barriers to deployment of that infrastructure. The bill also would require an examination of initiatives to create community-based broadband adoption and utilization initiatives. This study focuses on many of the same policy recommendations made by the League in its recent broadband infrastructure report. The study, which if authorized would be conducted by the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services in consultation with the N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office, would be due to the legislature by September 1, 2019. Contact: Erin Wynia
The North Carolina Supreme Court has issued a decision in a long-running case regarding water and sewer impact fees, a result that should prove beneficial to cities and towns. The latest decision in Quality Built Homes v. Town of Carthage limits the period of time during which claims can be made related to water and sewer impact fees that might be deemed improperly charged. NCLM played a key role in the case and in advocating for the limitation. The court ruled that a three-year statute of limitations for liabilities applied. That's as opposed to the 10-year statute of limitations that the Court of Appeals in 2016 deemed applicable. In effect, under the new ruling, if a plaintiff has filed its complaint more than three years after the municipality exacted its last impact fee payment from the plaintiff, then the plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations.
The decision follows a statutory change made by the General Assembly and sought by the League last June that provided more express authorization for the fees to be charged. You can read more on that clarifying legislation in the June 23, 2017 edition of the Bulletin. Read the court decision here. Also, League Associate General Counsel Gregg Schwitzgebel has created a more detailed explainer of the new court action and what it means for municipalities.
Have you registered for the first-ever Town and State Dinner? Time is running out! Registration for this historic event remains open only through Monday, closing at midnight. Scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. on May 29 at the Raleigh Convention Center, this exclusive advocacy event provides municipal leaders and their legislators an intimate atmosphere for networking and relationship-strengthening. Participants will also hear the latest policy updates from Gov. Roy Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore, Attorney General Josh Stein, and more. While the League is inviting legislators, a personal invitation directly from their district's local leaders is valuable. After you register yourself, be sure to give your legislator a call and personally invite him or her to join you for dinner. The League is extending electronic and printed invitations to legislators directly. Legislators do not need to register; instead, they can RSVP directly to Town&StateDinner@nclm.org. For this year’s legislative short-session, the Town & State Dinner is being held in lieu of Town Hall Day.
Duke Energy held a technical workshop Thursday for stakeholders on potential priorities the company should take in its Power/Forward program, announced last year as an initiative to modernize the state's electric system. The N.C. Utilities Commission ordered the workshop in the Duke Energy Progress (DEP) rate case, in which the League intervened on behalf of its members and their interests. The League used this workshop to continue to advocate on behalf of municipalities and make the case that the utility’s investments in smart grid technology should result in the utility providing customers with the data to make better decisions about energy usage and innovative rate designs that will give the municipal customer the ability to save money on electricity bills. This was the first of many stakeholder discussions on Power/Forward. If you have feedback or questions on the topic, please contact Sarah Collins.
The federal government has extended to July 31 the deadline to submit letters of interest for Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loans. WIFIA is meant to accelerate investment in water infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost supplemental loans for projects considered to be significant regionally and nationally. “By extending the deadline to apply for a WIFIA loan, even more entities will be able to bring critical water infrastructure improvements to their communities, including projects that keep lead and other contaminants out of drinking water,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a news release that provides full details. “These projects create jobs, protect public health, and help ensure that all Americans continue to have access to clean and safe water.”
The N.C. Department of Transportation and N.C. Emergency Management are shaping a drone-focused working group that would involve governments from local to federal along with the private sector. The focus is best practices and training for drone use in emergencies and crises including disasters. "Drones are an increasingly integral part of all emergency response operations, so the N.C. Department of Transportation is working to make sure North Carolina’s drone operators are prepared when disaster strikes," a news release said. Last week, the League Bulletin reported that NCDOT had been selected for a program that could help to shape national drone policy, again with local government involvement.
The highly soughtafter funding program known as TIGER -- Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery -- received not only a funding increase in the fiscal year 2018 federal spending bill, but a new name as well. Retitled BUILD -- Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development -- the program will work like TIGER, with some differences. The American Planning Association (APA) has published a clear explainer. "Will Congress build on the momentum of funding increases from the omnibus or accept the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate all TIGER/BUILD funding? The latter option seems unlikely, but the voices of advocates are important to the future of this and other essential infrastructure programs," APA notes.
We've reached a milestone: the 50th episode of Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast about cities and towns in the face of change. Over the past couple years, we've covered policy, technology, police issues, entrepreneurship, generational dynamics, and even the economic value of urban trees. This time out, we step back and appreciate the human character of our cities and towns or regions, by touring the local dialects of North Carolina and the United States. Why do people in Chicago, or St. Louis, or N.C.'s Outer Banks sound the way they do? What's in a voice? And what's happening that's changing those dialects or accents forever? Don't miss this special episode with expert guests, illustrative audio clips and a surprisingly British-like accent among some North Carolina natives. All past episodes of Municipal Equation are available via nclm.org/municipalequation or through a free iTunes subscription. Contact host/producer Ben Brown with feedback and episode ideas.