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League Bulletin

May 27, 2016

While working through their own budget proposal this week, senators pushed forward with other major initiatives, including two omnibus regulatory reform packages heard in Senate committees. Between the two bills, city operations would be impacted in the areas of electronics recycling, engineer work reporting, and building inspections.

First, HB 169, the Regulatory Reduction Act of 2016, contained provisions that would repeal the landfill ban on electronics such as televisions and computers and would also repeal the requirements to recycle electronic waste. Together, these changes would likely increase the volume of materials headed to local landfills. During debate of this measure by the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday, Sen. Tom McInnis noted his concerns about the state's shrinking landfill capacity, particularly in rural areas. He asked for a long-term plan to address handling of electronics materials. The bill's proposed repeal followed an interim study of electronics recycling that resulted in no recommended legislation. The League met with state environment officials during the study and noted that markets for recycling electronic waste had dried up, which strained local governments handling these stockpiled materials. Other provisions of this bill removed reporting requirements for state agencies and local governments, including a recent requirement for cities and towns to tell the state about certain engineering plan review processes. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on this bill Tuesday.

This year's Farm Act, SB 770, contained the building inspections changes, which would clarify the types of minor heating, plumbing, and electrical work that may be performed without a local permit (Section 13, beginning on pg. 10). The bill would also exempt all agricultural withdrawals from any future capacity use area designation, allowing these withdrawals to occur with no regulation. The Senate Finance Committee must hear this bill next. Contact: Sarah Collins

Click here to view a short video of Elkin Mayor and League President Lestine Hutchens explaining why Town Hall Day is such a valuable opportunity for municipal officials across the state -- and why you should register now if you haven't already.

Scheduled for June 8, Town Hall Day is the premier opportunity for League members to visit legislators and make known their views on issues important to municipalities. It represents the best chance to show strength in numbers and draw attention to the many serious legislative issues facing cities and towns.

For those already planning to attend, now is the time to contact your legislators and make appointments to see them that day. Late morning is likely the best time to schedule those appointments.

Town Hall Day will include:

  • A legislative briefing from the League’s Public and Governmental Affairs Team
  • Meetings with House and Senate leadership
  • Discussions with representatives of state agencies
  • Opportunities to meet individually with legislators from your district, attend committee meetings and observe chamber floor sessions
  • An evening reception with legislators and key state leaders

Nothing can replace the positive impact of in-person conversation on legislators’ votes. More than 400 municipal officials had their say at last year’s Town Hall Day, which generated plenty of media coverage as well. Make sure you don’t miss this year’s opportunity. Click here to register.

Concerned with the U.S. Department of Labor's recently announced "final rule" on overtime pay and its impacts on government employers, League leadership on Friday issued letters to elected federal officials thanking them or urging their support for counterproposals in Congress that would revisit the rule. "We do not think DOL would have issued the final rule in its current form if it had seriously considered the impact on public sector operations and budgets," League Executive Director Paul Meyer and President Lestine Hutchens co-wrote. "As you are aware, public sector salaries are constrained by restricted sources of revenues and cities, and towns are required to have balanced budgets which limit their ability to mitigate additional costs."

The final rule, which the Bulletin reported on last week, raises the threshold for exempting employees from time-and-a-half pay to $913 per week (or $47,476 annually), which is double the prior level. "This disproportionality impacts public sector entities, especially those in rural and low cost-of-living areas, which cannot meet the demands of such an increase without raising taxes or reducing staff or services," the League leaders wrote.

The National League of Cities has sounded the alarm as well. NLC is directing concerned municipalities toward a portal for reaching members of Congress, who may consider legislation to revisit the rule, which as approved has a Dec. 1 effective date. "NLC continues to believe that the new salary level is too high and will cause significant strain on local government budgets and overall compensation systems," NLC said in a statement. "We will now step up directing our concerns to Congress, which is considering legislation, the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act (S. 2707 and H.R. 4773), that would nullify the new rule and require DOL to conduct a deeper economic analysis on the impact these changes would have on public entities before moving forward. If your city is concerned about the impact the overtime rule will have on it, please contact your members of Congress and share how this change will affect your ability to serve your residents by clicking here." Meanwhile, the UNC School of Government has scheduled a webinar to explore how government employers can minimize impacts on their budgets in meeting the approved rule. Click here for details and registration.

After passing through two Senate committees and the full Senate with no debate this week, HB 1023/SB 803 Municipal Service Districts/Statutory Changes now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature. The proposal, recommended by an interim study committee that heard testimony from numerous cities and towns, would expand and strengthen the procedures related to establishing, enlarging and abolishing districts. A MSD is a specialized taxing district created to provide properties in the district with additional services. Most often in North Carolina, municipal boards form them to provide business owners enhanced downtown development services, although many coastal communities use them to finance beach renourishment projects. The League thanks bill primary sponsors Sen. Trudy Wade and Rep. Ted Davis for seeking input from numerous cities and towns as the proposal advanced. Contact: Erin Wynia

Legislators took up a plan this week aimed primarily at addressing controversial legal issues regarding the reconstitution of a commission that will oversee plans for cleaning up coal ash impoundments. SB 71, Comm’n Appointment Modifications, passed the House, while the Senate rejected House language, meaning the two chambers will have to negotiate differences. The bill includes provisions to ensure that homes with wells affected by coal ash impoundments are provided a permanent replacement water supply by the impoundment owner, either through connection to a public water supply or the installation of a water filtration system.

The League supports measures to provide these homes with permanent water replacement while also ensuring the viability of public water supplies. League members with public water utilities often assist in similar situations that involve contaminated water sources. The League thanks Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville for recognizing during House floor discussions that an agreement with a local public water supply would need to be met prior to state approval of the permanent replacement and Rep. John Ager of Fairview for asking questions in committee about who would incur the cost of providing the replacement. The House and Senate are expected to agree to language early next week. Read more here.

House Finance Committee members recommended legislation Wednesday regarding special financing mechanisms for building infrastructure that included League-suggested language. SB 363 Wage & Hour/Local Gov’t Assessments/Parks includes provisions to extend existing assessment authorities to allow cities and counties to fund infrastructure projects for private development.

Existing authority allows local governments, at the request of property owners, to levy a “special assessment” on property owners who request the installation of infrastructure such as roads and water or sewer lines. The proceeds from that assessment are used to pay back revenue bonds that the local government issues to finance the installation of the infrastructure. The measure recommended on Wednesday would allow developers who enter into an agreement with the county or city to pay for the infrastructure installation themselves. The local government would then use the special assessment to reimburse the developer for its investment. The League suggested language to ensure that the action is voluntary and that a local government would only owe the developer the revenue that the assessment produces, less any administrative costs.

The League thanks Rep. Paul Stam and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell for seeking the League’s input. Read more coverage here.

Sunset Beach Mayor Ron Watts testified before a Senate government committee Tuesday, presenting alternatives to a proposal that would deannex three major parcels against the town's wishes. As part of the committee's half-hour debate over the bill, Mayor Watts assured committee members that the town heard the concerns of property owners and had taken steps to work with those individuals to resolve their concerns. The hearing represented the first in-depth discussion of a deannexation bill in any legislative committee this session. For other, similar bills opposed this session by an affected municipality, local leaders did not appear before legislators to tell their side of the story. As Elkin Mayor and League President Lestine Hutchens wrote of the Sunset Beach debate earlier this week, "The result will hopefully be that all parties will work together to resolve the issues and that the bill, before final passage, will prove unnecessary." However, the bill will receive a second committee hearing Tuesday morning. The Senate Finance Committee has calendared the measure for consideration. Contact: Erin Wynia

Two national searches that drew more than 80 applicants from 26 states have led the Town of Cary to Sean Stegall, who the town council this week hired as manager with a start date of Aug. 4. Stegall, 43, has served as city manager of Elgin, Ill., since 2009, according to an announcement from the town on Thursday. “Cary is a community I have admired for years for its thoughtful approach to governance and planning,” said Stegall. “I’m honored to join this talented staff in service to the Town Council and citizens of Cary.” Click here for the town's release about Stegall. In his new role, Stegall replaces Ben Shivar, who retired last year after nearly four decades of public service.

Topsail Beach has been recognized as having one of the nation's best restored beaches, in recognition of local efforts, legislative partnership and creative thinking to keep the strand safe and attractive for residents and vacationers. The town's shoreline joined four others from around the country on the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association's newly released "Best Restored Beaches for 2016" list. For Topsail, beach nourishment goes back more than a decade, when town leaders began to reserve local tax dollars for a beach fund that helped bring needed amounts of new sand and duneline. It's also a positive result of state legislation that set up a fund for dredging shallow-draft inlets, which occasionally need to be deepened for safe navigation -- and are a sweet source of beach sand. "This project has been an example of how an individual community can work with non-federal agencies to create new funding mechanisms, provide multi-level benefits to the community, create political unity within the community, and do so while being a steward of the environment," ASBPA said.

A press release from the town cites the hard work and support that's gone into local beach engineering. "To be selected as one of America’s best restored beaches is an honor for the entire town,” said Mayor Pro Tem Julian Bone. Beach nourishment keeps shorelines viable for summer fun -- and that's hugely valuable for the economy. “As Americans flock to our nation’s coastline during the upcoming beach season, most don’t even realize they may be enjoying a restored beach,” said ASBPA President Tony Pratt. But there's more at stake than visitorship. Wide, healthy beaches are vital storm barriers, protecting homes and infrastructure from storm surge. These projects are also important for restoring the habitats of dependent species, like the sea turtles that nest in sand. The other beaches in the top-five were Babe's Beach, Galveston, Texas; Rosewood Beach, Highland Park, Ill.; Seabrook Island, S.C.; and Redondo Beach, Calif. Read media coverage here.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch this week visited Fayetteville to view the progress of the city's community policing efforts. Lynch, on her national Community Policing Tour, praised the city's police department for opening up with the community in a goal to build trust through diversity training, youth outreach and other means, according to news reports. As reported in the Charlotte Observer, community policing (a philosophy explained here) took off in Fayetteville after the city in 2013 hired Harold Medlock as police chief. Medlock quickly ordered procedural changes to show a friendlier face to the city and allay concerns from communities that historically have had a difficult time trusting law enforcement agencies. According to the Fayetteville Observer, Medlock has trained officers on impartiality and reducing the need for deadly force while supporting new technologies like body-worn cameras for transparency. The newspaper quoted Lynch as saying Fayetteville's commitment to updated policing methods "will give hope and faith to other communities around the country.”

In other news, national attention fell on the Hillsborough Police Department recently for its Slower is Faster police driver-safety program, which earned the Destination Zero 2016 Officer Traffic Safety Award. The award, from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, "acknowledges effective officer safety and wellness initatives that help drive down risk factors proven to lead to officer injuries and deaths," a press release explains. Slower is Faster -- the model for a program offered to law enforcement agencies across North Carolina in partnership with the League -- focuses on decision-making behind the wheel and is led by Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton alongside Town Manager Eric Peterson. Hampton and Peterson, both vehicle safety experts, accepted the national award this month in Washington, D.C.

For its good governance, Charlotte's stormwater program has earned the highest quality ratings from Moody's Investors Service, according to a release from the rating agency. The system now has Aaa ratings with a stable outlook, reflecting "the prioritization of storm water debt service, robust financial performance of the system, a strong service area, prudent governance and a manageable level of debt," Moody's said. "Additionally, the rating incorporates legal protections for bondholders including a minimum 1.1 times senior lien rate covenant, and the absence of a debt service reserve fund, both of which are mitigated by ample liquidity." Moody's said the stable outlook is based on expectations that the city will continue its good governance and financial decision-making.