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League Bulletin

June 1, 2018

WHAT HAPPENED: The General Assembly cast final votes on its adjusted state budget and sent the 267-page plan -- containing myriad spending items and programming along with a major policy shift authorizing municipalities to put property tax dollars toward education -- to the governor for signing.
WHAT IT MEANS: There's a lot of good in the budget, alongside provisions that may have benefited from more vetting. There's money for specific downtown projects, Powell Bill funding is continued, it puts value on broadband expansion and disaster assistance is in there, too. 

ON TAP: This budget is likely to become law with or without the governor's OK, per the legislature's veto-proof majority. Read on in this Bulletin for budget details pertinent to cities and towns.
THE SKINNY: Barring unforeseen circumstances, with the budget and other top priorities headed to bed, the legislature's short session is on the closing arc. It does, however, follow an important gathering of municipal and legislative officials this week -- the Town & State Dinner, which brought hundreds together for a new chapter of local-state relationship-building.

On mostly party-line votes, the General Assembly by Friday had an updated, $23.9 billion budget ready for the governor's desk. Democrats opposed the process that brought the adjusted budget about, by way of a conference report that did not receive the usual course of open vetting or amendment opportunities. Instead, it was presented only for an all-or-nothing vote. Legislative budget writers had noted that the biennial plan was approved by the more traditional steps last year, and that this year's process, though different from any short session in memory, was just to focus on adjustments to that existing plan. The legislature's Republican majority means the budget can likely survive a veto from the governor, who at time of this writing had not yet specified his plans​ in that regard.
The League has assembled a document of budget items pertinent to cities and towns. Among provisions: 
-$60 million transferred to disaster recovery, including $10 million for infrastructure grants that local governments will be able to access.
-More than $3 million in revitalization grants for certain downtowns.
-Powell Bill funding kept consistent at $147.5 million.
-A number of local park projects funded, and $4 million added to the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund for a $20.2 million revised total. 
The budget additionally directs the Local Government Commission to prescribe that the finance officer of each local government provide detailed​ reports on the total revenue received from building inspections. It blocks state funding for light rail projects without all non-state funding in hand, a move that could prevent projects from receiving needed federal money. And it changes the law that requires cities to reimburse schools for any required municipal street improvements by prohibiting cities from making any zoning, rezoning or permit request conditional on the waiver of that reimbursement, retroactive to August 1, 2017. More provisions are explained under separate headlines in this Bulletin.

In the spirit of goodwill and partnership, municipal officials and legislators gathered together by the hundreds on Tuesday for the League's first-ever Town & State Dinner​. Held at the Raleigh Convention Center at the end of a busy day for the General Assembly, the event saw mayors, city council members and municipal staffers breaking bread and strengthening relationships with their senators and representatives while the state's top leaders discussed priorities and the need to work together. The speakers for the event included Gov. Roy Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown and Attorney General Josh Stein.​
NCLM President Michael Lazzara, Mayor Pro-Tem of Jacksonville, set the tone for the event by noting that state and local government officials, in working toward their priorities that are ultimately focused on serving citizens, enjoy far more common ground than separate ground. He also spoke of the League as an evolving mission-driven organization that is focused “serving the interests of towns and cities so that they can best serve their residents.” NCLM Vice President William Pitt, Councilman from Washington, in remarks prior to introducing Attorney General Stein, noted how his city is leading in a fashion similar to other towns and cities across the state – leveraging its unique assets to remain economically vital. In Washington’s case, that means its waterfront and historic buildings.
In addition to Lazzara and Pitt, NCLM Board of Directors members Scott Neisler, Mayor of Kings Mountain, and Liz Johnson, Council member from Morrisville, spoke as part of the program, with Neisler introducing Moore and Johnson a League-produced video​​. That partnership was the theme of the night was affirmed in the video, which features many of our legislators and local officials discussing how they've worked together to accomplish great things. Said Goldsboro Mayor Chuck Allen in the video, "We are one North Carolina, and we've got to work towards being one North Carolina."​

For the state officials who spoke at Tuesday’s Town & State Dinner, the menu included recognition of the various ways that they are working across the state with municipal officials on common priorities. Noting the number of legislators in attendance -- more than half of the entire General Assembly -- Gov. Roy Cooper told municipal officials in the room that it "shows you are being listened to and you are crucial to this process." House Speaker Tim Moore discussed the various gears of North Carolina's progress, including the community college system for its workforce training programs and municipalities as economic engines. "Well-run cities are a key to the vitality of our state," Speaker Moore said. Expanding his comment in a tweet, he added that "we have exceptional leaders in our state's municipalities." 

Attorney General Josh Stein addressed a central issue for his office and for communities across the state and nation: the ongoing opioid addiction crisis. "All of us working together, we can turn the tide," Stein said, emphasizing a need for better treatment options rather than viewing the crisis through a crime lens. He said he hears time and time again from local law enforcement leaders that "we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis." 

Governor Cooper also remarked on the broadband divide that the League has taken the initiative to close. Adequate internet speeds are lacking across the state, with limited service in some cities to zero broadband access in many rural areas, creating problems for business, health, education and communication in an increasingly digital-first world. But as highlighted in a recent report from the League, there's a way forward, said the governor. "We can do it through public-private partnerships," he said. The event was kicked off with House Majority Leader Harry Brown’s introduction of NCLM President Michael Lazzara, whom he has known for more than 30 years.

The House took swift action this week to advance a building inspections bill recommended by an interim committee, passing the measure through two committees and full floor votes in a three-day window. In doing so, legislators adopted significant improvements to the bill that took into account some of the concerns raised by the cities in previous public comments and discussions on the bill. Now, the measure includes extensive detail about how the state Department of Insurance would implement a program that offered building inspections services from a pool of inspectors maintained by the department. Contractors and local governments alike could utilize the pool inspection option under the circumstances described in the bill. While cities still hold some remaining concerns with the proposal, they appreciate the willingness of the bill sponsors to continue negotiations. HB 948 Building Code Regulatory Reform now moves to the Senate for consideration. Contact: Erin Wynia

A provision​ in the newly passed state budget would authorize municipalities, on a statewide basis, to expend property tax revenue for public education and allow local school boards, charter schools and other education entities to request appropriations directly from a municipality. A dramatic change in statewide policy, it would go into effect with the start of the next fiscal year, July 1. It is important to note that the statewide provision was unexpected, even as there had been discussion of local legislation allowing a handful of municipalities to potentially set up or contribute to local charter schools. Per this year's budget process, there was very limited opportunity for the League, or any other advocacy organization, to provide input and context that might have affected final language. The League has raised concerns that the major policy shift has received little vetting. This provision received plenty of attention during floor debate as it related to funding responsibility for schools and the varying resources available to communities across the state, though amendments to the language were not allowed. Rep. Becky Carney​, D-Charlotte, noted that it amounted to a change in taxing structure for local governments and will generate many questions from constituents at home. She said she hopes any issues could be addressed in the technical corrections process.

The budget bill recently passed by the General Assembly includes clear recognition that the state needs to better address broadband access across the state. One provision in the legislation would establish a $10 million broadband grant program, although that money would be directed mainly at private internet providers and utility cooperatives, and municipalities would not be eligible. Meanwhile, some provisions from the 2017 BRIGHT Futures Act are included in the budget. While intended to help further broadband public-private partnerships, a concept supported by the League, the provisions actually prevent a key feature of those partnerships. The League appreciates the willingness of legislative leaders to hear this concern and take steps to minimize this unintended consequence. Read more about the grant program (Legislators Announce Broadband Grant Program) from last week’s Bulletin​.

Every two years, the cities and towns of North Carolina develop legislative and regulatory goals for the upcoming legislative biennium. These goals serve as the guide to the League's advocacy efforts here in Raleigh. More than that, they are a collective statement of the priorities of North Carolina municipalities, big and small, urban, suburban and rural. The process of setting the Municipal Advocacy Goals is an opportunity for each municipality to have a voice in telling state legislators and other state policymakers what is important to them.

The League, through Aug. 1, is requesting your proposals for advocacy goals to pursue during the 2019-20 legislative biennium. Click here to submit your ideas for advocacy goals.


To provide law enforcement agencies better tools to combat the opioid epidemic, lawmakers alongside Attorney General Josh Stein this week rolled out the HOPE (Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Enforcement) Act. "Today, with the HOPE Act, the medical community joins hands with North Carolina’s law enforcement community to help them in their efforts to combat the illegal activity that fuels this crisis," said Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Greenville, a doctor, in a news release​ that details what the legislation hopes to accomplish. It would hike the consequences for healthcare workers who steal or manipulate a patient's drugs. It would also invest annually in naloxone supplies and community-based drug treatment and recovery services. It would fund efforts to destroy unneeded prescription drugs. The SBI would get a new special agent to coordinate with local drug investigators. And trained investigators would get access to prescription data and records to improve their work, among other provisions. "I’ve been hearing for years from law enforcement, including my friend Chief Bill Hollingsed (of Waynesville), that we need to give law enforcement the tools they need to confront this crisis in our communities," said Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin. "I’m proud to sponsor this bill to do just that.” According to WRAL, the language will appear in Senate Bill 616.
In other legislative news, ​​​​a municipal local option sales tax bill was ​​amended to add additional municipalities and given a favorable report from a House committee on state and local government. ​​HB 947​ would authorize certain cities -- Mooresville, Mt. Airy and Hendersonville -- ​to hold a referendum regarding the levy of a quarter-cent sales and use tax. The bill was referred to the House Finance Committee. ​