Local governments would have another tool to address blight and clean up vacant properties under a bill unanimously passed by a Senate committee Thursday. A large workgroup of League members worked throughout the interim in cooperation with the NC REALTORS Association to bring forward the consensus proposal, and cities thank primary bill sponsor Rep. John Faircloth for supporting this effort. If the measure becomes law, cities and counties would be able to take advantage of a newly created process by which a superior court judge oversees improvements to vacant commercial, industrial, and residential properties. Called “vacant building receivership” and modeled after similar programs elsewhere in the country, the process first requires the local government to undertake rigorous code enforcement actions under existing law. If those enforcement actions are unsuccessful, then the local government may petition the court to appoint a receiver to take over management of the property and make improvements. The process respects private property rights by maintaining the original property ownership throughout the process and by giving owners multiple opportunities to comply with the law and improve their properties. The proposal, part of a larger business-oriented regulatory reform bill, now moves to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration, currently scheduled for Monday. Contact: Erin Wynia
North Carolina can harness superfast internet speeds and spread broadband access across the state with good policy and partnerships, legislators heard on Wednesday at a Broadband Lunch & Learn hosted by the League and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. Speakers including Eric Cramer, president and CEO of RiverStreet Networks, and Alan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Open Broadband LLC, updated lawmakers in attendance on the state of technology offered by private providers while highlighting the unnecessary shortcomings in broadband access in many parts of the state today. "You may be surprised, but 10 miles outside of Chapel Hill, people are on DSL," Fitzpatrick said. "They are complaining." The speakers echoed a recent League report recommending public-private partnerships to bring broadband speeds to communities without. "Everybody, even in these rural markets, needs these speeds," Fitzpatrick emphasized, speaking of gigabit connections that are increasingly the standard not only for businesses but homes as well. Cramer, in talking about his company's work in Stokes County, said they could have saved three years of work time had they been able to tap into the county's fiber assets, such as what public-private partnerships would enable. That "is the way to solve this problem," Cramer said. Last week's Bulletin reported on a provision in the state budget that recognizes the need for better broadband access in North Carolina, though the League will continue to push for clear authority regarding the kind of government-private sector partnerships that can close North Carolina's digital divide and create 21st century avenues to prosperity.
A $147 million grant for infrastructure projects in North Carolina is set to provide 300 miles of fiber optic cable in the eastern part of the state, making broadband service and better telecommunications overall available to the area . Announced on Tuesday, the funds come through the U.S. Department of Transportation largely for the widening of up to 25 miles of highway along I-95 and upgrading the remainders of U.S. 70 to interstate status as I-42. Sen. Richard Burr in a press release highlighted the project's importance to traffic flow, emergency readiness and access to military bases. "In the process," he said, "this work and development will help boost economic growth in local communities." Sen. Thom Tillis called it "great news that will produce long-lasting benefits in Eastern North Carolina." Gov. Roy Cooper praised the announcement as well. "Better transportation and communications networks will improve North Carolinians' access to jobs, educational opportunities and health care, and give our military and businesses greater access to our bases and port," he said.
In other transportation news, HB 1010 Build NC Bond Act is advancing through the state legislature. The bill would authorize the issuance of state "Build NC" transportation bonds. The proposal is modeled after the federal GARVEE bond program and would allow the state to borrow money for local transportation priorities and repay the bonds using future state transportation dollars allocated to the Highway Trust Fund. Build NC bond proceeds would fund transportation projects prioritized at the regional and division levels of the state’s transportation funding system. These projects are suggested by local officials, who also have the most input in deciding which of these projects to prioritize. Includes borrowing limitations, including an overall program cap of $300 million. And in other connectivity news, the legislature is moving on a bill that would establish statewide policy for telemedicine as it gains importance for people who lack easy access to a hospital. HB 967 Telemedicine Policy would set standards and assistance for the service -- which allows health care professionals to serve patients from long distances by way of a remote connection -- following recommedations from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The bill instructs the department to study the issue and report findings to the legislature, with considerations including the "best manner in which to incentivize investment in next-generation, future-proof broadband infrastructure and reduce barriers to deployment of that infrastructure" and how to create "community-based broadband adoption, utilization, and initiatives." The Winston-Salem Journal has additional coverage of the bill.
The General Assembly this week gave its approval to a local bill that would provide four Mecklenburg County municipalities with the authority to operate charter schools. HB 514 was approved in a 64-53 House vote on Wednesday after earlier clearing the Senate. The approval followed the inclusion of a provision in the state budget that would allow municipalities statewide to fund public education after constitutional concerns were raised regarding the ability of the municipalities to commit tax dollars to any charter schools without it. The League and several other organizations have expressed concerns about the lack of vetting of the statewide provision. See more coverage of the local bill’s passage here.