A House bill unveiled late Thursday directly addresses a League policy goal to revise the tier method of measuring levels of economic distress. The League applauds Rep. Susan Martin for putting forward SB 563 Commerce to Assign County Distress Factors. The bill takes meaningful steps to focus the way the state measures economic distress by more effectively targeting symptoms, and it separates the measurements into two factors. The first factor evaluates a local government’s ability to provide necessary services, while the second factor assesses individuals’ ability to provide for themselves. Rather than implement a new system at once, the bill instead directs the N.C. Department of Commerce to rank counties by these two measurements and provide that data to legislators. It also directs all state agencies that rely on the current economic tier system for various funding programs to submit reports to the legislature that justify use of the current tier system in making funding and other programmatic decisions. Contact: Erin Wynia
Two proposals to increase broadband infrastructure across the state made incremental progress in the House this week. In the first, members of a local government committee approved a local bill designed to give 14 counties the ability to construct their own broadband infrastructure. Despite a unanimous vote and praise from committee members — some of whom lamented that their own counties could not be added to the bill without violating the numerical limit for local bills — the bill failed to receive a hearing in the House Finance Committee. It very likely will not progress further in the legislative process. However, in the chamber’s second action on broadband this week, the House unanimously approved a broad bill addressing telemedicine policy. This bill included a study on formulating a plan to ensure that all North Carolina residents have sufficiently advanced internet connectivity to receive health care services via telemedicine. (Read more League reporting on this bill and the study.) The study focuses on many of the same broadband policy recommendations made by the League in its recent broadband infrastructure report. Senate action on this bill looks unlikely at this point in the session. Contact: Erin Wynia
Over the League's objections, an omnibus land use bill advanced that significantly curtails the ability of local governments to hold developers accountable for making necessary infrastructure improvements related to development. The bill also makes wide-ranging changes that incentivize litigation at taxpayer expense. While cities appreciate senators removing one egregious provision related to performance guarantees, they still oppose the overall measure. To that end, the League, along with representatives from the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, gave public comments expressing grave concerns about the bill in Senate testimony this week. Despite this opposition, the bill proceeded through two Senate committees with near-unanimous support. While the bill had been calendared for a full Senate floor vote, as of the time of publication, it had been withdrawn from that calendar. Contact: Erin Wynia
A surprise deannexation bill introduced by Rep. Justin Burr on Wednesday would remove property from three Stanly County towns, including an area that encompasses half of the population of the Town of Badin. If passed, the measure would reduce the town’s finances by at least one-third and devastate its budget, likely leading to severe restrictions on municipal-level services as well as possible property tax increases on remaining residents. The procedure used to gain committee approval of the bill short-circuited the typical legislative procedure for annexation bills. The House initially scheduled this bill for a floor vote Thursday, but then removed the bill from the calendar. Meanwhile, in another example of a deannexation proposal not supported by the affected municipality, the Senate gave its full approval this week to a bill that would deannex property from the Village of Wesley Chapel. According to the village, the property owner desired a rezoning, but had not approached village leaders with the request before turning to bill sponsor Sen. Tommy Tucker. This bill now awaits a hearing in the House Finance Committee. Contact: Erin Wynia
On the latest episode of Municipal Equation, the League's nationally recognized podcast about cities and towns in the face of change, we look at today's changing status of local media and city hall news coverage. While some markets are trucking along, we're also seeing extinct or shrunken newspapers, online outlets with no print edition and freshly grown media entities that may or may not be objective. What's all this mean for local government? Is a reliable, objective media purely about watchdog dynamics? What about when local government needs to get its message out? What happens when the local government IS the news source? It's too big a topic to solve on a podcast episode, but the experts we've corraled for this one give a lot of insight. Listen now. You can subscribe for free on iTunes. Contact host/producer Ben Brown with your ideas for the show.