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League Bulletin

June 26, 2015

The House this week formally voted not to concur with the Senate's budget plan, leaving the state without a budget agreement as the end of the fiscal year approached next Tuesday. There was talk yesterday afternoon that the two chambers may be close to agreement on a continuing budget resolution, which will be necessary to allow the state to continue operating in the absence of a budget, but that agreement was not reached before legislators adjourned for the weekend.

Meanwhile, the House Finance Committee met for a total of three hours on two separate days to discuss the finance plan included in the Senate budget. Local sales tax reallocation (detailed previously here) was a significant point of discussion during both meetings, with numerous House members expressing concerns about the proposal. Yesterday, the committee heard city perspectives on the plan, with Town of Cary Council Member Jennifer Robinson -- who also serves on the League Board of Directors -- and mayors Esther Manheimer and Allen Thomas of League member cities Asheville and Greenville, respectively, given time to address the committee. Council Member Robinson spoke to cities' need for additional locally-controlled revenue options, while both Mayor Manheimer and Mayor Thomas talked about the importance of their cities regionally and the impact their municipalities have on residents of surrounding rural counties.

Video of yesterday's meeting can be found here, while audio from Tuesday's meeting -- along with documents related to the Senate's finance plan -- can be found here. Finance co-chair Rep. Jason Saine, who presided over both meetings, announced at the end of yesterday's meeting that discussion of the Senate plan would continue again on Tuesday. We appreciate Rep. Saine and his fellow chairman, Rep. Bill Brawley, giving these proposals a thorough public hearing, and thank you and the many committee members who voiced concerns about the plan's impact on local governments in their districts. Contact: Chris Nida

An improved measure that tightens the standards of conduct for building inspectors cleared the Senate this week and heads back to the House for a concurrence vote. Since the initial consideration of HB 255 Building Code Reg. Reform by the House earlier this session, the League sought an amendment to clarify a new requirement in the bill for inspectors to perform a "full inspection." Cities thank Rep. Mark Brody, the bill's primary sponsor, for accepting the League's suggested language to improve this section of the bill.

Throughout this week's Senate debates on HB 255, senators expressed concerns about a lack of consistent enforcement of the state building code from one local jurisdiction to the next. In response, Rep. Brody and representatives of the N.C. Homebuilders Association both made public promises for future legislation to further standardize inspections. In addition, senators sought assurances that cities were not increasing inspections fees as a means of raising revenue lost due to the impending repeal of the privilege license tax. However, from the beginning, the bill addressed this concern by requiring inspections departments to spend fees only on inspections-related activities.

As it heads back to the House, the bill still contains one provision of concern to cities: a section that would subject building inspectors to new, vague job-performance standards that could imperil their certification if a builder brought a case before the inspectors' licensing board. But changes made both in the House and the Senate, based on League input, have significantly improved the bill from a city perspective. If the House approves the Senate's version of the bill in a concurrence vote, it would go next to the Governor for his consideration. Contact: Erin Wynia

With Senate agreement on a last-minute House change to SB 284 Infrastructure Assessments/Extend Sunset, the League-supported bill now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory for his consideration. The legislation would continue to authorize a tool used to more quickly build infrastructure projects, including roads and water and sewer lines, for another five years. The House amended the measure on the chamber floor on Monday to reduce the assessment payback period from 30 years to 25 years. This amendment puts into law existing policy of the State's local government finance watchdog agency, the Local Government Commission. Local governments may only use this tool when requested by a majority of owners of the assessed property and when those owners represent at least 66 percent of the value of the assessed property. The League thanks legislators for acting quickly to extend the current special assessment authority, which would have otherwise expired on Wednesday. For more details about how the special assessment authority tool works, read this March 13, 2015, LeagueLINC Bulletin article. Contact: Chris Nida

Gov. Pat McCrory has signed into law legislation that restricts the ability of municipalities to impose design standards on residential construction, building standards typically used to preserve community character. The governor signed SB 25 Zoning Design & Aesthetic Controls on Friday. The League unsuccessfully sought several changes in the legislation focused mainly on preserving design standards for infill projects in existing neighborhoods. Read previous League coverage here.
The House this week delayed a vote on a bill that would restructure the city councils of Greensboro and Trinity. According to media reports, House members say the vote was delayed because HB 263 City Elections/Trinity and Greensboro does not have the necessary votes to pass in that chamber after the Senate added the Greensboro provisions to a separate House bill affecting only Trinity. Two GOP House members from Greensboro -- Reps. John Blust and Jon Hardister -- have criticized the bill in its current form. Even so, House members were told the bill would be back before them early next week. Representative Blust's opposition was spelled out in an email to House colleagues obtained by the conservative website The Daily Haymaker. Read media coverage about the latest developments here.
The City of Charlotte is continuing to explore plans for the issuance of municipal ID cards while watching the progress of legislation that might hamper those plans. HB 318 Protect North Carolina Workers Act and HB 328 Highway Safety/Citizens Protection Act make clear that such identification cards cannot be deemed acceptable for determining a person's identity in the state. HB 318 has been approved by the House and now awaits action in the Senate; HB 328 has not been considered. The bills are focused on illegal immigration. Read coverage of the issue by The Charlotte Observer here.

HB 634 Stormwater/Built-Upon Area Clarification quickly passed the Senate yesterday, after passing the House in April. This bill resurrected a debate from last session over whether the state and local governments should treat gravel-covered surfaces, such as parking lots, as impervious under stormwater laws. The bill would specifically exempt a surface of certain-sized stones laid at least 4" thick over a geotextile fabric from built-upon area calculations, treating the material as if water would run though to the ground below.

The League opposed the provisions and supported instead retaining the current definition of built-upon area codified in S.L. 2014-210 which resulted from extensive study by the Environmental Review Commission. League members with local stormwater programs have concerns over excess stormwater runoff from non-paved surfaces because of compliance requirements of their programs' regulatory mandates. For the purposes of stormwater management, program managers must ensure that appropriate controls are placed on development sites to control runoff from the various surfaces on the site.

Although washed stone, like the one referenced in the bill, can sometimes be considered pervious, all washed stone will still perform as built upon area in just a short amount of time if driven upon. Eventually the surface will easily become compacted and the surfaces will not allow infiltration of water, thereby increasing runoff into the state's waters. League members, who are held accountable for the water quality impacts that result from such of runoff, oppose the exemption of such material from built upon area calculations.

The Senate's version also adds trails (that are part of the state trail system or open to the public) to the list of built upon area exemptions. Because the Senate made this addition, the bill will next go back to the House for a concurrence vote. Contact: Sarah Collins

The Senate gave final approval Tuesday to legislation that will require moped owners to carry insurance. HB 148 Insurance Required for Mopeds now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory to be signed into law. Last year, with backing from the League, the General Assembly approved a measure requiring that mopeds be registered. Read previous League coverage here.
The City of Wilmington has produced a video to laud the value of a state historic tax credit as the legislative fight continues over a state incentive to induce investment in historic properties. The video reiterates, in images and words, many of the points that the League and its member have been making in support of reinstituting a state historic tax credit and House Bill 152 New Historic Preservation Tax Credit. The House incorporated the bill into its budget plan, while the Senate did not include incentives for historic preservation in its spending plan.