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
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