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League Bulletin

July 17, 2015

The Senate this week approved legislation that will give local governments more flexibility in meeting requirements that primary 911 centers have back-up capability. The Senate version of HB 512 Amend/Clarify Back-Up PSAP Requirements also includes a provision that would achieve a top League legislative priority of preventing municipalities from being additionally charged for county services when those services are already funded through county property taxes. Specifically, the bill would, in many circumstances, prevent municipal taxpayers from paying for the operation of county-run 911 center if those taxpayers' county ad valorem taxes are already going to pay for that operation. The Senate added language so that the protection does not supersede any existing agreements between cities and counties.

The original provisions of the bill dealing with back-up capabilities would prevent any 911 funding from being withheld as long as 911 centers have made substantial progress regarding that capability by July 1, 2016. Last year, the League successfully blocked language in a bill that could have forced municipalities to build costly new facilities in order to demonstrate back-up capabilities for 911 centers. The bill now goes back the House for consideration of the Senate changes. The League would like to thank the bill's sponsors -- Reps. Susan Martin, Jason Saine, Bob Steinburg and Brian Brown -- as well as Sens. Louis Pate and Floyd McKissick for their help on this legislation and for working with League staff on these issues. Contact: Sarah Collins

The president of the N.C. Downtown Development Association told a group of House budget writers this week that a Senate budget provision that would allow citizen-led initiatives to eliminate municipal service districts is unneeded and would disenfranchise non-resident business owners in the districts. Diane Young spoke during a meeting of the House budget-writing subcommittee that oversees the portion of the budget where the Senate provision appears. She noted that, in addition to her role as NCDDA president and head of the Concord Downtown Development Corporation, she and her husband own business properties in the Salisbury downtown municipal service districts. As non-residents, they would be cut out from voting on any ballot measure to eliminate the district.

The budget provision, sponsored by Sen. Trudy Wade, would allow 15 percent of residents within a municipal service district to petition for a ballot measure to eliminate the district, with a simple majority of the residents of the district then able to vote to abolish it. Young said that most downtown municipal service districts, which make up the majority of the districts, have few residents and most of them are renters. Commercial property owners, who pay the district special assessments and utilize their services, typically do not live in the districts. Young also pointed out that current state law sets up specific procedures for the elimination of a municipal service district.

The budget provision has generated lots of media attention. Another article appeared this week in The News & Observer of Raleigh regarding the involvement of Senator Wade's longtime political consultant in disputes with a Greensboro municipal service district and neighborhood association affected by the provision. Read previous League coverage here.

House environment budget writers took public comment during a hearing Wednesday, including from Heather Keefer, an engineer and stormwater expert from the Town of Holly Springs. Keefer, a member of the League's Regulatory Action Committee and the policy committee of League affiliate group the Storm Water Association of North Carolina, focused her comments on a Senate budget provision that would effectively eliminate the State's in-lieu fee mitigation program. The program provides a quick, cost-effective means for public and private entities to compensate for environmental harms when land is disturbed during development.

State and federal laws require developers and governments to mitigate for projects such as water and sewer line installations, road widenings, or new police and fire stations. If a private mitigation bank does not serve an area, the State's mitigation program offers the fastest and least expensive means to comply with these state and federal mandates. In her comments, Keefer also stressed to budget writers the importance of granting local governments the authority to build and run their own mitigation banks, a regulatory goal prioritized by the League members in January. Read more about this budget provision in this month's EcoLINC, the League's monthly environmental newsletter. Contact: Sarah Collins

At their regular meeting yesterday, the boards of the state and local retirement systems unanimously agreed to send a letter to  key budget negotiators in both the Senate and House. The letter (a draft of which can be viewed here) expresses concerns with a Senate budget provision that would statutorily set an investment return assumption for retirement system funding purposes, and then annually reduce that assumption indefinitely. The provision itself can be found on page 442 of the Senate's budget. Among the concerns are that this provision would set an actuarial assumption in statute and remove the boards' discretion to make data-driven decisions about the assumption. The assumed rate of investment return is a key factor, though one of many, in determining how much money the state must contribute to fund the retirement system. The provision only applies to the state and judicial retirement systems, but typically every attempt is made to keep assumptions consistent across all systems, because their funds are pooled together.

The boards yesterday also received an update on legislation affecting the retirement systems. Tony Solari, director of Government Relations for the Treasurer's office, noted that the Senate had passed two of the bills requested by the retirement systems. One of those, HB 277 Retirement Admin. Changes Act of 2015.-AB, includes changes that would ease administrative burdens for local governments and was supported by the League. That bill passed the Senate yesterday and now needs only to be signed by Gov. McCrory before becoming law. Contact: Chris Nida

State Budget Director Lee Roberts told a group of mayors and mayor pro tems in Raleigh on Monday that he believes the legislature will consider a more limited bond package this year. Roberts met with some of the mayors and mayor pro tems who serve on League policy committees as part of a get-together that included discussions with League staff about other legislative priorities and media strategy. In the sit-down with Roberts, he discussed Gov. Pat McCrory's plans for a bond package that includes transportation and state buildings, as well as other budget issues.

Legislative leaders have indicated that they are skeptical of putting a transportation bond before voters in the current budget year, but have been more receptive to borrowing for state building. Roberts made the point that interest rates are likely to rise between now and next year, meaning the costs of borrowing will go up. The League thanks Roberts for speaking to the group and thanks the municipal officials who turned out for the event. Contact: Vickie Miller

With an 82-28 vote, the House gave the final legislative sign-off yesterday on a bill to repeal a process allowing nearby property owners to protest big development changes such as rezonings. The measure, HB 201 Zoning Changes/Citizen Input, now heads to Governor McCrory for his signature. McCrory indicated to The Charlotte Observer last week that he would sign the bill, stating, "Majority rule should be the case in all governments unless they're veto overrides and things of that nature."

The protest petition process had allowed adjacent property owners to force a three-fourths supermajority vote on city council land use decisions such as rezonings. During the House floor debate, two members that were former city council members spoke in favor of the bill, stating that they saw property owners use the protest petition process to unnecessarily tie up unwanted developments for years. Under the rewritten law, these matters would revert to a simple majority vote in all cases. In place of the petition, the law would allow for advance written public comment on any proposed rezoning, which the municipality's clerk would be required to deliver to board members at least two days in advance of any vote. The final version of the bill also removed an amendment added during the initial House consideration of the bill that would have required a 30-day notice of a proposed re-zoning. That amendment created confusion because it conflicted with current law that requires a 10-25-day notice. Therefore, the League supported removal of that provision. Contact: Erin Wynia

A tweaked version of a bill that allows municipalities to effectively recover the costs of incomplete infrastructure received the approval of a Senate committee Wednesday. Local governments use financial security measures, or "performance guarantees," to provide assurance that developers will complete necessary infrastructure improvements for new development. With the language proposed in HB 721 Subdivision Ordinance/Land Develop. Changes, developers may choose the type of performance guarantee from a list that includes surety bonds, letters or credit, or an equivalent measure, which is typically cash.

The League appreciates primary bill sponsors Reps. Rob Bryan and Skip Stam for working with cities to clarify and improve the proposed language in the bill. Before signing off on the proposal, the Senate Judiciary II Committee approved amendments regarding a related performance guarantee issue that would ensure developers completed all public safety-related improvements to newly-developed properties before the local government issued a certificate of occupancy. If approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee Tuesday, the bill would then move to the full Senate for its consideration. Read about previous improvements to this bill negotiated by the League in this April LeagueLINC Bulletin article. Contact: Erin Wynia

Gov. Pat McCrory this week signed into law HB 255 Building Code Reg. Reform, which puts tighter standards in place regarding the conduct of local building inspectors. The bill that the governor signed was substantially improved by League input, both in the House and the Senate. Several potentially harmful provisions related to how residential building inspections are carried out were modified or dropped. Read earlier League coverage of the bill here. Contact: Erin Wynia

A Senate bill that would affect how historic monuments are treated and whether they can be removed, including those on local government property, has been approved by a House committee and could come up for a vote by the full House next week. SB 22 Historic Artifact Mgt. and Patriotism Act received little attention back in April when the Senate amended and then passed the legislation, originally dealing with the treatment of the North Carolina and U.S. flags, over a two-day period. The South Carolina church shooting and the decision to remove the Confederate flag from that state's capital grounds has brought new attention to Civil War monuments throughout the country.

The bill, which could go to the House floor next week, would grant only limited exceptions to allow for the removal of "objects of remembrance" on public property. An object of remembrance is defined as a "monument, memorial, plaque, statue, marker, or display of a permanent character that commemorates an event, a person, or military service that is part of North Carolina's history."

A bill that would allow cities to enforce state rules on the placement of political signs along state roads hit a roadblock this week. HB 613 Clarify Signs on Highways and Roads was removed from the Senate calendar on Tuesday and sent to the Senate Rules Committee after questions were raised about the bill. The legislation would give cities more authority regarding the control of political signs along roadways within their corporate limits. It still falls short of the authority that League members sought last year. A Municipal Advocacy Goal passed for the previous legislative session sought city authority to enforce municipal sign ordinances -- and not simply state rules -- along all roads within municipal boundaries, whether state-maintained roads or city streets.

The fate of the bill is unclear now. Issues around municipal sign ordinances also have been complicated by the recent Supreme Court decision, Reed v. Gilbert, which limits the distinctions that can be made in some local sign ordinances. Read more about that court decision here. Meanwhile, a separate bill approved by the Senate would make clear that a city may require that any signage required by county ordinance to go in a city comply with city ordinances. HB 544 County Sign Ordinances in Cities now goes back to the House after Senate changes.