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League Bulletin

July 24, 2020

WHAT HAPPENED: National-audience media continued focuses on how the pandemic is hurting municipal budgets and jeopardizing the ingredients for economic health, with the Washington Post highlighting North Carolina specifically in an article that quotes League Executive Director Paul Meyer and others here. It’s so important to stay connected to your members of Congress to emphasize the need for immediate federal aid.

WHAT IT MEANS: It’s all about the data, and it’s grim. We’ve updated our memo​ projecting hard-to-stomach losses among municipalities as the pandemic affects revenues. In your conversations with federal lawmakers, share data-supported stories from your town for a clear understanding. 

ON TAP: We’re still waiting on plans from the U.S. Senate for relief as of this writing. 

THE SKINNY: Read below for the fleshed-out story. The effects are real. Cities and towns are the economic drivers of the state and nation, and their health at home is key to avoiding serious, recession-prolonging ripple effects.


NCLM Executive Director Paul Meyer is quoted in a Washington Post story published this week on the pain felt in the municipal government utility coffers of North Carolina under COVID-19 consumer impacts. The story, titled, “In North Carolina, unpaid electric and water bills are driving families and cities to the financial brink,” points out that as many as 1 million families in North Carolina have fallen behind on utility bills. The municipal governments that operate utilities are subsequently in budget crises and need emergency aid quickly. “We are entering a phase where the utilities [may] be able to shut off power, but what was propping up people’s economic lives, the unemployment benefits and Cares Act support, won’t be there,” Meyer told the Post. 

The League, across social media, letter-writing and in-person meetings, has pressed Congress for emergency relief funds to avoid rippling consequences from unstable utilities and other budget concerns. But federal lawmakers haven’t unified on such an authorization. Please stay connected with your members of Congress on this urgent need; share data from your city or town for a clear understanding. The Post article looks at specific North Carolina towns, like Elizabeth City and Red Springs, where local numbers paint the picture. Read the full article. Meyer was also this week featured in an audio interview with NC Policy Watch on the matter. 

WLOS also reported this week on the overall revenue-loss crisis for local governments, quoting mayors from around North Carolina, including League Vice President and Salisbury Mayor Karen Alexander. Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer warned of layoffs, while Kinston Mayor Don Hardy predicted severe impacts on smaller towns. Read the full piece.


The League has updated its memo detailing COVID-19 related revenue losses on cities and towns, with conservative estimates, based on a variety of sources, covering the remainder of the fiscal year. The total projected lost revenue through that point is $599 million. “If N.C. returns to stricter stay-at-home orders, or the economic effects of the pandemic worsen or linger into the second half of 2021, municipalities will need more money to offset accompanying revenue losses.” View the full memo​


​It’s not just the cities and towns themselves that understand the dire financial situation that will take hold should local governments be left out of the next aid package. Private sector leaders are also aware, and they’ve sent a letter urging federal lawmakers to provide relief to our cities and towns. 

From the letter:

"As we are sure you are aware, those effects include the choking of revenue streams that fund infrastructure vital to a healthy economy and crucial to economic recovery moving forward. Road construction and maintenance, public schools and other educational buildings, water and sewer facilities, and numerous other public works create a foundation on which private-sector activity flourishes. Without that foundation, economic recovery will be delayed. Jobs across the construction and associated industries will be lost."
Gov. Roy Cooper announced last week he would not extend the utility shutoff prohibition created by Executive Order 124. That order "will be expiring at the end of this month," the governor said in a letter last Friday to utility providers, "but I want to stress that the section of the Order pertaining to repayment plans of at least six months will remain in place. I encourage you to reach out to your customers not only to set up these plans, but to also connect them with any available relief that can help them avoid utility disconnections." Read the full letter.

The UNC School of Government has scheduled a free Zoom webinar on July 28 at 1 p.m. to examine what’s ahead on this. “We’ll talk about disconnections, late penalties, and payment plans,” an announcement says. A look at the financial impact data is also planned. Registration is required. Click here for more details

As discussions regarding additional aid to local governments continue at the federal level, municipalities can be taking steps now to ensure they are able to utilize funds they receive from the previously passed CARES Act. Counties should have already received or will soon be receiving their second allocation from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), which was passed as part of the CARES Act. The N.C. General Assembly appropriated a total of $300 million – approximately 8 percent of the total CRF money received by the state – to counties with the requirement that counties pass on at least 25 percent of their total allocation to the municipalities within their borders. Municipalities are encouraged to contact officials with their county now to discuss how the county plans to distribute funds to municipalities and other ways that the county can assist with fulfilling certain requirements. For instance, municipalities must submit a plan for how they plan to spend their allocated money to the county so that the county can submit plans to the state by Sept. 1. Any municipality that does not file such a plan by Sept. 1 risks losing its allocated funds. Counties and municipalities may also wish to enter into an interlocal agreement regarding CRF funds. Additional information, including FAQs on eligible CRF expenses, presentations from N.C. Pandemic Recovery Office (NC PRO) staff, and more can all be found at the NC PRO website.


​An article on WRAL this week looks at broadband through a COVID-19 lens to highlight the need for good policy, like the FIBER NC Act introduced in the last General Assembly, to expand access to the Internet as many communities go unserved or underserved. “People rely on the Internet everyday for not only communication, but access to education, healthcare, and employment,” the piece says. “The reliance on the Internet for these things has only increased as people have been forced to quarantine and places of work and business have closed their physical doors.” It also quotes of Rep. Josh Dobson, “Internet is essential to function, it’s no longer just a luxury to have. It's essential. It's crucial. It's crucial for healthcare, it's crucial for the school systems." Rep. Dobson was a sponsor of the FIBER NC Act, which would give local governments flexibility to partner with private providers to connect those underserved areas with high-speed Internet. Read the full piece. See also this op-ed published in the News & Observer pushing better broadband through a schools and remote-learning angle.