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League Bulletin

July 31, 2020

WHAT HAPPENED: The U.S. Senate released its latest pandemic relief proposal – without additional funds for state and local government. That’s unwelcome news as communities seek help from the budgetary havoc COVID-19 has created.

WHAT IT MEANS: Urge your members of Congress NOW (contact list) to fight for direct assistance to cities and towns. There’s so much at stake as sales tax and utility revenue streams dwindle. Financially healthy communities are key to avoiding an unnecessarily long recession.

ON TAP: See the action alert below for what to do. Don’t set this aside. Use your voice now.

THE SKINNY: This Bulletin provides you all the points – general to specific – for why cities and towns need direct relief.

​The U.S. Senate has now released its proposal for a new round of COVID-19 relief, and the package DOES NOT include additional funds for state and local government. Instead, the plan leaves cities and towns to fend for themselves when it comes to pandemic-caused budget shortfalls.

Please contact your members of Congress now to urge them to provide direct assistance to cities and towns! Let them know that sales tax and utility revenue streams have been harmed by the economic effects of the pandemic and must be addressed for the economy to recover. 

With the U.S. House already approving a relief package that does include funding for municipalities, it is important to encourage those congressional supporters to continue to stand strong with municipalities as negotiations begin. It is also crucial to let your U.S. senators know that flexibility for previously approved CARES Act dollars is not enough, as the pandemic’s effects continue and economic uncertainty remains. For your convenience, you can find individual contact info here.

Also let them know that:

-Cities are builders of infrastructure that private industry depends on. When cities are forced to cut spending, economic recovery of the state will be delayed. Future growth will be delayed.

-Cities and towns did not cause the situation that they now find themselves in and the resulting shortfalls; a global pandemic did.

-Roughly 30 percent of municipal general fund dollars go toward public safety, and without help, cuts to these services are inevitable.

-Municipalities are the primary providers of water and sewer service to North Carolinians, and those utility funds are suffering due to bill non-payments even as they have fixed costs that must be paid.

For North Carolina to emerge strong from the economic effects of COVID-19, the financial health of cities and towns is crucial. Contact your members of Congress  now to let them know that providing additional, flexible and direct  assistance to municipalities is crucial to the state’s economic recovery!  

(You can also assist in this effort by sending out this short, animated video emphasizing the importance of cities and towns to economic recovery on social media channels and tagging your members of Congress.)

​The National League of Cities is hosting an emergency “Cities Are Essential” campaign call on Monday, Aug. 3, at 1:30 p.m. An announcement says: “Next week is a critical week for negotiations around the next COVID-19 relief package. The current Senate proposal does not include aid to local governments - this is unacceptable, and we must fight to protect the future of America's hometowns. Join us as we share the most up-to-date intel from the Hill and Administration and offer on-the-ground examples to help mobilize your efforts before Congress breaks for recess.”

Register online.

“We need every Cities Are Essential stakeholder to join this call. Together, we can make one last unified push for direct aid to local governments.”

​The ripples of great economies being at the community level – the infrastructure, the supportive services that help residents and businesses flourish -- but with a pandemic dissolving local resources, it’s paramount that Congress support direct apportionments of CARES Act money to municipalities. That’s what League 1st Vice President Karen Alexander, the mayor of Salisbury, told readers of the Salisbury Post newspaper this week in an op-ed that provides local context.

“In Salisbury, we expect sales tax revenue to drop significantly due to business closings and stay-at-home orders,” Alexander wrote, adding that the city’s utility and sewer system saw increases in non-payment and expect occupancy taxes to plummet as hotel stays have fallen 90 percent. “We expect deep departmental cuts and deferring over $1 million in building expenditures. As a consequence, a new $6 million fire station that would replace a 50-year-old station will be delayed. And that means residents and business owners in the area will see a cut in their insurance rates delayed.”

The negative ripples are long-counting as the pandemic persists. Read Mayor Alexander’s full take in her Salisbury Post op-ed.

​Gov. Roy Cooper this week announced a new measure to prevent COVID-19 spread – stopping late-night alcohol sales, effective tonight (Friday).

"With actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 beginning to hav​e impact, Governor Roy Cooper is doubling down on prevention measures with Executive Order 153 stopping the sale of alcoholic drinks in restaurants, breweries, wineries, and distilleries at 11 pm. North Carolina bars that are currently closed will remain closed,” the governor said. “This order will take effect Friday, July 31."

news release from Governor Cooper made clear that the order won't apply to grocery stores, convenience stores "or other entities permitted to sell for off-premises consumption. Local governments that have implemented orders that end alcohol sales before 11 pm or that apply to other entities remain in effect."

Read the news release for full context and this FAQ guide from the governor's office.

​The moratorium in effect since late March on utility shutoffs for nonpayment is expiring, but there’s a lot of uncollected customer charges at this point. Because the executive orders that set the moratorium also required utility operators to open reasonable payment arrangements, the office of Attorney General Josh Stein has issued guidance on how to proceed. A downloadable PDF presents a Q&A style guide based on questions and comments the state has received.
​The Local Government Employees Retirement System (LGERS) Board welcomed new board members when meeting on Thursday. Homer Dearmin, town manager of King, was recently appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper to serve in the “municipal manager” seat and Council Member Allen Buansi of Chapel Hill was reappointed to serve his second term as “municipal official.” At Thursday’s meeting, the LGERS Board also adopted a resolution honoring outgoing board member Sally Sandy (Morganton, City Manager), recognizing her outstanding service. Sandy has served as the “municipal manager” on the LGERS Board since her initial appointment in 2007, and the League appreciates her dedicated stewardship to the pension system that promoted fiscal integrity and balanced the needs of local employees, employers, and retirees.

​Two experienced legislators have announced retirement – House Rules Chairman David Lewis and Rep. Debra Conrad. For Representative Lewis, the second-highest ranking lawmaker in the House, it’s been nearly two decades serving in the General Assembly. “Since 2003, I’ve had the honor and privilege of representing the people of Harnett County, and I’ve taken this great responsibility seriously, offering everything I have and everything I am in service, to improve the lives of my neighbors and our community,” he stated. “I’m proud of the growth both in our great State and within our beloved County, and I know the future of our community is strong.”  

Representative Lewis had been running for another term, but has withdrawn his name from the race. In a statement, cited “new energies and new directions” to pursue, but he plans to serve out his current term.

Representative Conrad, who chaired the House Finance and Banking committees and is in her fourth term, is resigning effective this week, according to reports. But she may remain a familiar face. “Lobbying is one of the exciting opportunities I am considering, as I have too much energy and passion for politics to retire,” Conrad told the Winston-Salem Journal newspaper. “I look forward to being back in Raleigh in a new role next year.”