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League Bulletin

August 5, 2016

The N.C. Court of Appeals has backed the state's rejection of a  2014 insurance industry request to raise homeowner insurance rates by a statewide average of 25 percent. Instead, after rejecting the request in December 2014, State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin had ordered a 0.3 percent average decrease. The appellate court on Tuesday agreed with Commissioner Goodwin's conclusion that the insurance industry, represented by the N.C. Rate Bureau, hadn't shown substantial data to back its request for an increase. The commissioner had also noted that a rate-hike had just gone into effect the year before. The Rate Bureau, meanwhile, contended that despite that increase, which came in 2013 and averaged 7 percent, homeowners' premiums remained inadequate to cover risk.

The Rate Bureau took the disagreement to court, unsuccessfully, per Tuesday's ruling. "The evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's critical findings and ultimate conclusions," the court found. "This action will save homeowners hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance premiums," Commissioner Goodwin said in a statement. Rate-increase cases usually come every couple of years and often create most worry for property owners in coastal communities, seen by the industry as most at risk to seasonal storm damage and subsequently slated for higher increases. The appeals court's decision doesn't mean individual communities won't see rate increases; some western North Carolina communities, for instance, may be in line for higher premiums, reports the Asheville Citizen-Times. Click here and here for more news coverage.

The League on Thursday released an in-depth 2016 End of Session Bulletin detailing the accomplishments of cities and towns during the past legislative session, as well as the legislation and issues affecting them. The 44-page document includes summaries of dozens of bills that the League lobbied during the session. As the Bulletin makes clear, the successes during the 2016 session were made possible only because of the advocacy of League members. The League staff thanks all of our members for their hard work and many endeavors to pursue favorable outcomes before the Legislature this year.

An extended application deadline is giving municipalities in western North Carolina another shot in a new grant program geared to provide free WiFi to downtowns. The Downtown Free Public Wi-Fi Access Pilot Grant Program, from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the state Broadband Infrastructure Office, is now accepting applications postmarked no later than Aug. 12, according to a N.C. Department of Commerce newsletter. "Making Wi-Fi available in downtowns will enhance prospects for bringing new businesses and jobs into the region's smaller towns and counties," Dr. Patricia Mitchell, N.C. Commerce Assistant Secretary for Rural Development, told ARC members in June. "We hope it will also help keep young homegrown talent from leaving these communities for larger cities." Grant investments will range from $10,000 to $50,000, according to the program. Municipalities and nonprofits in the 29 western counties under ARC's jurisdiction may apply. ARC reserved $300,000 in federal money for the program, which requires matching funds. The General Assembly has marked $254,000 for ARC distressed counties. Application forms and guidlines are available here.

Is there value in training elected officials for town management? If so, is it worth budgeting for? For sure, according to remarks in a recent news article that highlights League and UNC School of Government (SOG) offerings that can help public officials do their most with their roles. "It is our opinion that attendance to these types of training classes is an effective use of town money,” the Asheboro Courier-Tribune quoted a state treasurer's office spokesperson as saying. The newspaper took on the topic this week in a report noting that state law only mandates ethics training for elected officials, with any other form of training optional. But those options, including training offered by the League and SOG, can give officials advanced knowledge and insight in a variety of specific areas. SOG Chief Counsel Dr. Frayda Bluestein pointed out how the League's upcoming annual conference -- CityVision 2016, Oct. 23-25 -- will give elected officials a key opportunity. "Our general sessions are focused upon subjects which will help elected officials do their jobs,” League Director of Public Affairs Scott Mooneyham told the newspaper. Click here to read the full article.

A federal appeals court has denied a request from state leaders to stay the ruling that struck down North Carolina's voter ID law. The state sought the stay pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. That's according to the Associated Press, which on Thursday reported that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that preventing harm to voters is a higher priority than granting a stay. Federal judges last Friday struck down the 2013 voter ID law after concluding the legislature passed it with "discriminatory intent" against black voters, though legislators who crafted the law said it was a protection from voter fraud. According to the AP, attorneys seeking the stay in the ruling's enforcement may pursue other legal options.

The corporate income tax rate in North Carolina will tick down a full point to 3 percent beginning in 2017. That's as state tax revenues have surpassed a threshold set in a law that triggers reductions when met. According to state budget officials, collections were $21.3 billion, or more than $300 million above the trigger threshold. "This will be less than half the 6.9 percent rate paid by North Carolina businesses in 2013," Gov. Pat McCrory's office reported in a statement this week that laid out expectations of business and jobs growth per the reduced rate. According to the governor's office, the 3 percent rate will be the nation's lowest among states with a corporate income tax. Law also calls for a reduction in the personal income tax rate to 5.499 percent in 2017. That's down from 5.75 percent.

Episode Four of the Municipal Equation podcast is out! Click here to listen. This time, we journey into the psychology of moving from place to place in search of the perfect town or city to settle down in -- if there is such a thing. Sometimes, it comes with finding creative ways to build a relationship with your locale -- a topic of research with huge insights, not only for residents of any town but for local public officials as well. "I think there are a lot of ramifications for municipal governments," says our guest, Melody Warnick, author of a new book, "This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live." You can listen to the episode over and over again and still find new takeaways. Find this and past episodes here, and click here for your free iTunes subscription (and please leave a good review). Municipal Equation is the League's own podcast addressing the challenges, solutions and new ideas orbiting municipalities and their residents. If you have an idea for a show -- perhaps highlighting unique work your town is doing to improve quality of life or efficiency -- email League Advocacy Communication Associate Ben Brown.

Residents and police officers across North Carolina banded together on Tuesday in celebration of National Night Out, an annual event promoting friendship and partnership between police and the communities they serve. Put on by the nonprofit National Association of Town Watch, National Night Out is meant to boost spirit and improve neighborhood safety, which news outlets across the state captured in reports. “You get to know the law enforcement on a relaxed basis, you get to chat with them, we’ve got law enforcement serving popcorn and pickles. It’s another time for them to see law enforcement in another light," the Kinston Free Press quoted of Kinston Police Department Community Coordinator Lidia Guzman. In Asheville, police and organizers threw a block party, gave out souvenirs and put on a K-9 demonstration, according to WLOS. "One of the things I've found in this neighborhood is we all look out for each other," the news outlet quoted of recently arrived resident Tammy Casper. Over in Pilot Mountain, the rain cleared away in time for a good-size crowd to gather with local police for food and fun, the Mt. Airy News reported. “It’s to help give back to the community, to show people that we aren’t as bad as they might think we are,” the newspaper quoted of Mike Horn, a Pilot Mountain Police Department part-time officer. According to the article, one of the most enjoyed parts of the town's National Night Out festivities was "Dunk a Cop," in which kids had the chance to hurl balls at a bullseye that, when struck, would send a local police officer into a tank of water. Click here for more media coverage and here for more about National Night Out.

Could Charlotte become a major league soccer city? Bob Morgan, CEO of the Charlotte Chamber, thinks so, according to a report in the Charlotte Observer this week. According to the newspaper, Morgan pointed to a friendly game the city hosted last Saturday between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan that drew more than 50,000 people. "Soccer is but one example of part of a broader culture, one of a city and a region that is forward-thinking, and that is and will continue to attract companies and people," the article quoted of Morgan.

The League's Government & Public Affairs team said a warm goodbye to summer intern Bailey Recktenwald last week. In her internship at the League, Bailey learned about the legislative process, the workings of municipal government, and local politics. She also took a deeper dive into an area of special interest, GIS, assisting the team with multiple online mapping projects. This fall, Bailey returns to UNC-Chapel Hill, where she is a sophomore studying geography and public policy. Best wishes to Bailey for her bright future!