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League Bulletin

August 26, 2016

Recent court actions in two North Carolina cases have landed on the municipal radar, staring with a positive development in the case of Duke Energy V. Gray, which dealt with what statute of limitations to apply to an encroachment on a utility easement. While an appellate court had applied a six-year limitation and implied that utilities should improve their monitoring of all easements for encroachments, the Supreme Court in a reversal has applied a 20-year limitation. The League participated in the case as amicus due to interest in protecting muncipal utility easements. Examples of encroachments on utility easements include outbuildings and fences. For cities, the stakes are their access to their own water, wastewater, and electric line easements. The League's brief supported Duke's contention that the lower court misapplied the law, and that easements held for public purposes deserved protection from claims that interfered with provision of that public service.

Meanwhile, a Supreme Court decision in the case of Quality Built Homes v. Town of Carthage may impact municipalities that assess water and sewer impact fees. The court held that the town's impact fees went beyond authority granted in the public enterprises statutes and were therefore invalid. The town's ordinances provided that a final subdivision plat approval triggered the impact fee charges, intended to cover costs of future system expansion. The court determined the related statutes don't give municipalities the power to assess impact fees for future services. It emphasized: "Carthage has the authority to charge tap fees and to establish water and sewer rates to fund necessary improvements and maintain services to inhabitants, which is sufficient to address its expansion needs.... While the Public Enterprise Statutes at issue here enable Carthage to charge for the contemporaneous use of its water and sewer systems, the statutes clearly and unambiguously fail to give Carthage the essential prospective charging power necessary to assess impact fees." The decision, which was unanimous, reversed an appellate court decision that favored the town.

The court also pointed out that the General Assembly, in local acts, has granted some jurisdictions specific impact fee authority and opined that municipalities "routinely seek and obtain" such enabling legislation.

Now considered to be one of the worst national disasters in the U.S., the flooding of Baton Rouge and other cities and towns in Louisiana now leaves a great demand for relief -- including within our counterpart organization, the Louisiana Municipal Association (LMA), which heartbreakingly has a number of staffers left homeless or heavily impacted in other ways. Click here to access a special relief fund. The deadline to contribute is today.

The League reached out to LMA and learned it has received a large volume of calls from municipalities in the state for help and has been working with the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on recovery efforts. The League was saddened to learn as well that 14 members of the LMA staff had lost their homes. In addition, "A number of league staff are unable to work because although their homes were dry, they are surrounded by floodwaters and cannot get to or from their homes. Also, if they were spared, many have family members who were not." That's according to a narrative accompanying the relief fund, set up by the National League of Cities in partnership with municipal associations across the country. The funds raised will be given directly to LMA to help employees who have suffered losses. The donation site, GoFundMe, allows for secure online contributions. Please take a moment to donate.

Don't forget! Registration is now open for the CityVision 2016 Annual Conference in Raleigh, Oct. 23-25. As you might have heard, the League is doing things a bit differently this year -- the Advocacy Goals Conference will be on Sunday the 23rd with cities and towns determining legislative and regulatory priorities for the 2017-2018 NCGA biennium. Attending the Advocacy Goals Conference is the best way to help us better position cities' and towns' advocacy efforts in 2017 and beyond. Make sure your voice is heard and your vote is cast at the Advocacy Goals Conference!

Moving into the CityVision 2016 Annual Conference, you will learn ways to connect success stories to your citizens, community and beyond, adapt to demographic and cultural changes, and grow a strong economic foundation in your hometown. Make one trip, and check off two important conferences on your calendar! Click here to register for both the Advocacy Goals Conference and the CityVision 2016 Annual Conference.

Save the Date! The next joint meeting between League members and Duke Energy to discuss issues surrounding the modernization of municipal street lighting will be on September 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Duke Energy in the OJ Miller Auditorium (526 S. Church St., Charlotte, NC 28202). We will announce a link for registration once available. This meeting will serve as a continuation of discussions that began after the League, in 2013, intervened in the Duke Energy Carolinas rate case before the North Carolina Utilities Commission. Contact: Sarah Collins

The Town of Troy has become the latest of North Carolina's bona fide Main Street Communities, a status reflecting "a series of commitments to restore economic vitality to historic downtown districts," according to a news release from the N.C. Department of Commerce on Thursday. "Downtown districts are vital engines of economic growth, especially in our smaller and midsize towns," said Commerce Secretary John Skvlara. "We congratulate the community leaders in Troy who have made this important commitment to improve the economic well-being of its citizens." Liz Parham, director of the N.C. Main Street & Rural Planning Center, noted Troy's new designation "brings new opportunities for growth. Town leaders now have access to one of the largest networks of downtown revitalization professionals in the United States." 

Troy is the 63rd recognized Main Street Community in the state. These communities must employ a full-time staffer to work solely on downtown economic development, set up a board of directors, craft a plan for downtown development and follow the Main Street Four-Point Approach (organization; promotion; design; economic vitality) established by the National Main Street Center. The League congratulates the people and leaders of Troy on this well-deserved honor. For more information on Main Street Communities and outcomes, read this annual report from the Commerce Department.

A new collaborative has launched to give municipal leaders the tools to tackle the increasingly complex slate of leadership and management challenges in local government. Bloomberg Philanthropies and Harvard University jointly this week announced the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership initiative, which according to a news release will, within the next four years, see participation from as many as 300 mayors and 400 top mayoral aides. "This ambitious effort will generate the world's largest hub of new and customized curriculum, instructional and technology tools -- most of which will be made freely available to the world -- and cases focused on innovative city leadership," said the announcement. The program will also facilitate student internships in mayors' offices and new research on "innovative city government," coordinators added.

"With more and more of the world living in cities, mayors are increasingly responsible for solving major challenges we face, from climate change to poverty to public health," said Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, who is backing the initiative. "But despite the importance of the role, mayors often lack opportunities to learn from experts -- and one another. By giving mayors tools and resources -- and by connecting them with peers facing many of the same challenges -- this program will go a long way toward helping them run cities more effectively." Click here to learn more.

Republicans in western North Carolina have picked a successor for the Senate seat vacated by the recent retirement of Tom Apodaca, the chamber's former rules chairman. The Insider State Government News Service reports that Chuck Edwards, who owns a number of McDonald's franchises, will represent the district in Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania counties. Edwards is a political newcomer, the news service reports. In addition to his restaurant business, he serves as a bank director and is on boards for several local nonprofits and civic organizations. Voters in Senate District 48 this November will select among Edwards and Democratic challenger Norman Bossert.

More than 40 mayors from across the U.S. have sent letters of support for the cities of Wilson and Chattanooga, Tenn., following the recent federal court decision that affirmed state law over local authority on municipal broadband delivery. "As mayors and city leaders who are working to make sure our citizens have access to next-generation broadband, we are writing to express our support and solidarity with your efforts advocating for the ability of all communities to choose the broadband solutions that are right for each of our communities," the group wrote to Wilson Mayor C. Bruce Rose and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. Each town offers superfast Internet service that has helped businesses grow and residents access the web. Recent court action undermines those cities' ability to expand such services.

The mayors represented in the letter, including Salisbury Mayor Karen Kirks Alexander, are part of Next Century Cities, which is made up of public and private organizations working for affordable broadband access in localities across the U.S. While North Carolina and Tennessee have laws limiting how those services may expand territorially, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year issued a ruling that favored local government authority. This month, however, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upended the FCC ruling and decided in favor of states. "We are concerned about the detrimental impact overturning the (FCC's) 2015 ruling will have on community members’ ability to access fast, affordable broadband internet access, and how it will prevent the expansion of your cities’ broadband networks to neighboring underserved communities, as well as what it could mean in communities nationwide." Click here to read the letter in full. LINC'ed IN reported last week that Raleigh recently won a Next Century Cities award meant to help municipal governments link high-speed Internet to better civic engagement.

A statewide campaign to improve safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists is seeing success in cities like Asheville, where police are appearing at crosswalks with a crash history and in high traffic areas to help pedestrians and cyclists, the Citizen-Times newspaper reports. It's part of the Watch for Me NC program, which kicked off Aug. 1 and runs through November. The program is meant to reduce the number of incidents between motorists and people on foot or on bikes. According to the campaign, vehicles hit more than 2,400 pedestrians and 960 bicyclists every year in North Carolina, "making North Carolina one of the least safe states in the U.S. for walking and bicycling." Citing data specific to the Triangle, the campaign says substantial numbers of pedestrian or bicycle  accidents happen at intersections when cars are turning, or in parking lots.

"The Asheville Police Department wants to do our part to ensure that citizens feel safe to walk and bike the roadways within the city," the newspaper quoted of Christina Hallingse, the department's public information officer. "We believe this campaign, and our participation in it, will go a long way to help reduce the number of pedestrian and cyclist collisions that occur within the city." It's the program's second consecutive year there. Last year's effort, according to a report, saw a 27 percent decrease in such crashes compared to the same time in 2014.

Rocky Mount is being recognized as the first municipality in the state to join the Talk it Out initiative, which focuses on underage drinking prevention. A press release from the city on Thursday noted Rocky Mount joins Nash and Edgecombe counties in the multi-year campaign with the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission seeking to educate parents about the realities of underage drinking, emphasize enforcement and better train alcohol permit holders about their role in the conversation. City police cars will display Talk it Out bumper stickers, the press release added. "Our children are starting to drink alcohol for the first time at 14," Rocky Mount Police Chief James Moore said in the release. "Amazingly, the overwhelming majority of the children believe if their parents would have had a conversation with them about alcohol, they would have stopped." Click here for facts and other information about Talk it Out.

Last week's episode of Municipal Equation -- the League's own podcast on the successes, challenges and new ideas orbiting municipalities -- was one of the most favored yet, with lots of listeners (many of them first-timers) sharing it across social media channels. Didn't get to listen? Click here to stream it. To recap, we looked at how the City of Raleigh is shining light on the local music scene with a pro-quality live performance TV show that airs on one of its government access channels and worldwide online -- a project that has helped to "humanize" local government.

The next episode -- click here for a preview -- will land this Tuesday with a focus on the modern challenges confronting local law enforcement agencies: new technology, the need to strengthen trust with the greater public, heightened awareness of active shooter situations, and more. Policing isn't easy, but we'll hear from experts on what's being done within law enforcement to create a new conversation and outlook. That's on the next Municipal Equation. Click here for all past episodes or here to subscribe for free on iTunes.