The League has been working steadily to address members' questions about the recent N.C. Supreme Court decision in Quality Built Homes v. Town of Carthage, which may affect municipalities that assess water and sewer impact fees. For background, click here to read LINC'ed IN's Aug. 26 writeup on the case, which has been sent back to the N.C. Court of Appeals. The League's full focus on the issue included a conference call on Thursday, led by League Associate General Counsel Gregg Schwitzgebel, with municipal attorneys from across the state to discuss interpretation, arguments and next steps in the appeal. The case will receive more attention at the League's annual conference in October, when city and town managers convene their business meeting and breakfast (Oct. 25, 7:30 a.m.).
League officials are also in regular dialogue with affected groups and with legislators to discuss the case's impacts on municipalities and taxpayers in the interest of crafting positive and practical solutions. Meanwhile, the UNC School of Government's Environmental Finance Center (EFC) has scheduled an interactive webinar on the case and its implications for Oct. 11, 2-3:30 p.m. Click here for details and registration. The League is a longtime partner of EFC and has worked with its staff over the years to annually collect information on utility rates, and to periodically collect other information on North Carolina utilities, including impact fees. The League will continue its work with EFC to determine the full potential impact of this ruling on municipal utilities in the state. You may direct questions or comments to League Director of Public and Government Affairs Rose Vaughn Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin (head of table, left) led the meeting in Burlington. Photo credit: Sarah Collins
The League joined officials from the N.C. Office of State Fire Marshal, fire departments, local governments, and community colleges on Thursday for the first meeting of a steering committee to address the decline of volunteer firefighters in North Carolina. The meeting was chaired by Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, who through the N.C. Department of Insurance’s 2016 agency bill (HB 287) requested the steering committee be formed. Commissioner Goodwin explained that the shrinking volunteer force has negative repercussions on local taxes and insurance rates and puts the public and firefighters at increased risk. Click here to read more about the meeting, the first in a series. Contact Sarah Collins if you have input on potential solutions to address the decline.
The latest episode of Municipal Equation -- the League's podcast on local government and great communities -- is out, this time exploring alternate takes on urban planning and suburbia. Click here to listen. Our guest, Joel Kotkin -- a prolific writer of articles and books on urbanism, demographics, city planning and density -- is often at odds with conventional beliefs on planning, the suburbs, millennials' interests and so on. Kotkin, in his latest book, "The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us," argues more favorably for low-density development and thinks the suburbs deserve much more love than they get from planning circles. We hear why on this interesting and challenging episode with the man whom The New York Times calls "America's uber-geographer." We also hear why he thinks local governments should be allowed to decide their own policies with fewer constraints from the state and federal levels. You can find this episode and all past episodes here. Municipal Equation is also available on iTunes and streaming services like Stitcher and Google Play. Have ideas for the show? Send them to host/producer Ben Brown at email@example.com.
Demand is rising for next-generation wireless infrastructure, which is bringing faster Internet speeds, broader access -- and new challenges for local government. That's the focus of a League educational forum scheduled for Oct. 12, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., in the Quorum Center (323 W. Jones St., Raleigh). Where will this infrastructure go? How will it look in relation to existing development? Click here to register for this free event, where you'll learn more about what small-cell wireless technology will look like, how the industry has evolved, what local laws and practices are involved and what other state and local agencies have worked through when negotiating with wireless companies. When registering, please indicate whether you will participate in person or remotely, as this event is accessible via webinar. We will send webinar instructions via email to remote participants the week of the event. For those attending in person, parking is available in the covered deck accessible from Harrington Street (as seen on this map).
The U.S. Department of Labor's new rule on overtime pay -- to which the League has voiced opposition -- would see delayed implementation under a bill the U.S. House passed this week. The development comes amid a lawsuit that a large group of states have filed to block the rule, which is set to take effect Dec. 1 and extend overtime pay rights to millions of previously exempt workers, placing new financial pressure on government employers. Click here for background. HR 6094 Regulatory Relief for Small Businesses, Schools and Nonprofits Act, introduced in the House on Sept. 21 and approved by the chamber on Wednesday, would postpone the rule's effective date six months to June 1, 2017.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) has introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate. On Thursday, he detailed his concerns about the rule. "When I was at home in August traveling around the state, this overtime regulation was the number-one question that came up when I talked to any business owner, any business person, any manager," Sen. Lankford said. The Obama administration issued a statement on Wednesday saying it "strongly opposes" HR 6094 because any delay in the rule's implementation would delay overtime pay to previously exempt workers. "If the President were presented with HR 6094, he would veto the bill," the White House said. The National League of Cities wants to see the rule blocked and offers additional perspective and details on the issue here.
League members and Duke Energy officials met in Charlotte on Monday to discuss issues surrounding municipal street lighting. The discussion included information regarding LED modernization efforts in both the Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas territories, and potential impacts of the fast-changing lighting technology. Participants also received information about industry trends and new products, including the utility's pilot projects for digital banners and "network lighting controls" for LEDs. Duke plans to hold customer focus groups regarding with these potential new products soon. Be on the look out for more information from the League.
The meeting served as a continuation of discussions that began after the League, in 2013, intervened in the Duke Energy Carolinas rate case before the N.C. Utilities Commission. Click here to view the meeting's agenda. Presentations from the meeting will be posted as soon as possible. If interested in options for converting existing street lights to LED or options for new streetlight installations, please contact Duke Energy's regional outdoor lighting managers: Eddie Shaw - Duke Energy Carolinas territory; Dawn Guy - Duke Energy Progress territory.
As several more headlines focused on House Bill 2 this week, House Speaker Tim Moore appeared on Spectrum News' Capital Tonight program and called for gentler dialogue to calm the controversy. He also acknowledged a potential need for changes to the law. "I think it's clear this is an issue that's not going away," Speaker Moore said, though he suggested that a special legislative session prior to the November elections is unlikely. "It's an issue that is going to have to be dealt with next year," after stakeholder negotiations, he said. Speaker Moore added that he preferred to see elected officials, rather than the courts, resolve the issue.
Earlier this week, a large group of investors managing assets worth $2.1 trillion came out against HB2, with one of the investors saying North Carolina appeared headed for "a state-government-inflicted recession." That remark, and others like it, aired at a press conference that some of the investors held on Monday.
Meanwhile, California's government is the latest to change its travel policy over concern for laws like House Bill 2, the Sacramento Bee reported this week. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to prohibit California state agencies and universities from making their employees travel to states where laws like HB2 exist. North Carolina was the newspaper's only named example. The story noted that the bill could affect travel for training and conferences. (On Thursday, Gov. Brown signed another bill to require all single-stall toilets in California to be labeled as gender-neutral.)
Also this week, a News & Observer story outlined work earlier this year by Hendersonville's Rep. Chuck McGrady to make changes to HB2 in a way that, he says, could have saved the recently canceled slate of sporting events here, including NCAA championships. LINC'ed IN reported earlier this month that some Republicans were entering the call for HB2 changes or repeal.
By a wide margin, the U.S. House on Wednesday passed its version of the massive Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, a bill that would authorize economically important infrastructure and environmental projects across the country. With the Senate too having overwhelmingly passed its version earlier this month, the chambers seem ready for negotiation toward a version they can send the president to sign. The National League of Cities (NLC) is among groups urging passage of WRDA. "These water resources projects help grow our national and local economies by creating jobs and strengthening our infrastructure for the 21st century," NLC CEO Clarence Anthony wrote in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ahead of Wednesday's vote in the House, whose version is HR 5303. The Senate's far more expansive version is S 2848. Examples of projects WRDA generally authorizes are flood control, coastal storm damage reduction and environmental restoration. Both versions, for instance, give $70 million to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority, which provides loans to cities and towns. House members also agreed to an amendment that would give Flint, Mich., $170 million to relieve the city's ongoing drinking water crisis, which is less than what the Senate version provides.
The Obama administration wants local governments to give their zoning laws a fresh look. Outdated restrictions on the books might be a factor in income disparities and a drag on the national economy, the White House says. The administration this month published a "Housing Development Toolkit" that highlights what many state and local governments have done to change their housing regulations. Inclusionary zoning, for one, encourages the development of affordable units in new residential areas and had been implemented in nearly 500 local jurisdictions as of 2014. "The growing severity of undersupplied housing markets is jeopardizing housing affordability for working families, increasing income inequality by reducing less-skilled workers’ access to high-wage labor markets, and stifling GDP growth by driving labor migration away from the most productive regions," the toolkit says. "By modernizing their approaches to housing development regulation, states and localities can restrain unchecked housing cost growth, protect homeowners, and strengthen their economies." Politico reported on the toolkit in this article that noted the administration's 2017 budget request includes $300 million in grants to help mayors update zoning language.
The City of Greenville is the latest to give residents better online access to financial data, reports local newspaper the Daily Reflector. Now available on the city's government website is a tool allowing anyone to track revenues and spending. The newspaper quoted Assistant City Manager Michael Cowin as saying it "takes the City of Greenville to a whole new level." Officials there facilitated the project through OpenGov, a Silicon-Valley company focused in part on state and local government transparency. Cowin said its application in Greenville should resolve any uncertainty among residents about how their tax dollars are spent. Open data projects like this recently won recognition for a number of North Carolina municipalities at the recent N.C. Digital Government Summit in Raleigh.
Cary's residents and visitors should sleep easy, according to a new, national analysis at financial website 247wallst.com. "No city is safer than Cary, where just 51 violent incidents were reported last year for every 100,000 city residents -- a fraction of the national violent crime rate of 373 per 100,000 people," the publication reported. It added that while violent crime has risen across the country, it plummeted by more than 17 percent last year in Cary, whose safest-in-the-nation ranking put it just ahead of Irvine, Calif., where prosperity has lent to low crime. "In relatively safe cities, there tend to be more lawful opportunities for residents, which reduces the likelihood of violence," the website notes.
Rutherfordton also caught a superlative this week: N.C. Small Town of the Year. The award, presented on Monday by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, recognized the town's work to modernize and beautify itself for residents, visitors and businesses and to employ online resources to tell the its story. "Rutherfordton realized that connecting with its citizens and the outside world is important," said a narrative about the award. "It has a new brand, marketing collateral, trail guides, street banners, two new websites, new downtown signange and increased social media." It's also one of the safest cities in the state and has National Main Street Accreditation. Read media coverage here.