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League Bulletin

October 2, 2020

​WHAT HAPPENED: State legislators looked at policing reforms and practices. The governor announced the next phase in the state’s reopening. The League signed onto a letter supporting a federal bill to keep 2020 Census operations going. And the state started distributing Powell Bill money.

WHAT IT MEANS: It’s been a busy week at all levels. To simplify things, this Bulletin explains why most municipalities are seeing reduced Powell Bill allocations; what a legislative committee plans to do on law enforcement practices; what’s allowed to reopen as of this evening; and why the census bill is so vital.

ON TAP: Members should register now for upcoming meetings focused on the legislative policy goals of North Carolina cities and towns in the next biennium. These meetings (details in this Bulletin) will give members the opportunity to share and discuss their ideas with each other and League staff.

THE SKINNY: It’s hard to remember what a slow news week feels like. We appreciate your diligence and awareness as you work for the best in your communities.

​Powell Bill payments are being distributed this week, and you might notice lower amounts than expected. Here’s why: In 2019, the General Assembly passed several special “mini-budgets”– including one for transportation, HB 100 DOT Budget for 2019-2021 Biennium. That 2019 budget was reason for celebration as it increased state aid for transit and included a 2020 increase in Powell Bill spending of $7.375 million for municipalities under 200,000 in population, the first increase in years.

The celebration was short-lived. As 2020 got underway, the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) budget story changed dramatically. NCDOT reported increased unbudgeted expenses for natural disasters and legal settlements and, more recently, the added problem of an unexpected loss of revenue from the reduction in gas tax collections during the COVID-19 crisis. In July of this year, the General Assembly was forced to adjust the second year of the two-year transportation budget HB 77 DOT 2020-2021 FY Budget/Governance. (The governor didn’t sign the bill; it became law without his signature.)

So, in July of this year, HB 77 made dramatic changes to a number of transportation funding plans for fiscal year 2021, such as moving $425 million out of the Highway Trust Fund’s new project program and completely deleting 2020 state aid to both rural and urban transit systems. It also deleted the planned annual $7.375 million increase in Powell Bill funds – and further reduced them by a nonrecurring $10.42 million (just for FY21). The total fiscal year 2020-21 Powell Bill amount currently set to be distributed is nearly $132.7 million, which is less than the budgeted amount due to an “unanticipated expenditures” reduction of nearly $4.4 million that NCDOT details on the Powell Bill website.

That is why nearly all municipalities will see a decrease in Powell Bill funds this year, with cuts averaging about 10 percent statewide. A few fast-growing communities may see modest increases, since it is a distribution formula based on mileage and population. We are hopeful that this is a one-time experience and that the next state budget will return to the expected levels of state funds.

​Police and sheriffs took center stage at a legislative study committee meeting Monday that focused on policing reforms and practices. Representatives for police chiefs, sheriffs, and police officers presented their recommendations to the House Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement, and Justice. Additionally, committee members reviewed their own suggestions, many of which would be consequential for municipal governments. The committee plans additional meetings throughout the fall, culminating in recommended legislation for the next session of the N.C. General Assembly. Ideas presented Monday could become part of those final suggestions, and they included the following topics of interest to municipalities.

  • Law enforcement officer (LEO) training
  • LEO mental health support
  • Law enforcement agency accreditation
  • Policing practices, such as use of force
  • Statewide databases for decertified officers and disciplined officers
  • Body camera footage release
  • Citizen review boards
  • Qualified immunity for LEOs
  • LEO hiring practices
  • LEO whistleblower protections
As part of the League’s legislative policy goals planning process for the upcoming 2021-22 legislative biennium, we will be hosting six live, web-based and two in-person meetings. Register now. These meetings (each will cover the same ground; just pick the date that’s best for you) will give members the opportunity to share and discuss their legislative policy ideas with each other and League staff.

Live Webinars

  • Monday, Oct. 12, 10-11:15 a.m.                                  
  • Tuesday, Oct. 13, 1-2:15 p.m.
  • Friday, Oct. 16, 10-11:15 a.m.
  • Friday, Oct. 16, 1-2:15 p.m.
  • Monday, Oct. 19, 10-11:15 a.m.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 20, 10-11:15 a.m.
In-Person Meetings

  • Wednesday, Oct. 14, 10-11:45 a.m. BB&T Ballpark Trust Stadium | 951 Ballpark Way, Winston-Salem, NC 27101
  • Thursday, Oct.15, 10-11:45 a.m. Segra Stadium | 460 Hay Street, Fayetteville, NC 28301
The goal is to receive input that reflects the diversity of our members’ opinions and circumstances. The basic process includes the following steps:

  1. Members submit their ideas for legislative policy goals. Ideas should fit into the League’s overarching policy focus areas, be actionable and be applicable to cities and towns statewide.
  2. The Policy Committee considers all submitted ideas through the lens of the Core Municipal Principles and policy focus areas and submits its suggestions to the Board of Directors.
  3. After reviewing and refining the Policy Committee’s suggestions, the NCLM Board of Directors presents the goals to the entire membership for a vote.
  4. Each municipality casts a single vote on the policy goals and the results are used by League staff, members and legislative leaders to advance the agenda together.
Submit your ideas by Nov. 5. Ideas may be submitted in writing via our online form or can be submitted during one of our live events (more information below). 

When brainstorming appropriate goals, consider ideas that are shared among North Carolina municipal goals. Ideas should also be “actionable," meaning there is a reasonable path for action in the state legislative or regulatory process. Local bills or very specific ideas that impact only one member municipality are not appropriate.

​Revised guidance issued by the U.S. Treasury Office of the Inspector General (OIG) clarifies that local governments that choose to expend Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) money on public health or safety employee payroll expenses will not have to provide additional documentation showing how those employees’ duties changed in response to the global pandemic. Initial guidance from the U.S. Treasury stated that payroll expenses for public health or safety employees were presumed to be an eligible use of CRF funds. However, recent guidance from the U.S. Treasury OIG caused confusion because it seemed to indicate that local governments would have to provide documentation justifying how such employees’ duties had changed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. This revised guidance eliminates that confusion, stating “…the government will not have to demonstrate/substantiate that a public health or public safety employee’s function/duties were substantially dedicated to mitigating the emergency.” Local governments should still be prepared to submit the necessary payroll documentation to the N.C. Pandemic Recovery Office, but they will not have to justify a public health or safety employee’s function or duties when doing so.

The National League of Cities (NLC) has issued a letter, cosigned by N.C. League of Municipalities Executive Director Paul Meyer, urging support for the bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate aiming for better 2020 Census efforts. The 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act – S.4571 – would ensure the U.S. Census Bureau couldn’t wrap up its 2020 Census operations before Oct. 31. While courts have intervened in the Trump administration’s orders to conclude the count early, stakeholders fear undercounts that would hurt communities, whose census numbers determine their eligibility for various funding programs and business prospects. “A rushed census count for cities, towns and villages could mean the full share of $1.5 trillion in federal funding across more than 300 federal programs in the next decade will not be properly distributed as Congress intended under those programs. These funds are allocated based on census data,” the letter from NLC CEO Clarence Anthony states. Read the letter in full.

​Bars, music halls and venues, night clubs, lounges, adult entertainment establishments, arenas, meeting and events spaces, theaters, and amusements parks are among places that may resume business as of 5 p.m. today (Friday, Oct. 2) – but restrictions apply. Under a new executive order creating Phase 3 of North Carolina’s cautious reopening process, bars may reopen outdoor seating areas under reduced capacity limits, for instance. But indoor bar areas must remain closed. Read a FAQ document the governor’s office issued to explain the ins and outs of the new phase and what is allowable at each kind of establishment cleared to resume business under the order. It comes as state officials observe a leveling-out of key numbers being reported in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and they’re urging the public to protect that progress so the state can further reopen. “We must continue our hard work to slow the spread of the virus,” N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a news release detailing current numbers. “By practicing the 3Ws – wear, wait, and wash – getting your flu shot, and downloading the SlowCOVIDNC app, each of us can protect the progress we have made.” 

​The U.S. House on Thursday approved $2.2 trillion for COVID-19 relief with nearly $500 billion for state and local governments. But, having passed on party lines, the bill is not expected to become law. The Hill reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin couldn’t reach an agreement satisfactory to both parties; Republicans favor a version that spends $600 billion less than what hit the House floor on Thursday. No Republican House members voted yes. The news outlet quoted U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as saying he’d “like to see another rescue package. We’ve been trying for months to get there.” Of the talks between Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin, McConnell said: “I wish them well.” Odds do not favor a deal before the election, observers say. Read the full story.