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League Bulletin

November 10, 2017

Unofficial results from Tuesday's predominantly municipal elections across North Carolina showed an increase in voter turnout from the previous round. While 13.66 percent of voters created 2015's elections results, this year brought out 16.73 percent, or nearly 600,000 ballots cast. But that's statewide, across the 92 counties that held elections. Several individual local races cruised countywide totals well beyond the 20 percent mark in roughly three-dozen counties. And at least eight counties beat 30 percent, with one nearly clearing 40. Mecklenberg County, home of the highly publicized Charlotte mayoral election, generated a 21 percent turnout. Similar circumstances in Wake County saw a little more than 17 percent at the municipal polls. Town of Burnsville council and mayoral races in Yancey County brought out a whopping 40 percent. The State Board of Elections has full results on its website.

In addition to mayoral and council races, some ballots featured some board of education contests, referenda (such as alcohol-sale approvals or parks bonds) and special district elections (primarily sanitary districts). Races in a few counties were not fully reported by the time of this writing, but all results are unofficial until the regular canvass of votes determines final figures. The League would like to thank and congratulate everyone who turned out to cast ballots in local races this year, all candidates who ran for seats, and those elected or re-elected to serve.

A number of localities saw approval of bond initiatives on ballots tallied Tuesday night. A parks and recreation facilities bond in Apex saw a 76 percent "yes." In Harrisburg, 52 percent of the voter turnout passed a transportation bond, while 62 percent disapproved of a parks and recreation bond. A general obligation greenway bond question put to voters in Iredell and Mecklenburg counties saw 67 percent approval. A separate mobility bonds question in the same territory saw a similar spread, as did parks and recreation bonds. (In October, 72 percent of voters in Raleigh approved transportation bonds.)

In other news, several towns voted to allow or expand alcohol sales, with ballot questions focused on unfortified wine, malt beverages, mixed beverages or Alcoholic Beverage Control store operations. Of the 11 municipalities with alcohol expansions possible, two voted against. In Asheville, 75 percent voted against the concept of electing council members by district. Holden Beach voters approved a measure to lengthen town commissioner terms to four years (up from two) with service on a staggered basis.

The League has released its latest Revenue Report – a quarterly update on the League's annual forecast of state-collected local revenues, which is published annually in March. Produced by League Director of Research and Strategic Initiatives Chris Nida, the report examines state-collected local government revenues.

Analysts of the fast-moving U.S. House tax reform plan have found proposals inside that throw a couple pieces of the economic development toolbox into uncertainty. For one, the plan would delete the tax-exempt status of private activity bonds, which state and local governments have used in public-private partnership projects. Examples cited in news reports this week include affordable housing, hospitals and airports. Governing Magazine quoted an official who called these bonds the "logical way" to spark private investments in infrastructure. It's only a proposal, though its appearance has surprised insiders, and it runs counter to messaging from the Trump administration that values private investment in infrastructure.

"Because the interest earned on certain private activity bonds is not subject to federal income tax, investors buying the debt expect lower interest rates compared to taxable bonds," Route Fifty explains of how the tool works. In the same article, that publication reported a second possible elimination in the tax reform plan -- tax exemption for advance refunding bonds, which state and local governments can use to refinance debt at lower interest rates. Separately, on Tuesday, efforts broke down to restore the state and local tax, or SALT, deduction in the tax bill. All of the activity remains in proposal status until passed into law.

Don't miss this program being held around the state for 2020 Census preparation and accuracy. A deadline is ahead in December. The Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program is the once-in-a-decade chance for local governments to double-check and verify the accuracy of the Census address list for their area. An accurate list means a more-accurate Census, which is important for communities' access to various funding and planning resources. A George Washington University study, for instance, found that North Carolina received more than $1,600 per person in federal funds in fiscal year 2015 based on Census data. LUCA participation may maximize the investment in your community. The deadline for LUCA registration is Dec. 15. Anyone planning to attend should complete this document.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened an application period in two competitive hazard mitigation assistance grant programs for which local governments are eligible. Apply for the Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) and Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) grants at through 3 p.m., Nov. 14.
According to FEMA, FMA grants are available to implement measures to reduce or eliminate risk of flood damage to structures insured by the National Flood Insurance Program. For FY 2017, $160 million is available, including $70 million for community flood mitigation activities that address flooding on a neighborhood level, such as floodwater diversion and localized flood-control measures as well as advance assistance for mitigation design and development of community flood mitigation projects.
PDM grants are awarded for all-hazard mitigation planning and projects, such as the construction of community and residential safe rooms for tornados, and wind retrofits, which are enhancements made to strengthen the roof, walls and doors of structures to minimize damage caused by high winds. This year, $90 million is available, including $10 million for federally-recognized tribes. States, tribes, territories, and the District of Columbia may apply for the statutory allocation of up to $575,000 federal share. Visit FEMA for additional details.