A special legislative session may be just ahead. Gov. Pat McCrory, at an event in Kinston on Friday, appeared to indicate that he would call state lawmakers back to Raleigh for a session that would begin on Dec. 13. Details were not certain at the time of this publication.
But it follows a Wednesday news release in which the governor said he planned to "submit proposals to the North Carolina General Assembly to address in a special session" and that his "major goal in the short term is to help people affected by the storm, especially during winter months."
Public talk of a possible special session began shortly after October's Hurricane Matthew, one of the deadliest storms North Carolina has seen in many years, left parts of the state facing bleak conditions. The governor's office reported an estimate of $2 billion in economic damage from the storm.
League President and Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny (center) hears updates on storm recovery during a Tuesday input session jointly held by the League and NCACC, whose executive director, Kevin Leonard, is pictured at left. Photo credit: Ben Brown
Local government officials from across the state gathered in Raleigh on Tuesday for a final installment of Hurricane Matthew-focused input sessions put on by the League and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. Information gathered at these sessions is being provided to North Carolina's congressional delegation as Congress discusses a relief package for the state. During Tuesday's meeting, attendees provided input on recovery efforts in the interest of the best possible management of future storm aftermaths, and heard vital info that local officials need to know -- including deadlines for assistance. Here's a roundup:
For municipalities located in the 49 counties that have been approved for public assistance, the N.C. Department of Public Safety is encouraging local governments to document any possible damages to public infrastructure and buildings, even if they are unsure if the damage was caused by Hurricane Matthew, and to be prepared to submit this information when requested to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state. FEMA and the state will hold public assistance kick-off meetings to inform local governments about the reimbursement process and filing deadlines. Officials say that determinations as to whether the damage was caused by Hurricane Matthew will be at a later date, but that it’s best to go ahead and include documentation of any damages now, as it is difficult to add it later.
FEMA will be picking up 75 percent of the reimbursement, and the state has agreed to pick up the remaining 25 percent. Municipalities should make residents aware that the deadline for filing for individual assistance is Jan. 9. Residents are encouraged to file for individual assistance (online at disasterassistance.gov) and report any potential claims before the deadline, no matter how small or insignificant the damage may appear. Failure to file and report potential claims on or before Jan. 9 will prevent individuals from receiving any potential compensation later. Residents can go to one of the regional centers or apply online at http://www.ncdps.gov/disaster-recovery-centers, a website that includes unemployment information, food and nutrition assistance, and other resources. Also, municipal officials should emphasize to their residents that they should only use assistance money for its intended purpose. In some cases, residents may receive a housing reimbursement that is intended for the use of making repairs or purchasing a new home. The fear is that some residents might make unwise purchases with these funds, especially with Christmas around the corner, and subsequently wouldn't have the financial resources to take care of their long-term housing needs. Municipalities should additionally communicate with businesses and make them aware that the deadline for filing for physical property damage is Dec. 9, while the deadline for economic injury applications is July 10, 2017. Information on how and where businesses can apply or request assistance can be found at http://www.ncdps.gov/hurricane-matthew/sba-business-recovery-centers, a website that also includes info about small business loans and assistance. East Carolina University’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development is offering assistance to municipalities in the areas affected by Hurricane Matthew by offering grant writing assistance, training and development of municipal staff, technical and financial resources and providing administrative and management support. Click here for info.
The League and NCACC this week issued North Carolina's congressional delegation a letter cosigned by League President Bob Matheny and NCACC President Fred McClure detailing important points of discussion from these input sessions. "Our collective goal is to provide a clear and comprehensive picture of the major needs and suggested next steps that will allow our communities to rebuild," they wrote, adding: "We ask that you seriously consider this information as you have an opportunity to influence the details of a recovery package. In addition, we encourage you to support Governor McCrory’s request for federal assistance. We cannot overstate how critical it is that the needs outlined in the request be met. Our hope is that, with your support, a federal aid package will be designed that provides maximize benefit for our state and residents."
Although the U.S. Department of Labor's (USDOL) new rule on overtime pay won't go into effect as planned -- it was scheduled to go live on Dec. 1, before a federal judge blocked it -- plenty of questions remain. Among them: What now? The League is pleased that this problematic rule, which would extend overtime pay rights to millions of previously exempt workers, has been sidelined as it would have placed unjust burdens on government employers and budgets, which are already constrained by limited revenue sources. But what should local governments do to prepare for what might be coming? As the injunction now on file against the rule is only temporary, the UNC School of Government has issued an explainer that lays out background, how the injunction came to be, what happens next and what employers should do.
The League reported on the rule in May. Basically, it raises the threshold for exempting employees from time-and-a-half pay to $913 per week, or $47,476 per year, which is double the prior level. The clear potential impacts led League leadership to write to federal officials urging a second look at the rule. "We do not think (USDOL) would have issued the final rule in its current form if it had seriously considered the impact on public sector operations and budgets," League Executive Director Paul Meyer and then-President Lestine Hutchens co-wrote. "As you are aware, public sector salaries are constrained by restricted sources of revenues, and cities and towns are required to have balanced budgets which limit their ability to mitigate additional costs." USDOL offers information about the rule here.
The N.C. Rules Review Commission (RRC) recently took the final step to approve regulators' revisions to the state’s stormwater rules. The N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) worked with N.C. Department of Environmental Quality staff to conduct several years of detailed stakeholder involvement that resulted in these revisions. Four municipal stormwater experts took part in stakeholder discussions, which focused on defining technical standards for stormwater control measures as well as creating a fast-track permitting option for these devices (read more background here).
The package also included a substantial reorganization and update of existing stormwater rules, which was prompted by the "review of rules" process, a legislative mandate requiring state agencies to review and potentially change their rules every 10 years. An ongoing issue of the rule package focused on which licensed professionals should be allowed to access the new fast-track permitting process, noting that since plans for stormwater control measures will not be reviewed prior to being built, the submitting professional needs to be competent in stormwater design to ensure the protection of the public and property. Additionally, under their federal stormwater permits, cities and towns are generally required to ensure that stormwater control measures operate in perpetuity. League affiliate organization the Storm Water Association of North Carolina provided detailed advance comments to the EMC that highlighted these issues. Now that the RRC has approved the rules, they will go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.
To help ensure the accuracy of the 2020 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau will again partner with other governments to participate in the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program. The LUCA program will provide an opportunity for designated representatives of local and state governments to review residential addresses contained in the Census Bureau's database prior to the 2020 Census.
This flyer provides more information regarding the LUCA schedule. Mayors should be on the lookout for an advanced notification of LUCA to arrive by mail in January 2017. The accuracy of the census count matters to communities for many reasons, including that the federal government relies on the information for the distribution of more than $400 billion in funds.
Fire-rescue officials from the Town of Zebulon and Wake County gathered at SAS headquarters in Cary to discuss tech solutions. In the foreground is Wake County Fire Services Director Nick Campasano. Seated to his left is Zebulon Fire Chief Christopher Perry. Photo credit: Ben Brown
Municipal officials tasked with managing the roaring growth of so many cities and towns in North Carolina are increasingly finding a friend in the merger of technology and data -- a key piece of the "smart cities" movement. Officials from seven North Carolina municipalities joined heads for advanced brainstorming and problem-solving on Wednesday in an event put on by SAS at the analytics company's Cary headquarters. There, these towns laid out actual problems they're facing today and strategized through a technological lens. One of the participants, the Town of Zebulon, is marked for potentially transformative growth in the coming years as Wake County's Raleigh-anchored hotbed imprint spreads east. Data and technology may merge to help the burgeoning town zero in on the best possible locations for future fire and rescue stations, based on analyses of growth projections, demand, travel time for fire trucks, residential and commercial development permitting, available land, site costs and other factors.
The town like so many others is working to keep up with the growth happening today while positioning for what's coming. Local officials noted that more and more housing developments are in the works there, meaning a greater demand for public services like fire response. Zebulon's challenge in that context is figuring out not only where to build new stations, but also how to add more resources in the ensuing years and to make sure the financial resources -- and public understanding -- are in place. Scientifically supported cases or recommendations for municipal expenses as such may give the public and elected officials alike more comfort when it comes time to approve them.
Efficiency is a goal. The City of Durham, another one of Wednesday's participants, laid out tech possibilities to better monitor government energy comsumption and improve the return-on-investment in energy projects. The Town of Apex explored for smarter water and electricity systems. Morrisville, Cary, Orange County, Winston-Salem and Charlotte also participated in the event, called Envision Carolina. For the most part, it was an exercise to show how local government can smartly problem-solve with data collection, computer analysis, models and wireless opportunities. Further discussion would be required to carry out any solutions crafted at the gathering. Click here to read more about where it started and here for a primer on "smart cities."
Don't miss out on the conversation -- Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast, makes it easy for you to learn the happenings with today's municipalities far and wide, and why they matter. Click here to listen. Each episode is a digestible pack of information, driven by engaging interviews with experts, giving context to what cities and towns are going through in these dynamic times. Want a preview of the next episode? Click here. We'll take on unmanned aerial systems, or drones, and where the intersect with city hall (which was also the focus a recent League educational forum led by Rep. John Torbett, who you'll hear in the upcoming episode). What do drones mean for local government in terms of regulation? What are the rules to fly one? And how might local governments adopt drones for better service delivery? We'll hear from national and state experts, and from a North Carolina town already flying its own drone, in the next Municipal Equation, out on Tuesday.
What did you think of the last episode? Could a mobile city hall work in your hometown? As we heard, the City of Boston has seen a lot of success with a food truck converted into a city hall on wheels, where anyone can access a "menu" of public services and find an easier connection with local government. Now, the City of Durham is giving it a try. Missed the episode? No worries. Check it out here. If you have any ideas for a future episode, contact host/producer Ben Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A federal court has ordered the N.C. General Assembly to redraw state House and Senate district boundaries and hold new elections in 2017. That's to comply with a recent U.S. District Court determination that 28 districts were drawn under racial gerrymandering. News outlets are reporting that the General Assembly has until March 15 to draw new districts. As the News & Observer notes, every legislator whose district is changed will see his or her current term shortened. Under the court order, a primary would be in late August or early September with a general election following in November. Republican legislators Rep. David Lewis of Dunn and retiring Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews released a joint response criticizing the court order. They called it a "politically-motivated decision" that would "effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots, (and) is a gross overreach that blatantly disregards the constitutional guarantee for voters to duly elect their legislators to biennial terms." They plan to appeal in defense of the existing maps, which they argue are constitutional. In related news, a federal court in Wisconsin has struck down that state's legislative district maps as unconstitutional partisan-based gerrymanders. Click here to read about that case.
State revenue collections have beaten projections by $191 million through the first third of the fiscal year, the state's latest financial report shows. A release from the governor's office cites better-than-expected growth in personal income and franchise tax revenues. According to state budget officials, total general fund revenues for October were $46.3 million or 2.6 percent above target. Click here for news coverage.
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