Speaking Out: Counting Our Blessings, Thinking on Our Needs

Scott Neisler, NCLM President

In the midst of this holiday season, the cities and towns of North Carolina have much to be thankful for.

When we turn on our televisions or read the paper, we see distressing news from all around the world, and although the global and national economy appears to struggle, we need to be mindful to continue to count our blessings here in the United States. We are fortunate to live in a time of peace and bounty. Most importantly, people still show care and concern for one another. Looking past the news of the day, for many of us, life is good, and we work to make it better for one another. Let’s all remember to count our blessings!

That is what being an elected official is all about—doing the best we can to make our communities, our state, and our nation better for all of our citizens. As municipal officials, we can truly be thankful for the transformational infrastructure money that has come our way, via the federal American Rescue Plan Act, as well as the actions of our NC General Assembly to put the focus on infrastructure. Together, we are working to make investments that will pay dividends for years and decades to come. We know that it is local infrastructure—water, sewer, and roads—that creates the foundation for successful local economies, that allows businesses to thrive and create jobs, and that helps improve everyone’s qualify of life.

Of course, we are all thankful for the services and advocacy that the League of Municipalities provides, and we are committed to keeping an eye toward the future. In looking forward to the year ahead, one challenge that communities continue to grapple with is our transportation infrastructure. It’s no secret that state transportation funding has struggled to keep up with road building, road maintenance and other transportation needs in recent years.

This year, it has been my privilege to be a part of the Duke NC Leadership Forum where our topic has been “Revenue: What is the best way to pay for state and local government?” Transportation funding is on top of the list. Being a part of this group, as well as our area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Charlotte region’s Connect Beyond initiative, I have seen up close how the revenues are not meeting the needs. Currently in the state, we have $9 billion worth of needs with only $5 billion to fund them. Added to this is the fact that in the future, the gas tax will not be enough to pay for our road needs, due to better mileage cars and electric vehicles.

The League remains connected to our cities in working on issues that matter to us. Our legislative policy process has allowed us to hear concerns over transportation from other city and town officials from around the state. Secondary state roads that serve as major local traffic arteries are often far down the list for state improvements, and Powell Bill dollars aren’t enough to keep pace with city street maintenance.

An infusion of federal dollars from the bipartisan infrastructure bill will help, as will the state legislature’s decision to shift some car-related sale tax receipts from the General Fund to transportation spending; however, neither are long-term solutions. It’s quite possible that mileage-based fees and toll roads will be a part of the future.

With all this said, I’m thankful that just like with other infrastructure needs, the cities and towns of North Carolina and your League stand ready in the next year to work with our state and federal partners to address transportation-related infrastructure needs in lasting ways.

And I am thankful for being part of group committed to working to make our communities better in every way.