The General Assembly in 2021 recorded the longest session on record, but what a fruitful time for our state. Huge amounts of money were put toward local infrastructure that will help improve aging city water systems. This past Legislative Session was a quiet one for most of our cities and towns. In both sessions, your League, through staff and members, spent many hours engaging with our local legislators discussing important policies, working together on local projects, and just plain getting to know one another. More than ever, our state legislators understand that we are all in this together, all trying to better our communities. Many are familiar with city challenges while there are still others that haven’t had any experience with city issues. In effect, our efforts are paying off, but we have more work to do!
There are a couple of issues that bubbled to the surface on Raleigh’s Jones Street this year that all city elected officials and staff should be concerned about. First, several local bills were filed that either would have undermined local land-use planning, restricted extraterritorial jurisdiction or affected local control of water systems. The second was the continuing focus on local governments on the Local Government Commission’s Unit Assistance List. It will always be better for us to self-regulate and come up with common sense solutions with the General Assembly.
Regarding the local bills, Lexington saw bills approved that removed the county airport from the town corporate limits and that restricted zoning on county-owned property within the city where a jail is planned. The Town of Leland, near the southeastern coast, saw a measure approved restricting voluntary annexation as a condition of providing water and sewer service.
It is important to note that the bills affecting Lexington and Leland came about due to some fairly unique circumstances, so this may not represent a statewide trend. At any rate, some of the committee discussions about these bills were troubling. At times, those discussions ignored how local planning, extraterritorial jurisdiction and the provision of water and sewer service all work together to allow for orderly growth and how that orderly growth keeps communities attractive to businesses and new residents.
Two other controversial bills that did not pass include one that temporarily prohibits voluntary annexation in Salisbury and another eliminating extraterritorial jurisdiction in Haywood County municipalities.
As for towns facing financial struggles, legislation was approved that would require more local borrowing approval from the Local Government Commission for those on the Unit Assistance List, a listing of those local governments in financial trouble. The bill comes a year after the General Assembly approved legislation, with League input and support, that provided for more transparency for local government finance, more assistance for the Local Government Commission and more pathways for financially troubled municipalities to work their ways out of trouble. There is no question that the League, state lawmakers, the LGC, the state treasurer and other partners need to continue to work to find ways to help financially troubled municipalities that have little or no resources, as they face a wide range of circumstances, including job and population losses that diminish public and private-sector resources.
Each example of this legislative action demonstrates that we have more work to do to advance the reality that strong cities and towns, created around the visions of local residents, make for a stronger and better North Carolina, and that together we live up to our mission: Working as One. Advancing ALL!