Last Friday Mayor Bob Scott of Franklin, Mayor Lynda Sossamon of Sylva and I carpooled to Black Mountain for a regional mayors roundtable. The event was sponsored by the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM).
It is good to periodically get off the mountain and meet with mayors from other municipalities. While Highlands might be rather isolated in a remote part of North Carolina, I always find that we share common issues and concerns with other communities. This observation is particularly true while the North Carolina legislature is in session as is the case now.
Marion’s Mayor Steve Little opened the roundtable by expressing concern about pending legislation to change the current state ABC system. His specific concern was the proposed consolation of local boards into single county boards. Every mayor at the roundtable agreed.
NCLM tracks all legislation that may impact municipalities. Will Brooks, a staff member and roundtable coordinator, told us that currently the consolation proposal did not have enough support to pass, and nor does the movement toward privatization. He indicated there would be some adjustments made to current ABC laws, such as permitting ABC stores to be open on Sunday afternoon. I hope the changes only will be options for local boards to consider.
Another big topic was the proposed legislation concerning broadband. All the mayors were enthusiastic about legislation that would allow stronger public/private partnerships for developing community fiber optic networks. We were in the spotlight so to speak since Highlands has been developing a network for the past four years and is now about to start construction. Final passage of this new legislation may well go into next year’s short legislative session. We might have our network close to operation by the time this new legislation is in effect.
The mayors also reviewed several other pending bills. One is HB 399 which would extend the historic preservation tax credits for another four years. This bill is critical to many communities in reviving historic districts that have experienced decline.
Another bill just introduced at the end of the week would modify existing local tree ordinances. The bill, SB 367, is supported by home building and development interests that contend current tree ordinances in many communities are too restrictive. The NCLM supports tree ordinances as a means for local communities to preserve their unique, natural character. Even the Highlands commercial tree ordinance that was approved by the legislature might be affected. The NCLM will track this bill and ascertain its potential impact.
Since last Friday’s roundtable, more legislation has been introduced that might affect Highlands and all NC municipalities. Here we go again with a new bill entitled “Simplifying NC Local Sales Tax Distribution.” We fought this battle back in 2015, but it might be back again. The bill is SB 650 and is being scrutinized by the league. SB 534 brings back proposed billboard legislation.
The NCLM, along with mayors, will continue to track bills that could hit municipal pocketbooks and operations. Stay tuned.
- Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor