Ordinance Enforcement Basics

Community development activities may include public nuisance abatement or code enforcement of one kind or another.  It is therefore helpful for community and economic development professionals to know the steps that local governments may take to enforce their ordinances. This blog post describes the basic enforcement options available to cities and counties. Continue reading “Ordinance Enforcement Basics”

Local Government Financial Resilience and Preparation Before a Natural Disaster

This year’s U.S. Atlantic hurricane season is officially the most expensive ever, amounting to $202.6 billion in damages across the Atlantic basin. This record-breaking hurricane season brought some of the most catastrophic storms in recent memory. As Hurricane Katrina reshaped New Orleans in 2005, the destruction induced by Harvey, Irma, and Maria will have lasting consequences for cities and towns in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The devastation is likely to be even more long-lasting for many of the hardest hit small islands across the Caribbean. And hurricanes are not the only natural disasters with a hefty price tag; drought, freezing temperatures, severe storms, wildfires, and winter storms cause billions of dollars in damages every year.

As a result of rapid urbanization, climate change, and increases in population and material wealth continue to mount, municipalities are becoming extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, making it necessary for local governments to become more resilient to catastrophes. Natural disaster resiliency often focuses on the built environment and hazard mitigation, but what about weathering the storm from a financial perspective? The following tips can help a local government be financially resilient in the face of a natural disaster: Continue reading “Local Government Financial Resilience and Preparation Before a Natural Disaster”

Tick Tock! The Clock Is Now Running for Zoning Enforcement

Jimmy lives on a large lot in a residential area of town.  Back in January 2013, he started a small auto repair shop in the garage behind his house.  You can hardly see the shop from the road because of the house and topography, but Jimmy did post a small sign near his mailbox to direct folks around to “Jimmy’s Auto Repair.” The town’s zoning enforcement officer saw the sign in September 2013.  The zoning ordinance prohibits auto repair in residential districts, so the officer sent a letter to seek compliance. Because of limited staff, many other zoning matters, and the lack of complaints about Jimmy’s operation, the zoning officer has not pursued enforcement any further.  This year a new neighbor moved in next door, saw and heard the auto repair shop, and called the town to complain.  Can the town now enforce the zoning ordinance against Jimmy’s commercial business in this residential area?  The law on this is changing.

A new law sets specific statutes of limitation for land use enforcement litigation.  This blog explores the new limitations and practical considerations for moving forward.  The new law may spark local governments to initiate additional zoning enforcement actions over the next year (in anticipation of the law’s 2018 effective date) and to take a more proactive stance on zoning enforcement generally.

Continue reading “Tick Tock! The Clock Is Now Running for Zoning Enforcement”

Studying the Affordability of Water Rates

The affordability of water and wastewater rates is an issue that is attracting more attention than ever. In particular, “A Burgeoning Crisis? A Nationwide Assessment of the Geography of Water Affordability in United States”—a recent paper out of Michigan State University— has generated a great deal of debate and dialogue about the issue. The paper is worth reading for yourself, but the primary conclusion of the paper is that over the next five years, at least 35.6% of the U.S. population will have combined water and wastewater bills greater than 4.5% of their community’s median household income. Continue reading “Studying the Affordability of Water Rates”

Leading development projects through text messages and skype?

In the community and economic development field, regional and statewide organizations are commonplace. In North Carolina, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina is a statewide economic development agency with regional industry representatives in all corners of the state. The North Carolina Department of Commerce maintains offices throughout the state.  Smaller economic development organizations may broaden their reach by having some employees live closer to the location of projects and further from headquarters. Even here at the School of Government, some employees are granted the option to work from remote or home offices.

Having staff members dispersed across large geographic areas far from headquarters creates challenges for leaders, who must set a vision for the organization, incorporate location into work assignments, monitor work from afar, and ensure staff remain motivated. The culture and morale of the organization often depends on the communication and relationship that is established by leadership, but attempts to create positive work environments can be challenging in an era when work may not be done in the same physical office.  As flexible work schedules and telework become a new standard, leaders must consider how they will adapt.    Continue reading “Leading development projects through text messages and skype?”

Fighting Blight with Property Tax Bills

How can a city more effectively fight blight—vacant, abandoned, and dilapidated housing? The city of High Point tried to find some answers last year with help from the Center for Community Progress and the UNC School of Government.

My economic development expert-colleague Tyler Mulligan and I were honored to play a part in this extensive effort that included a variety of city departments, Guilford County officials, and neighborhood organizations. Tyler focused on how best to navigate housing code enforcement law. My focus was on how best to use property tax collection remedies to recoup housing code enforcement costs.  You can read the full report produced by the Center for Community Progress here; today’s blog summarizes the relevant property tax collection issues.

My best advice to High Point and other cities combating blight was simple: use your property tax bills! Continue reading “Fighting Blight with Property Tax Bills”

May a City Mow an Overgrown Lot without a Court Order?

The Town of Manicure has been working hard to revitalize the historic neighborhood adjacent to downtown. As part of the effort to improve conditions in this and other neighborhoods, the town has been more vigilant in enforcing its overgrown lot ordinance, which prohibits property owners from allowing grass and weeds to grow above 18 inches in height. Whenever the town’s inspection department verifies that grass and weeds on property located within the corporate limits are more than 18 inches high, the owner receives a citation informing her that, if she doesn’t bring the lot into compliance within 15 calendar days, town employees will mow the lot and bill the owner for the cost of corrective action.  The town routinely follows through on such warnings without first obtaining a court order authorizing the action taken.

May the town mow a noncompliant lot without first obtaining an order of abatement from the appropriate court? Continue reading “May a City Mow an Overgrown Lot without a Court Order?”

What is the “special character” of the historic district?

After a city or county establishes a historic district or historic landmark, the local historic preservation commission is authorized to prevent certain changes that “would be incongruous with the special character of the landmark or district.”  But, what is the special character? And what is incongruous with it?  This blog reviews applicable laws and cases to outline the procedural requirements for establishing the special character (through formal report, ordinance description, and design guidelines) and subsequently determining whether a particular change is incongruous (through a quasi-judicial evidentiary hearing). Continue reading “What is the “special character” of the historic district?”

Reshaping Suburban Spaces

There is no constant in community. Population ebbs and flows; market preferences shift; the economy fluctuates. Each community evolves. In many suburban places across North Carolina—indeed, across the U.S.—that evolution includes a move toward more density, more mixed uses, and more connected neighborhoods. Communities are grappling with questions about how these places will change. What is the local government’s role in this transition? How does a city or county encourage the redevelopment of suburban spaces? And what are the practical and political implications?

A new School of Government report, Reshaping Suburban Spaces, considers these questions and explores how communities across North Carolina are responding. Continue reading “Reshaping Suburban Spaces”

The Tortoise, the Hare, and Demolition in Historic Districts

216peytonA few blocks from downtown in the town’s historic district sit two houses built in the early twentieth century: the Hare House and the Tortoise House. The houses retain their historic elements and contribute to the architectural character of the neighborhood. While the houses have seen better days, they are not falling in.  At least not yet.  The houses are on the path toward demolition, just at different speeds. For the Hare House, the owner wants to tear the thing down. Now.  As for the Tortoise House, the years without maintenance are starting to show.  The slow process of demolition by neglect has begun, and without some maintenance soon it will be beyond repair.

What, if anything, can the town do to avoid the demolition of these historic resources?  Can the town slow down the speedy demolition of the Hare House? And can the town speed up maintenance to avoid the slow-motion demolition of the Tortoise House?

This blog explores two options under the authority for local historic preservation: (1) delayed certificates of appropriateness for demolition and (2) ordinances to address demolition by neglect.  Continue reading “The Tortoise, the Hare, and Demolition in Historic Districts”

Financing Energy Efficiency for Municipal Electric Utility Customers in North Carolina

Energy efficiency finance programs can help electricity customers to save money on their electric bills, have more efficient homes and offices to live and work in, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy production, and promote workforce development, job creation, and economic growth in local communities which may be very much in need of these benefits.

In the Old North State, electricity customers are generally served by one of three kinds of utilities: Investor-owned utilities (IOU’s), co-operative utilities (co-ops), and municipal electrical utilities (munis). As part of the its energy and sustainability financing programs, the Environmental Finance Center at the UNC School of Government is now working on the Rural Community Energy and Economic Capacity Building Program, funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI), to research and develop ways to help electricity customers in three small towns in northeastern North Carolina to have greater access to energy efficiency (EE) financing alternatives. Two of these three towns have their own municipal electric utilities.

This brings us to the key questions of this blog post: What are utilities already doing in North Carolina to promote and finance EE for their customers? What other alternatives exist? And why does this matter in the first place?

Continue reading “Financing Energy Efficiency for Municipal Electric Utility Customers in North Carolina”

Evictions: A vicious cycle for people in poverty

Evicted_bookcoverUSETHISMatthew Desmond has authored a scrupulously researched, stimulating and compelling book that should be of interest to everyone in the apartment industry, every low-income housing advocate, any student of American neighborhoods and every public official.

Examinations of urban poverty are nothing new, but this study of the causes and consequences of evictions on families, housing quality and the fabric of neighborhoods is innovative, thought-provoking, and readable. The author looks to bring this overlooked aspect of American poverty and inequality to a broader audience. Continue reading “Evictions: A vicious cycle for people in poverty”

New Property Tax Exclusion for Developers

The start of the 2016-2017 fiscal year will bring with it a new property tax exclusion aimed at residential and commercial development.  Known informally as the “builders’ inventory” exclusion, the new law was passed as S.L. 2015-223 and will be codified as G.S. 105-277.02.

In today’s blog, I offer a quick overview of the new exclusion and highlight some issues that developers need to keep in mind if they intend to benefit from it. Continue reading “New Property Tax Exclusion for Developers”

Coordinating Staff Efforts for Development: Mixed Expectations and Missed Opportunities

ExpectationsYou are excited about a new grant possibility for the city to help with a business incubator initiative on which you have been working. You realize that you need to start getting the application together because you are certain that this grant will soon become a city priority.  You and a colleague, Avery, are talking about the work that needs to get done and Avery volunteers to “get you a draft of the background section soon.”  You think this is a great plan as you have been looking for ways to help develop and empower Avery.  As you think about this section of the report you quickly picture key maps about possible incubator locations, the number of small businesses in the community, figures on business retention efforts, annual enrollment in the community college entrepreneurship program, etc.

If Avery sends you a draft background section by early next week, you will be able to integrate it with other sections of the application, which you plan to work on during the remainder of that week.  However, Monday comes and goes with no word or emails from Avery.  The same happens on Tuesday.  On Wednesday you decide that you will have to follow-up, but you get pulled into meetings for the rest of the day and don’t get a chance to send an email or place a call.  Thursday morning, as you drive to work, your concern about getting the grant application finished on time and your frustration with Avery is mounting.

You open up your email inbox and see an email from Avery with the subject line “draft.”  You breathe a sigh of relief … until you open the email.  There is no attachment and none of the detail you had hoped to see—just an outline and a few basic paragraphs about the city.  You walk into Avery’s office, fuming, and ask, “What is the meaning of this, I was counting on you to do what you said and get the background section written for this grant and now I have waited days after we agreed and you sent me nothing more than an outline.”  Avery looks somewhat astonished and says, “I do not understand why you are upset. I said I would get you a draft and I did.”

Who is at fault? Continue reading “Coordinating Staff Efforts for Development: Mixed Expectations and Missed Opportunities”

City of Greensboro’s SC2 Challenge Yields Six Innovative Comprehensive Economic Development Plans

SC2GreensboroThe City of Greensboro made history becoming the first city in the United States to award $1 million in a prize challenge for economic development. Joining a select group of cities to administer a prize challenge in collaboration with the federal government (White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities, Economic Development Administration), the “Gate City” announced the winner of the competition’s second phase August 17, 2015 Read more and watch the news conference video.

A strategic economic development plan developed by a local team of educators and business professionals was awarded $500,000 for first place in phase two of the City of Greensboro’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Challenge prize competition. Their plan for a Global Opportunities Center was one of six to make the final round of consideration. Continue reading “City of Greensboro’s SC2 Challenge Yields Six Innovative Comprehensive Economic Development Plans”

Reimbursement Agreements

A developer in town is seeking approval for a large new real estate project. The zoning and subdivision ordinances call for the developer to construct and dedicate public streets and parks and water infrastructure. But, the city has plans for some additional improvements adjacent to the development—a greenway on adjoining property and some intersection improvements nearby. The developer’s contractors will already be on site, grading land and constructing improvements. Could the city just pay the developer to build the city’s improvements, too?

The answer is yes. But, of course, there are limits and procedural requirements. Cities and counties may enter into agreements for certain improvements—beyond those required as part of the development approval—to be made by a developer. The General Statutes include overlapping authority for contracting for public enterprise improvements, roadway improvements (cities only), as well as general reimbursement agreements. This blog outlines the basics of those overlapping authorities. Continue reading “Reimbursement Agreements”

U.S. EDA Resources Help Communities Build the Local Ecosystem for Sustainable Economic Development

EDA logoIt takes a multitude of resources, dedicated professionals, and committed organizations to promote economic development. Successfully realizing the economic potential of a place requires doing the hard work of leveraging all existing regional assets to build the environment, or ecosystem, where business can flourish, jobs are created, and citizens prosper. It is this integration of assets, resources, best practices, and complementary actions that energizes a region’s economic potential. Continue reading “U.S. EDA Resources Help Communities Build the Local Ecosystem for Sustainable Economic Development”

What are Tax Abatements and What Must State and Local Governments Disclose in Financial Reporting?

AccountingThose of a certain age probably remember Steve Martin’s The Jerk, where Martin played the hapless character Navin R. Johnson. Of the countless memorable lines in the movie, one that always stands out is his excitement when the postman drops off the new phone books. “The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!” he exclaims as he rushes out of the house to collect his prize. It is doubtful, unfortunately, that the annual issuance of state and local governmental financial statements would have elicited the same level of excitement for Navin. However, for the avid users of these financial statements, the release of new financial reporting standards may be equally exciting. This post explores new financial reporting requirements for local governments related to economic development incentives. Continue reading “What are Tax Abatements and What Must State and Local Governments Disclose in Financial Reporting?”

Annexation Agreements for Economic Development – Not an Option

The City of Promiseland has been in discussions with a developer about a property just outside the city that is perfect for a small business center. The city is willing to extend water and sewer services to the property, and according to the city’s policy, will require the developer to petition for annexation. The property is subject to county zoning (currently, agricultural and low density residential uses), so the developer will expect the city to annex the property and rezone it for commercial use. The developer also wants to make sure the annexation takes places as soon as possible in order to take advantage of the inside rates for water and sewer, and the other city services that will be necessary for the project to be marketable. The lawyers are ready to put all of these conditions into a development agreement along these lines: City agrees to annex the property, rezone the property and extend water and sewer services and other services under existing city rates and policies; developer agrees to petition for annexation, apply for rezoning, and construct the project according to the parameters set out in the agreement. There’s just one problem: This agreement is not legally enforceable in North Carolina because the city’s promises to take legislative action are not binding on the board that made them or on any future boards. Continue reading “Annexation Agreements for Economic Development – Not an Option”

Economic Development via “White Hat” Hacking? 2015 Statewide Conference – CityCamp NC


The 2015 edition of CityCamp NC was held in Raleigh, June 11-13. It is the sixth year of bringing citizens, local and state government, and businesses together to improve the quality of life through information technology (IT) and the use of open, public data. Local elected officials from Cary, Raleigh and Wake County spoke, as well as IT start-up and established businesses, interested citizens and more. Some of the topics touched on community and economic development.

Continue reading “Economic Development via “White Hat” Hacking? 2015 Statewide Conference – CityCamp NC”

A Look at the 2015 NC Civic Health Index

community-engagement-photo-150x150How healthy is civic life in North Carolina? Unlike testing blood pressure, or logging exercise time as measures of physical health, making a measure of civic connectedness and activity is tricky. The NCSU Institute for Emerging Issues took on this effort by producing the NC Civic Health Index, 2015. The report  identifies “broad lessons” based on comparing North Carolina’s civic health to national data. It highlights “trends and divides” for subgroups – especially youth and racial and ethnic minority groups — having lower measures than older, Caucasian NC residents, and concludes with a “Call to Action.”

Since the Index surveys the whole state Continue reading “A Look at the 2015 NC Civic Health Index”

Partnership Potential Between Water Utilities and Their Non-Residential Customers

What happens if your largest water customer moves out of town? What if you suddenly need to reduce usage drastically in your service area due to an emergency – which of your customers should you call first? How has water use changed over time for your ten largest customers, and what does that mean for your bottom line? What other changes have happened with your commercial customers, and are those changes systemic or temporary? Understanding how a utility’s non-residential customers use water can help answer these questions and can provide critical information to utility managers in assessing their water resources and financial stability into the future.

Continue reading “Partnership Potential Between Water Utilities and Their Non-Residential Customers”

Using Project Management Skills for Your Community Economic Development Project

Project ManagementCommunity and economic development projects are complex projects involving staff across multiple departments and often requiring access to professionals that are entirely external to the organization. Projects can range from acquiring and redeveloping a single property, acquiring tracts of land and developing an industrial park, to revitalizing and providing services to an entire downtown. These projects, with their variations in size, stakeholders, and complexity, all share in common that they must contend with issues of scope, time, and cost. Success will undoubtedly require “project management” skills.

The term “project management” evokes images of highly specialized private sector project professionals working in project-based industries such as engineering, power, pharmaceuticals, and tech companies. Can a project manager at a local government or nonprofit agency employ “project management” principles, too? Absolutely!

Regardless of the organizational structure, project management has a place in all public organizations because management by projects has become a powerful way to integrate organizational functions and motivate groups to achieve higher levels of productivity and performance. This post describes the core principles for successful project management and why they are important to effective project management. Continue reading “Using Project Management Skills for Your Community Economic Development Project”

Development Finance Initiative: Rebuilding North Carolina one town at a time – Southern City

Kinston, NC

This article was originally published in the November/December edition of Southern City, as “Rebuilding North Carolina one town at a time.” It is reprinted here with permission.

Towns across North Carolina are attracting investment and rejuvenating historic properties with the help of the University of North Carolina School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI). Continue reading “Development Finance Initiative: Rebuilding North Carolina one town at a time – Southern City”

Local Government Strategies for Mitigating the Risks of Flooding

With six feet (and counting) of snow on the ground in Boston, the only thing that local officials should fear as much or more than more snow is a heat wave. If it doesn’t melt slowly, communities and homeowners will have to deal with significant flooding. In an area as developed as the Boston metro, there are not a lot of places for that water to go. Mitigating the impact of flooding is not just a Northeastern issue.

Continue reading “Local Government Strategies for Mitigating the Risks of Flooding”

Ambitious Plans and Achievable Actions

City planners like to quote Daniel Burnham, the late-19th century architect and planner. “Make no little plans” he famously said. “[T]hey have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”

That’s all well and good, but those big, unwieldy plans are hard to fund and hard to implement. In recent years, some citizens and planners are taking a different approach. “Do something!” they say. Focus on the small, cheap, and attainable actions. The concept goes by many names—Tactical Urbanism, Better Block Projects, Open Streets, mobile vending, temporary development, and more. Regardless of the name, though, the underlying concept is constant: achieve incremental actions to improve the community. This approach allows for low-cost experimentation; it is like pilot projects for community development. Continue reading “Ambitious Plans and Achievable Actions”

What are the Community Development Implications of Racial Segregation in North Carolina?

A series of reports on the impacts of racial exclusion from the UNC Center for Civil Rights demonstrates that North Carolina’s racially segregated African American and Latino neighborhoods are more likely to suffer from inequality in living conditions related to housing, environmental justice, political representation, and equal access to education.

The first phase of the project was the 2013 State of Exclusion report, which identified potentially excluded communities, starting with every census block that was at least 75 percent non-white, and then clustered those communities that were contiguous. This yielded nearly 3,200 clusters with a population of more than 25 people. These clusters contained an average of 400 people each – about the size of a neighborhood. The study then examined the clusters and measured and mapped the potential for inequality in five areas: environmental justice, voting rights, housing, municipal services and education.

Of particular interest to community development professionals are the disparate impacts found in environmental justice, education, and housing. The chances that Continue reading “What are the Community Development Implications of Racial Segregation in North Carolina?”

Many Mini-Bonds in the Mile High City

Photo source: http://blog.boxyroom.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-crowdfunding/

$12 million in one hour: That’s not a report of the ticket sales for the Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s Greensboro show last week. That is how much the City of Denver raised directly from the citizens of Colorado for the final phase of its Better Denver capital campaign. This past August, the City of Denver offered general obligation bonds in $500 increments to Colorado residents, and they bought them right up! Approximately 1,000 Colorado residents purchased an average of 24 mini-bonds apiece. The City anticipated a five day sale. They were turning people away after one hour.

Continue reading “Many Mini-Bonds in the Mile High City”

Property Tax Exemptions and Community Economic Development

North Carolina property tax law, nicknamed the Machinery Act, contains over 60 full or partial exemptions for property as diverse as free drug samples, uranium 233, and Loyal Order of the Moose clubhouses.

A number of these exemptions are aimed at property that might be part of a local government’s community economic development plans. This blog attempts to identify these economic development exemptions and summarize their key statutory provisions.  If you think we’ve missed any relevant exemptions, please don’t be shy—that’s what the comment section is for! Continue reading “Property Tax Exemptions and Community Economic Development”

Development Finance Initiative (DFI) helps revitalize NC towns – University Gazette

This article was originally published in the University Gazette on September 9, 2014, as “Carolina program helps revitalize NC towns.” It is republished here with permission.

Tyler Mulligan leads a class for public officials at the School of Government.
Tyler Mulligan leads a class for public officials at the School of Government.

They call them “wicked problems,” the complicated, long-term, seemingly impossible, hard-to-wrap-your-head-around issues for which solutions seem far away.

The team involved in the School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI) specializes in them, and they’re teaching students how to tackle them, too.

DFI partners with local governments across the state to attract the private investments they need to revitalize their communities. Community revitalization is one of those “wicked problems” said Tyler Mulligan, who teaches both public officials and graduate students about community development, finance and revitalization.

“You don’t always know from the start how you’re going to make it work, and that can be daunting,” said Mulligan.

DFI itself was borne from a perplexing problem: Local government officials often asked Mulligan to visit their towns and assist them with their communities’ needs. But, he couldn’t do it on his own.

“It’s part of my job to advise these officials and answer their calls and emails when they need me, but I couldn’t provide intensive assistance to every community, and the challenges they face require a multi-disciplinary approach,” he said. “It soon became clear that a team of professionals was needed to answer the call for assistance.”

The demand was undeniable. Downtown streets were in desperate need of revitalization, historic buildings were wearing away with neglect and prime parcels of land sat empty without a purpose in many of North Carolina’s towns. Continue reading “Development Finance Initiative (DFI) helps revitalize NC towns – University Gazette”

Property Taxes & Non-Profits

The tax status of real or personal property owned or used by charitable non-profit organizations can get complicated when there are multiple private and public entities involved with the property.  Is property exempt if is owned by a non-profit organization and leased to other non-profits? What if it is leased to a mixture of non- and for-profit organizations? Does it matter if the non-profit organizations are 501(c)(3) certified? What if a government owns the property and leases it to a non-profit?

This blog attempts to unravel some knotty non-profit problems.  Continue reading “Property Taxes & Non-Profits”

Why’d She Do That? Explaining Workplace Behavior and Why It Matters to Organizations

Community and economic development professionals, in working to accomplish their goals, must often lead and manage organizations. In recognition of that fact, this post is offered as part of series on leadership and management, written by faculty and staff who focus on those topics at the UNC School of Government.

The boss walks by your office with a scowl on her face. Your employee rolls his eyes halfway through your comments in a meeting. Your project fails miserably.

Next come the mental gymnastics, where you try to figure out why these things happened and what it means for you and your organization.

This process of interpretation is called attribution. It happens everyday with profound effects on workplace dynamics. Attributions underlie employee performance evaluations, workplace climate, and both rocky and smooth interpersonal relationships.

The problem with attributions are their tendency to be inaccurate, sometimes wildly so. Without mind-reading skills or crystal balls, we often interpret behavior through the lens of our own worst-case scenarios. And when this happens, it can cause miscommunication, conflict, and problems. Continue reading “Why’d She Do That? Explaining Workplace Behavior and Why It Matters to Organizations”

Unrequited Demand in a World of Fixed Infrastructure

Water_HeartIt can be hard being a water utility when nobody needs you. Or worse yet, when you have to push people away. But the news seems rife with such stories of unrequited demand for service from water utilities that invested so much in the relationship, the infrastructure, now only to be left kind of empty.

It’s not always for the same reason.  Detroit has experienced a major exodus in recent decades which, in part, drove the utility to undertake a notorious strategy to cut the water service off for about 15,000 residents. The City was trying to make any effort to payback nearly $5.2 billion of outstanding water and sewer system revenue bonds that it likely issued anticipating that there would be paying customers to serve in the coming years.

On a smaller scale, but no less real, rural utilities across the country are dealing with similar population trends. In a recent presentation at the School of Government, Karen Massey, the Director of the Missouri Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority, reported that there are counties in Missouri that are facing a 45% decline in population over the next five years! Communities in North Carolina are not too different, particularly with the loss of textile mills across the state.  Continue reading “Unrequited Demand in a World of Fixed Infrastructure”

City of Greensboro’s SC2 Challenge: Using A Prize Competition for Economic Development

SC2StreetSignsIn September 2012, the City of Greensboro was awarded a $1 million grant from the Economic Development Administration to administer an “Economic Visioning Challenge,” as part of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Initiative. This post describes SC2, the “Challenge,” and Greensboro’s focus areas for economic development. Continue reading “City of Greensboro’s SC2 Challenge: Using A Prize Competition for Economic Development”

Community Food Councils: Questions and Answers

buy_fresh_buy_localOn April 17, 2014 a webinar was held by UNC School of Government, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and the NC Community Transformation Grant (CTG) on food councils. Community and regional food councils (sometimes called food policy councils) are rapidly emerging as important mechanisms to stimulate the kind of dialogue and concerted action necessary to improve local food systems.  In the last five years, food council activity in NC has grown to include more than 24 NC counties participating in or developing community-based food councils or networks. CFSA staff is part of the Community Food Strategies team, a CEFS initiative, that is leading food council support and development efforts across the state.

This post is the second in a series over the next several months that will be cross-posted to Sweet Potato, UNC School of Government Community and Economic Development Blog, the Community Food Strategies blog, and various CTG blogs around the state. Each post answers specific questions asked by webinar participants. This post was written by Jared Cates, CFSA Community Mobilizer.

Continue reading “Community Food Councils: Questions and Answers”

Promoting Communities and Downtowns with Paid, Owned, and Earned Media

Whether your community is a large urban district or a small town, promoting it through traditional media outlets has become more challenging due to unprecedented changes within the communications industry. American newsrooms are in a season of disruption:

  • More than 70 daily newspapers have closed their doors or been consolidated since 2004.
  • Stocks of major media companies such as The New York Times and Gannet lost more than half their value from 2004 to 2014; The McClatchy Company, publisher of The Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News and Observer lost more than 92% of its value during that time.
  • Regular viewership of local TV news, still the most popular outlet for most Americans, is down six-percent since 2006; among 18 to 29-year olds it’s down 14%.

Among the triggers for these changes to the media landscape are a fluctuating economy and growing access to the Internet. News managers struggle to make their websites profitable while customers and former customers choose an abundance of free online information over paid subscriptions.

While the profitability of news coverage continues to evolve, this diversification of sources has created opportunities for local government and economic development professionals. You have more tools than ever to convey your message directly to your audience, so why not use them all? This post describes an all-of-the-above approach to community marketing efforts that involves a mix of paid, owned, and earned media. Continue reading “Promoting Communities and Downtowns with Paid, Owned, and Earned Media”

What’s on your desk? POTUS posed to sign Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014

water_resources_act_easily_passes_house_1_635181969627984000This morning, legislation sits on the President of the United States’ desk that will advance policies and funding for the nation’s water infrastructure. Assuming he signs it, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014 will authorize funding for existing and new water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure finance programs, as well as waterway and port projects. The water and wastewater infrastructure industry has been eagerly awaiting passage of this uniquely bipartisan bill (Passed the House 412-4; Passed the Senate 91-7), specifically its update to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Program and its creation of a Water Infrastructure Finance Innovations Authority.

Continue reading “What’s on your desk? POTUS posed to sign Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014”

The Branding of Downtown Districts

Downtowns are popular destinations again after decades of losing residents and businesses to suburban areas. Between 2000 and 2010, Census data show that the rate of residential growth in some of the nation’s largest downtowns grew more than twice as fast as the rest of their cities. While some of the most significant gains were reported in Chicago, New York and Washington, this trend isn’t limited to the largest metro areas; it’s touching cities and towns of all sizes.

As leaders refocus their efforts on downtown districts, many recognize that perceptions of vitality along Main Street reflect on the community Continue reading “The Branding of Downtown Districts”

Can you manage the organizational culture of your local Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Board?

Organizational CultureAn organizational culture will be established or will occur… be proactive.   

Elected leaders in Oceanboro promised voters that they would transform the way economic development services are delivered in the city—incentive policies, support for entrepreneurs, and new industrial sites—but they haven’t offered any specifics. The task of figuring out how to transform the City’s approach to economic development has been assigned to the newly appointed board of the Oceanboro Economic Development Corporation (OEDC), comprised of local business leaders, elected officials, and City staff. The Executive Director of OEDC has convened the board for its first meeting to begin wrestling with the issues, and she wants to make sure to set the right tone. As she prepares for the meeting, she recalls the management courses she attended while earning her MPA at the UNC School of Government, and in particular, the role of culture in organizations. The members of OEDC’s board come from organizations with very different cultures—each bringing a different set of assumptions and behaviors related to collaboration, communication, prioritizing strategies, and conflict resolution. Can she manage those different cultures, and how can she establish the right culture on the OEDC board to ensure that its work proceeds as smoothly as possible? Continue reading “Can you manage the organizational culture of your local Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Board?”

New Construction Delivery Methods – Public-Private Partnerships (P3)

P3 PictureImagine a county wondering what to do with its old courthouse that is sitting vacant in the middle of downtown.  Perhaps the county wants to use part of the building as the commissioners’ meeting room, but the rest of the courthouse would sit unused, literally gathering dust, because the county doesn’t have the funds to renovate and up fit the entire building (it can barely afford to renovate one courtroom for the commissioners’ meeting room).  Now imagine the county partnering with a private developer who would enter into a long-term lease for the unused space, renovate it, and rent it to a local businesswoman who will turn that space into a quaint bookstore and café, brightening up the downtown district (and providing a convenient place for commissioners to grab a quick bite to eat before meetings).  The developer will finance 60% of the entire cost of the project and get a return on his investment from the rental income generated by the bookstore and café.  Sounds good, right?  How does the county structure this kind of contract?  Who handles the bidding for the construction and renovation work?  Who is responsible for ongoing maintenance?  Can a private developer even finance improvements to a public building?  How on earth does the county bid this kind of contract?

The new P3 contracting method sets out a statutory framework for this and similar public-private partnerships (“P3”).  This contracting method was authorized by the General Assembly during the 2013 legislative session in the same bill that authorized the design-build and design-build bridging alternative construction delivery methods (S.L. 2013-401/H857 ).[1]  Codified in the new G.S. 143-128.1C, P3 contracting is available to all public entities in the state. Continue reading “New Construction Delivery Methods – Public-Private Partnerships (P3)”

Change or Die: Why Big Electric Needs to Think Small

2624280_5e6267a7The business model of electric utilities has remained largely unchanged in nearly 100 years. Until now, this capital-intensive industry has primarily recovered revenues through the sale of energy units, or kilowatt-hours: a use more, pay more approach. Most electric utilities operate as state-regulated monopolies because of the amount of capital required to build energy generation and distribution (in other words, it’s not an easy entry market). But an increase in electricity costs combined with increased capability and decreased costs of decentralized generation solutions (like rooftop solar) threaten the way in which big utilities conduct their business. Continue reading “Change or Die: Why Big Electric Needs to Think Small”

Can Environmental Regulation Promote Economic Development?

In response to pressure from the state’s new data centers, Duke Energy recently filed a pilot program with the North Carolina Utilities Commission requesting approval to directly sell renewable energy to “new” industrial customers in the state. This pilot program seems directly targeted to the new data centers in the Foothills of the state. Google, in particular, has been working closely with the investor-owned energy company to make available this option and help it reduce its carbon footprint to zero.

Apple Solar
Onsite solar array for Apple’s Maiden data center
Photo: Compliments of Apple


Continue reading “Can Environmental Regulation Promote Economic Development?”

Tax Foreclosure and Redevelopment

NC boarded homeCarolina County has been working with its largest municipality, Tar Heel Town, to  redevelop one of Tar Heel Town’s more dilapidated neighborhoods.  Many of the properties in this neighborhood are owned by absentee landlords who fail to maintain them properly.  Not surprisingly, many of these properties are also subject to liens for thousands of dollars of delinquent property taxes and minimum housing ordinance repair costs.

A local community development corporation (CDC) hopes to acquire and redevelop some of these properties into affordable housing, but the CDC has had difficulty convincing the absentee landlords to sell. Now the CDC is pushing the city and county to foreclose on the delinquent properties in the neighborhood—and then, with the liens cleared, the CDC hopes to buy some of the properties out of foreclosure at a substantial discount. The town council is supportive of the proposal, because it sees it as a way to accomplish some of its goals for the neighborhoods. Is the CDC’s proposal realistic? How could it be implemented?

In short, the CDC’s proposal is realistic, but the city and county would need to proceed carefully… Continue reading “Tax Foreclosure and Redevelopment”

Tort Liability for Negligent Housing Inspection Resulting in Injury?

House - Minimum HousingLike other local governments, the Town of Hapless has adopted a minimum housing code pursuant to G.S. 160A-443 (for more on minimum housing codes, see Tyler Mulligan’s book here). In March of this year the town’s inspection department received numerous complaints about the condition of four rental houses owned by Deathtrap Properties, LLC.  In response to the complaints, Homer Simpson, the department’s overworked and absentminded housing inspector, conducted a preliminary investigation which revealed significant code violations at each house.  It was not until several weeks later, however, that Simpson sat down to prepare the written charges and hearing notice G.S 160A-443 required him to serve on Deathtrap before taking further action.  By then Simpson remembered only three of the four houses, and nothing in his incomplete and practically illegible notes reminded him of his visit to the fourth.  Accordingly, just three houses were referenced in the charges served on Deathtrap and at the hearing conducted by Simpson.  Following the hearing, Simpson found the three houses unfit for human habitation and ordered Deathtrap to bring them into compliance with the housing code within 90 days.  Deathtrap completed the necessary repairs to the three houses in record time but made no effort to correct the fourth house’s deficiencies.

Bill and Barbara Gripe leased the fourth house from Deathtrap.  Shortly after Deathtrap completed the repairs ordered by Simpson, Mr. Gripe fell through a rotten spot in the fourth house’s kitchen floor, breaking one of his legs and seriously injuring his back.  Deathtrap subsequently went out of business.  The Gripes have now filed a lawsuit in superior court naming the town and Simpson as defendants.  The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation from the town and from Simpson personally for Mr. Gripe’s pain and suffering and for medical expenses and lost wages.  It alleges that Mr. Gripe was injured due to Simpson’s negligent handling of the complaints against Deathtrap and that the town is vicariously liable for the negligence of its employee.

Are the town and Simpson liable for the harm to the Gripes? Continue reading “Tort Liability for Negligent Housing Inspection Resulting in Injury?”

Organizing for Economic Development

home-mapA series of posts last year profiled case studies for “How Counties Organize to Carry Out Economic Development.” Links to the series can be found here (parts I, II, III, IV, and V). The fifth case profiled Union County, NC, where—at the time—local leaders were considering a new multi-jurisdictional partnership between the City of Monroe, the County and other municipalities in the County. For years, the County and its largest City (Monroe) were represented by separate organizations with separate leadership.

After months of negotiation, the Monroe-Union County Economic Development launched in the Spring of this year. The organization’s two year work plan is available here. Continue reading “Organizing for Economic Development”

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