By Paul Meyer
When the history is finally written, those writing it are likely to conclude that this COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects posed the greatest challenge to North Carolina municipalities since that created by the Great Depression.
Those living this crisis now have little time for such reflection, as the day-to-day decisions related to how life should proceed and how each community responds to the resulting financial problems ahead leave people focused on the moment.
If there is a silver lining to all this, it is that great leaders and great leadership are revealed and forged amid crisis. Lincoln and FDR did not lead through periods of calm and prosperity, but instead in times of upheaval and great challenge.
I am confident that our towns and cities can and will emerge through this period, despite the current pain, eventually stronger and more resilient.
And that result will be because of strong local leadership.
And as you lead your communities through this time, I want you to know that the league is here, committed to helping in every step along the path.
Even as our staff has been forced to do more work remotely, we have connected in ways that further our advocacy and services to our members.
A COVID-19 web page, https://www.nclm.org/coronavirus, provides a range of resources and updates designed for members to find advice and contacts that can help better navigate the different issues arising as a result of the crisis. These include answers to frequently asked legal and human resource-related questions, as well as links to state agency programs and other resources created to help respond to COVID-19.
From mid-March into April and May, we have also arranged a number of virtual meetings – both series and one-off meetings, covering topics from our insurance programs to those involving newly arising personnel issues.
A new weekly virtual meeting series, Advancing Advocacy, keeps members up to date on all of the state and federal COVID-19 related legislation and executive actions coming at us in waves, and has seen huge participation by league members.
Finally, speaking of advocacy, we know that making the case for cities and towns before state and federal policymakers has never been more important.
Revenue shortfalls – whether caused by declining sales tax, occupancy tax or utility payment revenue – will be significant, and the effects will not stop with reduced municipal services. Local economies depend on local governments, and their investments affect the health of private sector contractors and other employers.
The National League of Cities, where I sit on the Board of Directors, is working on a national campaign with a North Carolina focus that will make the case for federal dollars to help plug local revenue shortfalls. Here, at NCLM, we will be working closely with our counterparts in D.C. to help them advocate for the necessity of that funding, while also working locally to influence both the North Carolina congressional delegation and state legislators and policymakers.
The goal will be two-fold: Secure new federal funding to go directly to municipal governments to address local revenue shortfalls; and free up previous funding provided by Congress so that it can go to that purpose, while pushing state legislators to make sure that municipalities are then treated equitably when those dollars are allocated by the state.
Doing that, together, with your help, we can ensure the best outcome for North Carolina cities and towns, and allow you to lead your town or city to a better tomorrow.
Paul Meyer serves as executive director of the North Carolina League of Municipalities