City talks issues with legislators over breakfast

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With the North Carolina General Assembly 2015 long session underway, members of Wilmington City Council and senior city staff met with the local delegation of legislators to discuss the city’s policy initiatives for 2015. Of the local delegation, Representatives Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, and Ted Davis Jr., R-New Hanover, were joined by Senator Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, at City Hall Friday, Jan. 23.

Discussion topics ranged from subjects like film incentives, economic development, transportation and local taxes during the hour-long meeting.

On the subject of film incentives, the repeal of local privilege license taxes on businesses and other cuts, Councilman Kevin O’Grady said it appeared the NCGA was moving backward away from economic development.

“The general assembly has transferred that burden to us and what I don’t understand is we need to get the pot bigger and grow the economy, not to squash it down,” O’Grady said. “What has happened is you are loosing industry and jobs.”

Councilwoman Laura Padgett implored the local delegation to find some help for the cities of North Carolina that have suffered from these recent cuts and lost revenue channels.

“A big tool we had was annexation, but now we have lost that and privilege licenses,” Padgett said. “We have no tools and it would be helpful if the legislature would look at other states and see what keeps those cities thriving.”

In jest, Rep. Hamilton said the only thing the city could do is raise property taxes.

“I suggest that only in jest but you are really left with no other option,” Hamilton said.

Davis said cutting incentives like film and historic home tax credits are all part of the current tax reform plan spearheaded by general assembly republicans. In regards to film incentives, Davis said it might look bleak but the fight is not over.

“It is not over, the fat lady may be warming up but she’s not singing yet,” Davis said.

However, Davis said there has been positive momentum in regards to historic home tax credits and he has had encouraging discussions with N.C. Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz.

Senator Lee said he believes discussions and action on tax reform and incentives will happen early on in the current session.

Insurance equity was another issue discussed during Friday morning’s meeting, with the city continuing to push for lower insurance rates to equal those of areas further inland and in the western portion of the state.

After N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin denied the insurance companies’ request to raise rates nearly 30 percent, Hamilton said an emerging issue has become the insurance companies’ ability to force higher rates on policyholders through consent to rate forms. In this case, insurance companies can force policyholders to pay higher rates than what the state has set by threatening to drop an individual’s policy if they do not comply.

Lee said the loophole would certainly be something discussed in the Senate this session.

“If those rates are over what the whole ratemaking process has determined then those are incredibly misleading letters to get,” Lee said.

Lee also said the strategic mobility prioritization formula for transportation project funding would be something that would be reviewed and tweaked in this session after it was established in 2014.

“This prioritization process is truly a work in progress and there are some unintended consequences that have occurred,” he said. “From a funding aspect I think this is the session where we tackle it and … there are going to be some really difficult decisions for this legislature to find some alternative revenue sources.”

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said transportation funding is especially critical to the city to handle the population boom forecast for the area in the next 30 years. Saffo alluded to the city’s past ability to work with the N.C. Department of Transportation and asked the delegation to relate the message that the city would be willing to continue partnering with NCDOT on infrastructure projects.

“If there are more opportunities for that partnership continue that would be great,” Saffo said. “We have to figure out a way to build these roads.”

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